May we remember those who made a difference

Rosh Hashanah I

Genesis 21:1-21:34

Numbers 29:1-29:6

I Samuel 1:1 – 2:10

Rosh Hashanah II

Genesis 22:1-22:24

Numbers 29:1-29:6

Jeremiah 31:1-31:19

Rosh Hashanah is the time when we prepare ourselves for an accounting of our souls. To do so requires remembering and forgiving people who have made contributions to our lives. Each of us has heroes and each of us has our own way of remembering and forgiving.

Here are stories of two people who made a difference:

Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. He was notorious for everything from bootlegging booze to prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie,” whose skill at legal maneuvering kept Al out of jail for a long time.

To show his appreciation, Capone paid Eddie very well. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocities that went on around him. But he did have one soft spot: a son that he loved dearly.

Eddie saw to it that his young son had everything. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Yet with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son: He couldn’t pass on a good name or a good example.

Eddie decided that he wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al Capone, clean up his own tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against the Mob.

He knew the cost would be great, but he testified, and within the year, Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a Chicago street. Police removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion and a poem clipped from a magazine. The poem read:

The clock of life is wound but once; And no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop; At late or early hour. Now is the only time you own. Live, love, toil with a will. Place no faith in time. For the clock may soon be still.

Moving onto the second story, one of the heroes in World War II was Lt. Cmdr. Butch O’Hare, a fighter pilot in the South Pacific.

One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and saw that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship.

Returning immediately to the mother ship, he saw a squadron of Japanese aircraft speeding toward the American fleet. With the U.S. fighters on a sortie, the fleet was all but defenseless.

There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail, damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly.

Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, O’Hare flew back to the carrier. Upon arrival, he related the event surrounding his return. The film from the gun camera mounted on his plane told the tale. He had, in fact, destroyed five enemy aircraft.

That took place in February 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of WWII, and the first naval aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat at age 29. Today, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago is named in his honor, and between Terminals 1 and 2 is a statue of him and his Medal of Honor.

So what do these two stories have to do with each other? O’Hare was the son of “Easy Eddie” — and his father had indeed given him a gift after all.

The gift of a good example and making a difference was the legacy for both generations.

May we remember those who made a difference in our lives.


Rabbi Larry Raphael is the senior rabbi of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.