A man of valor

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Editor’s note: Some readers may remember my columns about my parents’ transition to assisted living. I am sad to say that my father, Leonard Rosenthal, passed away in Austin, Texas, on March 5. This month, in lieu of my usual column, I would like to share the tribute I gave at his funeral.

Our dad was a first-born son, and perhaps partly due to that fact, he was a leader — determined and responsible — and also a fighter. He fought for what’s right, he fought for his family, and he fought against life’s troubles, both for himself and for others.

As a child, he faced anti-Semitism at school — name calling, rock throwing, threats and beatings — so he learned to box and wrestle so he could defend himself.

He joined ROTC in high school, and when he joined the Army, he was troubled by the fact that his base had no Jewish chaplain. So he talked his way into becoming an assistant to the chaplain so he could lead services and make sure there was provision for the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and kosher food.

This was all the more admirable because he came from parents who had largely dropped the Jewish practices they had been raised with. But he was always seeking spiritual and ritual elevation in his own personal life.

Because chaplains serve troops of all faiths, he also found himself conducting Protestant and even Catholic services on occasion, taking the opportunity to share lessons from the parts of Scripture we share that the soldiers could appreciate and take comfort from.

He was popular with the ladies, and had dismissed my mother, nine years his junior, after their first date, when she was only 18. But when he was reintroduced to her a few years later, what I call the “Gigi effect” was at work, and he was immediately smitten. She was also raised without Jewish ritual practice, but they both decided to have a kosher home, and their devotion to the Sabbath and keeping kosher helped bring my brother Arnold and me back to traditional Judaism.

After college, Dad went to work in the meat packing plant founded by his grandfather (who was a cantor and kosher meat slaughterer, and who also started the first kosher market in Fort Worth, Texas). At the time, the plant —which provided both kosher and non-kosher beef to the community and to communities around the country — was run by his father.

Dad played second fiddle for many years, but then became its president just as competition from the big companies was forcing their independent plant, and others like it, out of business.

Leonard J. Rosenthal
5/22/1920 – 3/5/2014

So he reinvented himself as a business broker — helping others buy and sell small businesses of all sorts. When he retired from that business, he started up and ran several nonprofits, together with my mother, that helped older workers who wanted to rejoin the workforce. They taught them computer skills, how to write resumes, and trained them for employment in the contemporary workplace.

It was also at that time, when I spoke to Dad about my thoughts of leaving the practice of law and going into business, that he suggested I consider the senior market as a growing niche. He also referred me to the Senior Beaconof Austin, Texas, where he and my mother were on the board of directors. I credit him with helping me find what was to become my passion.

In his later years, Dad suffered from a number of physical challenges: He started to lose his voice gradually, to the point where he was able only to whisper. The paralyzed vocal cord that caused this also caused him to lose the capacity to safely swallow food or liquids, requiring the installation of a stomach tube through which he could be nourished with liquid food.

When the community where he and my mom then lived said he could not remain there with a feeding tube because they weren’t capable of providing that service, he learned how to handle his feedings himself, and did so five times a day for years.

During this time, it was really my mom who was in need of help with daily activities, and he chauffeured her to doctor appointments, helped prepare meals, did the shopping and much of the cleaning of their apartment.

When he came down with pneumonia a few weeks ago, at the age of 93, he went to the hospital where he (and we) fully expected him to recover. In the hospital, he acquired a couple of additional infections (which hospitals are known for nowadays), but continued to fight the good fight.

In the process, he charmed all the nurses and aides, who fawned over him and always raced to answer his help calls. He was just as dearly loved at the community where he lived, where he would put on his tie and suspenders daily and go down to meals, attend events, and even go shopping and to doctor appointments so attired and wearing a jaunty hat.

Just 10 days ago, he was attempting physical therapy in his hospital room to keep up his mobility, after lying
in a hospital bed for two weeks. He did leg exercises in bed, and tried to walk a few steps and sit up in a chair. I think it was the difficulty of those attempts that made him start to realize he might not get back the strength to resume his former life.

Dad, for all these reasons, you have always been a role model to almost everyone who met you. You showed us all how we can face reality, fight against all odds, and always keep our pride and our devotion to G-d.

Every Sabbath, you read Proverbs 31, “A Woman of Valor,” to our mother with tremendous feeling, as you both looked deep into each other’s eyes.

Dad, you were a Man of Valor, and we will miss you.