(JTA) — Mark Auerbach was not yet 5 years old when he noticed an unusual stamp in his father’s dresser. The well-worn three-cent stamp featured a drawing of a small group of men and a sinking ship, with the words “The Immortal Chaplains… Interfaith in action.” It piqued his interest, so he asked his father about it.
“Our cousin is on that,” Auerbach, who grew up in Brooklyn, recalls him saying, searching for an age-appropriate explanation. “He said he was a rabbi who died during World War II when his boat was torpedoed by the Germans. He made me promise to make sure that the story is never forgotten.”
It’s a promise that Auerbach, 75, who now lives in Passaic, New Jersey, has taken to heart. He’s made it his life’s mission to keep alive the story of the “Four Chaplains” — who included Auerbach’s third cousin, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, along with Rev. George Fox, Rev. Clark Poling and Father John Washington. Eighty years ago today, they made the ultimate sacrifice when their ship, U.S.A.T. Dorchester, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in the North Atlantic in the pre-dawn hours.
Over the decades, Auerbach has amassed a trove of photos, clippings and memorabilia dedicated to the bravery and faith of these four clergymen — including preserving countless copies of that three-cent stamp, which was issued in May 1948. “It’s an amazing story,” said Auerbach of the chaplains’ heroism. “It just happens to be my family.”
The sinking of the Dorchester is considered one of the country’s worst World War II-era sea disasters: Of the 902 men on board, only 203 survived. As survivors and historians attest, the four clergy — all relatively new soldiers who had befriended one another at the Army Chaplains School at Harvard University — stood out for their calming presence throughout the pandemonium that occurred during the 18 minutes it took for the ship to go under. As the tragedy rapidly unfolded, survivors reported that the chaplains offered prayers, helped distribute lifejackets and, once those ran out, they selflessly gave up their own.
“The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of the purest spiritual and ethical acts a person can make,” reads materials from Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, whose mission is “to promote Interfaith Cooperation and Selfless Service,” according to their web site. “When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line.”
But that’s not all they did. As the ship went down, survivors have said that they saw the four chaplains on deck, linked arm in arm together in prayer. “I could hear men crying, pleading, praying,” Private William B. Bednar, who was floating among the bodies of his shipmates in the freezing water, is quoted as saying in foundation reports. “I could also hear the chaplains preaching courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going.”
According to Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, the author of “Rabbi Alexander Goode: The Story of the Rabbi and His Three Fellow Chaplains Who Went Down with the USAT Dorchester” in November 2022, the clergy were heard saying their respective prayers as the ship sank: Goode said the Shema; the Catholic priest the Ave Maria, while the two ministers said the Lord’s Prayer. (Exactly how survivors might have heard this is unclear, though Elkins confirmed that the Shema is the last thing a Jew is supposed to say before death.)
Goode was born in Brooklyn in 1911; his father, Hyman Goodekowitz, was also a rabbi. When his parents divorced, he moved to Washington, D.C. with his mother and siblings. Goode was a good student and excellent athlete, and “believed that it was God’s plan for him to pursue a religious calling,” Elkins said.
Goode graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1934 and Hebrew Union College in 1937; in 1940, he got a PhD from Johns Hopkins University. “Education was very important to him,” said Auerbach. In 1935, he married Teresa Flax, who happened to be a niece of Al Jolson; the couple had a daughter, Rosalie, in 1939.
As a rabbi, his first assignment was at a synagogue in Marion, Indiana in 1936; in 1937, he transferred to Beth Israel in York, Pennsylvania, where he remained until he enlisted in July 1942. “He excelled in ecumenicalism — his congregation really praised him and loved him specifically for that,” Elkins said. “He had a wonderful reputation as a scholar, a beloved rabbi and ecumenical person.”
As Elkins writes in his book: “In his new community, Alex made great efforts to spread interfaith understanding. He presented a regular radio program on religious matters. When one of the local churches burned down, he offered to host the congregation’s religious services.”
“He was an extraordinary person, [in addition to] what he did on the Dorchester,” Elkins added.
According to an account from a Dorchester survivor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, courtesy the Four Chaplains Foundation, Goode acted selflessly at least one more time that awful morning: He thwarted Mahoney from a foolhardy attempt to return to his cabin for his gloves. Instead, Goode gave Mahoney his gloves, assuring him he had two pairs.
In retrospect, “Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.”
During the postwar era, for a while, at least, the story of the Four Chaplains was a popular one. In addition to laudatory articles and the commemorative stamp — plus assorted memorabilia designed to draw the attention of children — memorials were constructed “in nearly every state,” according to Elkins; stained-glass tributes can be found at the Pentagon, the National Cathedral and elsewhere. In Philadelphia, President Harry Truman dedicated a memorial chapel to the Four Chaplains on Feb. 4, 1951. According to a JTA report at the time, some 10,000 “Americans of all faiths” raised $300,000 for the chapel’s construction and furnishings; at the ceremony, Goode’s father read Psalm 96 in Hebrew.
On Dec. 19, 1944, each of the chaplains was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross. In 1998, the 55th anniversary of the Dorchester disaster, Feb. 3 was deemed Four Chaplains Day by Congress. And yet, as World War II fades into distant memory, few people today seem to be familiar with the heroism of these men.
“It’s such an important story, such an inspiring story, it needs to be better known,” said Elkins on the impetus for his book.
“This guy certainly was a great role model,” Elkins said of Goode in particular. “We need more Alexander Goode type of people for our youth to look up to, to say, ‘I can be honest, intellectual, committed to my faith and my people, the heritage of Judaism, and I can do honorable things.’”
On Sunday, as he does every year on the Sunday closest to Feb. 3, Auerbach and other chaplains’ family members will attend a memorial mass at St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Kearny, New Jersey, where he’ll also display his collection of photographs and memorabilia. “The story is so ecumenical that it crosses all kinds of barriers,” he said. “It’s the ‘Golden Rule’ in reality. Every clergy person worth their salt — whatever day their religious observance is, whether its Saturday or Sunday — every one of them is preaching be kind to your brother, your sister. Everyone talks about it, few know about it. This is something for people to grab onto.”
Elkins concurs. “These guys are role models for all of us,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you have to give up your life. There are all kinds of ways people can do great things.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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