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sadness amidst joy

12/22/2022 09:19:00 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I had the privilege, along with my wife Janice, to attend the White House Chanukah party this past Monday evening. Others have lamented the long lines and the beautiful Christmas decorations inside and outside the White House. I enjoyed viewing the decorations, which I thought were quite stunning. Some of the highlights were:

  • The White House kitchen was made kosher for the party.
  • The food was plentiful and delicious.
  • A veritable who’s who in the Jewish world was in attendance.
  • The White House carpenters fashioned a Chanukah menorah out of pieces from the reconstruction of the White House during the Truman administration (if I understand correctly).
  • This menorah became the first permanent piece of Judaica in the White House, much to my surprise.
  • The President reiterated that antisemitism is a scourge in America that is unwelcome and he is acting upon it.

However, for me, the most moving moment was the lighting of the Chanukah menorah. To hear hundreds of voices sing the brachot and Maoz Tzur in the White House was incredibly powerful, uplifting, and gave me chills. That such a large gathering of Jews was welcomed by the President and the First Lady, and could stand together as one to perform such a simple act, albeit one with roots that go back 2,200 years, was a moment in time that I will forever remember.  Despite all the antisemitism in the news, the evil was not present, only the good. The theme of light dispelling the darkness came to be, and I am grateful for the privilege of witnessing it.

Upon returning to Pittsburgh, I then learned of the death of an icon, my friend Franco Harris. When one rides the escalator in Pittsburgh International Airport, you come across two statues: one of George Washington and next to him Franco Harris making the Immaculate Reception. Yet despite the fame and the current celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of what has been generally accepted as the greatest play in professional football, the Franco I knew was a humble man. He became a regular in my life the aftermath of the Tree of Life massacre, as the events that I was invited to speak at he attended. Franco remained a resident of Pittsburgh upon his retirement, and was involved in a vast array of communal activities to better the life of our citizens. Rare was the occasion that his wife Dana was not at his side. It seems that everyone has a great story about Franco, or a photograph with him in it. He was just a mentsch. Permit me to share my Franco story.

I had the incredible privilege of being honored in February of this year by the Pittsburgh Urban League with their Community Leader Award, and the honoree was Franco Harris. Still in the midst of COVID, the event was entirely virtual, but they wanted photographs of Franco and I. All of us were nervous to unmask and stand close to each other as we still did not understand enough about transmission.  We finished the session, and I had a nice conversation with Dana and Franco. Just to be honored by the Urban League, and to be in the same sentence and photograph with Franco was a thrill. About one week later, I called the coordinator at the Urban League, and asked if it would be possible for them to get Franco to sign one of the photographs for me as a memento of the occasion. The coordinator laughed, and explained that she had just spoken to Franco, who asked her if I could sign a photograph for Franco.  I hung up the telephone stunned, mouth wide open, that the Pittsburgh Steeler icon would want my autograph. I’m still stunned.

On my piano sits the beautiful glass award from the Urban League, and in front of it is a framed photograph of Franco and I, signed by Franco.  How privileged I have been to have him in my life, albeit too briefly. May the name of Franco Harris always be for a blessing, and may God comfort Dana and his family.


Sun, September 24 2023 9 Tishrei 5784