Elie Wiesel Laughed

July 18, 2013

phil_jacobs_small I don’t usually freeze at the presence of greatness, coming instead from the “each person puts their pants on one leg at a time” mindset.

I have fumbled the ball more than my share of times. There was the Governor’s Cup Race at Ocean Downs Race Track in Ocean City when I introduced myself to the then Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel by saying, “Hello, Governor Jacobs, I’m Phil Mandel of the Eastern Shore Times.”

Not cool.

There was the one that was the topper.

It happened 27 years ago, when one of my all-time heroes came to speak at what was then the first
annual Rabbi Morris D. Rosenblatt Memorial Lecture at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Annapolis. Rabbi Rosenblatt was the spiritual leader of not just this Annapolis congregation, but possibly all of Annapolis. He was also the father of one of my dearest friends and mentors, Gary Rosenblatt, then the editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times. (Since 1993, he has been the publisher and editor of the New York Jewish Week).

Rabbi Rosenblatt was taken from us by a hit-and-run driver. One need not have been Jewish to have somehow knew the sheer grace and integrity of this great man. Years later, his wife, Esther, a woman who unarguably was the glue of the Annapolis Jewish community, joined her husband in Heaven.

I can remember the first memorial lecture in Rabbi Rosenblatt’s memory. Elie Wiesel was the speaker. Wiesel is one of my Jewish heroes and a man who makes me feel like a stronger, more confident Jew.

So after he spoke at Kneseth Israel, he was having a meal at Mrs. Rosenblatt’s home, and a group of us were invited to meet with him after he finished. I found a way to once again say the wrong thing.

My wife, Lisa, and I were among the very few to arrive early to Mrs. Rosenblatt’s home. While Wiesel was eating, I couldn’t get the words to come out of my vocal chords. I was stuck.

He asked me, “So, what do you have to say for yourself?”

The best that I could come up with: “We’ve come to watch you eat.”

I was mortified, wanting to take the words I had said, grab them and swallow them away. Luckily, he laughed.

Gary Rosenblatt’s dad passed away in 1985. My father, Morton Jacobs, also passed away that same year.

I remember Gary asking me at our old JT office, at 2104 N. Charles St., if it was any better that one of our dad’s passed away suddenly like his beloved father, or slowly, like my own father, who died of colon cancer. We both agreed, either way was terribly difficult. Another irony, my dad worked as a furniture store manager on Main Street in Annapolis.

So I’ve learned that there will always be those heroes who lead my nerves into misdirected words.

Even after 27 years, I remember that evening in Annapolis. And I still miss the other hero, Rabbi Rosenblatt, in whose honor I was there.
Phil Jacobs is executive editor of Clipper City Media — pjacobs@clippercitymedia.com

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