With Father’s Day arriving, I’ve been reflecting on my late father, Arthur (Art) Neworth. Among the multitude of things he gave me were a love for baseball and comedy. Concerning the latter, as I will speculate below, I wouldn’t say my dad was a particularly funny person. (Actually, I get emails from Trump supporters saying exactly the same about me.)
My father’s youth, much during the Great Depression, didn’t make for a lot of laughs. Later, as a father with a wife and two young children, he had heavy responsibilities. Then, at thirty-nine and being a two-pack a day Camel smoker, my dad suffered a near-fatal heart attack. (Amazingly disciplined, he became health conscious and lived another thirty-four years.)
Still vivid in my memory, my dad had a terrific laugh that was infectious. Tense by nature, laughing was a great release for him. I actually think my lifelong connection to comedy was because my father loved to laugh. Go figure.
Today’s “tale” goes back decades to the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. As it often falls in September, it’s also often one of the hottest. When I was twelve, the absolute last place I wanted to be was in Temple Isaiah (Pico near Beverly Glen) especially when it was sweltering outside and no air conditioning inside.
I also had to wear wool slacks (that itched!) a starchy white shirt, tie, and sports jacket. To say I was thoroughly miserable would have been thoroughly an understatement.
According to tradition, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, first began after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and arrival at Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Half of which Trump violates on a daily basis.)
Instead of contemplating Yom Kippur and the holiest of Jews – Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I was contemplating the holiest of baseball players, Mickey Mantle. As I fidgeted in my seat, I was counting the minutes until I could be outside playing baseball.
Our Rabbi, Albert Lewis, was well over 6′, which for a Jew was a giant. He had a booming voice that seemed God-like, especially when he was angry and this Yom Kippur he was steamed. His impassioned sermon was about racial injustice and how, as Jews, we had a moral responsibility to support integration.
All I could think about was after Rabbi’s sermon I’d be “free at last,” except for the spiel from the Temple president for contributions to the building fund. (Even though Isaiah was beautiful and an architecturally stylish building it seemed there was always a “building fund.”)
Back to the sermon, Rabbi noted that Rancho Golf Course, right across the street from Isaiah, didn’t have a single African-American member. “This is our neighborhood, where we live spiritually and we have an obligation!” Meanwhile, I was wondering if being forced to wear itchy wool slacks constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Perspiring, I was trying to unbutton my collar without my dad noticing, when Rabbi proclaimed, “But one member of our congregation has stepped forward and done something!” This, while I’m thinking, “Forget the building fund, how about an air conditioning fund?”
As Rabbi continued, I remembered dad belonged to Rancho. Could Rabbi be talking about my father? He was! I quickly sat up in my seat.
As it happened, my dad only took up golf after the heart attack when his doctor insisted he give up tennis. Again, with discipline, he became a 14-handicap. (He was so avid about the game, Father’s Day presents were easy for me and my sister to buy as anything golf related was a hit.)
At my dad’s men’s shop on West Adams, the black letter carrier who delivered mail was also an avid golfer. He played at the Western Avenue course, which was nowhere near as nice as Rancho. (Racially speaking, even public golf courses were “unequal.”)
Unbeknownst to my family, my dad asked his letter carrier if he’d like to join Rancho and he was delighted by the prospect. So my father sponsored him as the first African-American member. Not exactly Barack Obama becoming president but it was a huge deal to me. Actually, it still is.
Perhaps to a fault, my father was modest. Because he had done what he did out of conviction, on the drive back from Temple, nothing was said about Rabbi’s praise. And, of course, once home, I changed quicker than Clark Kent and, with mitt and baseball in hand, I was out the door.
I suppose if there’s a moral to this tale, it would be if you’re fortunate enough to have your father still living and you’ve always wanted to share how proud you are of him, do it… now! Otherwise, you might wind up writing about it decades later and hoping you didn’t bore people.
This Father’s Day long-time Santa Monica resident and proud father, Andy Hurwitz (and his wife Arlene) is receiving a special present with the Bat Mitzvah on Saturday of their youngest daughter, Adi, to whom I send my heartiest congratulation.
Jack can be reached at email@example.com