My father Klaus Stern died on May 12. Sitting in the hospital with him those last 12 days I was constantly focused on his hands.
Obviously as children we hold our parents’ hands and of course over the years I often shook hands with my father. But I have been an adult for many years and holding his hands I felt amazed that my father’s hands were huge compared to my own, both in size and power.
My father was a Holocaust survivor. For many children of Holocaust survivors, our parents were giants because of what they experienced and how they then went on to rebuild new lives, and sometimes that could be intimidating — after all, how could we ever measure up to our parents’ heroism? My father was a giant, too, but never in an intimidating way — rather, he was an example of resilience and gentleness, with a profound sense of fairness and justice.
One example: My father was a lifelong fan of the Dodgers. I never understood why — after all, he never lived in Brooklyn or Los Angeles — but I never really gave it much thought. After all, lots of people follow sports teams in cities other than their own. But several years ago, the Dodgers came to Seattle to play the Mariners and my father, my son Rafi and I went to the game. I finally asked my father, “Why the Dodgers?” His response — and I guess I should have known — was because of Jackie Robinson.
Ever the teacher of the Holocaust, he explained that in Nazi Germany it was clear where Jews stood: Jews were not allowed to serve in the army, or to continue to act in movies or write books or be active or visible in any form of German life. But in the United States, at the time he and my mother came here — and for many years after — blacks were allowed to serve in the military, and be killed serving their country, and entertain us as athletes and entertainers, yet still they were considered second-class citizens. My father saw and recognized that was wrong and admired what Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers represented, so he chose the Dodgers as his passport into American cultural fairness, the kind of American he wanted to become, and became.
My father was totally honest and without guile. I knew of no one who didn’t like my father; he was a “good guy.” And he loved to tell jokes.
In Bereshit it says of Noah: “Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his age. Noah walked with God.”
If my father has the merit to be walking with God, he is probably telling a joke.
Happy Father’s Day dad! I miss you…
P.S. I took the kids to see the movie “42” about Jackie Robinson on my own “Father’s Day.” I’m sorry you weren’t there with us. I think you would have liked it.