Tuesday, December 18, 2012


My great-aunt Edith, of blessed memory, was quite the woman. Among many other accomplishments, not the least of which was being the powerful matriarch of an incredible family, she was one of the "Rosie the Riveters" during World War II, working in a bullet factory. Decades later, into her eighties, she would still roll up her sleeves and show the forearm muscles she'd developed back then. (I remember my mother arranging to have her recognized as "citizen of the year" or something similar by her home community in Cleveland, hearth of the clan.)

Tante Itka, as we called her, was Russian-born, salty as any Yiddish grandmother. She once boasted to us- without exaggerating a bit- that "The Malach HaMoves was my shadchan," that is, the Angel of Death was her matchmaker. (She was introduced to her first husband at a cemetery- I think they were attending separate funerals, she of a Christian Science cousin who'd died young. You can't make these things up.) We were eating when she told us this, and she began to laugh so hard that some food went down the wrong tube. Nothing serious; she coughed and cleared it up, and immediately began laughing again. "See?" she said, "I mention the Malach HaMoves and here he comes to get me!"

OK, one more story (of many I can tell) before I get to my point: She visited Russia for the first time since she'd left in the early 1920's when one of my cousins (her granddaughter) was volunteering for Jews there with YUSSR. She got off the plane, opened her mouth, and Russian, a language she hadn't spoken a word of for about seventy years, began rolling fluently off her tongue. A YU publication quoted my cousin describing how they still had outhouses where she was. It then went on to quote Itka: "Well, at least you had a seat on the toilet."

Why this flood of memories? Well, today brings news that Daniel Inouye has passed away. As is known, he lost an arm fighting in World War II. Once, my mother accompanied my great-aunt to the airport; they were in the lounge waiting for her flight and Senator Inouye was seated nearby. Itka leaned over to my mother and in a stage whisper asked, "How does he make his tie?" Ah, bless her memory.

As to Senator Inouye himself, only three words need be said- three words, or a symbol thereof, which will almost certainly appear on his tombstone: "Medal of Honor."

My old friend Sussman once told me a story of a man who interviewed for a job and didn't get it. (This may have been in the 1950's.) After he left, the man who conducted the interview was asked why he didn't give him the job. "I can't take seriously any man who would wear a lapel pin," he answered. The other man looked at him as if he was nuts. "That was a Medal of Honor pin!" he exclaimed. The interviewer bolted out of his chair, ran out of the office, caught up to the interviewee, apologized profusely, and offered him the job.

That's the proper reaction to any Medal of Honor winner, and to Senator Inouye's death. R.I.P.

On a completely different point, is it too much to ask that anyone who pontificates on the question of gun rights at least learn the correct meaning (or lack thereof) of words like "automatic," "semiautomatic," and "assault weapon?" Please?

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