September 21, 2007, - 11:23 am
H. L. Schlussel, M.D., My Dad, Z”L* (1937-2007): Blessed Be The Memory of an American Patriot, Proud Jew
By Debbie Schlussel
Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet. “Blessed is the True Judge.”
That is what religious Jews say when they learn that someone has died. We say that because, even though we are sad that the person died, we know that only G-d–the True Judge–knows the truth and what is best in his plan.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t posted with as much intensity or frequency the last several weeks. My work on this site has been relatively sparse. That’s because I was preoccupied with other things, like helping and visiting my beloved father, H.L. Schlussel, M.D., who was stricken with pancreatic cancer (and cleaning out his library and office). This week, I and my immediate family are mourning his death. I’d have written about it sooner, but could not for security reasons.
A week ago, yesterday, he died from the cancer, which is generally fatal. I watched him take his last breaths, while he was breathing very hard to stay alive. He was only 70. It was the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and one of Judaism’s two most important holidays. Before he died, my uncle blew the shofar–the ram’s horn from which we are required to hear 100 sounds on the holiday in a sign of repentance. As my father struggled to breathe and was mostly non-responsive, my father’s eyes which had been closed suddenly opened very wide on hearing the longest sound from the horn (known as “Tekiyah Gadolah“) in his last act of repentance.
In Judaism, it is said that a “Tzaddik“–a righteous person–dies on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, but a man who dies on the Jewish New Year is especially righteous and a good person–a great man. That was the case with my dad, who was my closest friend and my hero. He was my biggest fan and, at the same time, my toughest critic.
Fortunately, my father did not suffer a lot. It was tougher for me than for him. One of the toughest days: Father’s Day. I’m an optimist, but also a realist. I knew it would be his last. How do you pick out a Father’s Day card which you know will be the last one your dad will ever read from you? I was crying at the card section of the store. Fortunately, my father was a walking miracle of sorts. He outlived the average pancreatic cancer victim by several months. But it was not long enough. It never is.
I delivered the eulogy at my father’s funeral on Sunday. It was beyond standing room only with even the back of the vestibule outside the chapel packed with people, and others were out the door of the funeral home. My father was so modest that he thought he didn’t have a lot of friends. But, in fact, he was loved and appreciated by so very many people.
My speech went on very long, but I had so much more I didn’t even get to. That’s the kind of life my father had–so many great stories, so many good deeds and things to share. I’d like to share some of those and what I did say and what I didn’t get to in my eulogy with you (I’ve removed some details for security reasons). Much of it was a surprise to even those who knew him the best, including my siblings, since my father was a very modest and discreet man who did so much good without any recognition.
Longtime readers of my site are familiar with my father’s articles posted here and here, and much of his work you did not know because it he never wanted credit. He frequently sent me things for Rush Limbaugh, which I sent to Rush and which he used on the air. Unlike me, my father never wanted recognition, just for the info to get out there. Dad had more articles he wanted to write and have me post, but he just got too sick.
My father was born to two European immigrants from Galicia, Poland, who came to this country to escape growing anti-Semitism in Europe. He was exceedingly smart, with so many varied interests–secular and otherwise–and a tremendous Jewish Bible (Torah)/Talmudic scholar. He did so well in college that he finished in three years and immediately started medical school. He became an ophthalmologist–an eye doctor and surgeon. He was a Diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology.
Right out of medical school, my father and most of his graduating class were drafted at the start of the Vietnam War. He was especially proud of his service in the U.S. Army, and after that in the Army National Guard and Reserves. Although my father had friends from all races, religions, and economic backgrounds, he was very proud that so many of his Jewish friends served, that when they got off the plane at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, there were enough people to make up a “minyan“–enough adult Jewish men to hold a complete prayer service.
As an Army doctor often at induction centers, he was offered all kinds of emoluments and repeatedly asked even by friends to excuse them from military service and the Vietnam War. But he wouldn’t hear of it. My father thought it was so important to serve the country he loved so much and where he could be a practicing Jew more freely than anywhere else in the world (including, he later discovered, Israel–where he sadly watched in his last years as Jews were removed from their homes in Gaza and the so-called “West Bank”). My father was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army at the rank of Captain.
You’d be surprised to know that my father was a socialist and left-winger growing up. But after serving in the Army and seeing what was happening to America with the counter-culture and hippies, he became a conservative, subscribing to National Review well before it was ever hip to do so. After the Vietnam War, my father was disgusted with the way our troops were treated–spit upon and otherwise denigrated. So, he gave free medical care to Vietnam Vets until the mid-1990s.
During the late ’70s and early ’80s my father became aware of Dr. Isaac Poltinnikov, one of the most famous refuseniks (Jews persecuted for wanting to practice Judaism freely and emigrate to Israel) of the then-Soviet Union. Dr. Poltinnikov, a fellow opthalmologist, and his wife, Irma, and daughter, Victoria–also doctors–lived in NovoSibirsk, Siberia. They were Jews, who applied for visas to move to Israel, and the Communist Soviet government immediately fired all three of them and yanked their medical licenses. They were constantly harassed by the KGB and repeatedly arrested. My father tried to send them money on which to live, but they were arrested for “parasitism”–accepting money for no work was illegal in the Soviet Union.
My father devised a scheme to help them and drew up a contract for Dr. Poltinnikov to consult with him on ophthalmological cases. He invented fake cases, had them translated into Russian, and asked the Russian Jewish doctor’s professional opinion on them. (I found copies of the contract and the apocryphal cases and letters in my dad’s office and library.) That enabled him to send money to the Poltinnikovs. Ultimately, Dr. Poltinnikov was allowed to leave the Soviet Union, and my father’s files contained photos from The Jerusalem Post of the doctor shaking Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s hand upon his arrival.
But, sadly, the story does not have a happy ending. The Soviets would not allow Irma and Victoria Poltinnikov to join him. Irma Poltinnikov was afraid to leave their home, after years of the KGB spying on them and bugging their apartment. She starved to death, leading daughter Victoria to commit suicide. Still, my father stayed in touch with Dr. Poltinnikov and tried to help him survive this rough, sad life, as reflected in their letters back and forth, this time from Israel and in Hebrew.
More recently, my father helped deport and stop Islamic terrorists in his quiet, modest way. He was the model observant citizen. Before 9/11, he got his car repaired at a gas station in Dearborn Heights. He saw that in the back office, there were posters and collection boxes for The Holy Land Foundation, now on federal trial for funding HAMAS. He encouraged me to call my friend, the-then Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Customs Service and alert him, which I did. After 9/11, the station was raided, its assets frozen. It was apparently laundering to HLF and HAMAS, too. At the start of the Iraq war, my father passed on information about a man connected to Saddam Hussein, whose business was in his neighborhood. Customs agents did the math (they investigated), and my father was proven correct.
Last year, when an attorney for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called me for help in the deportation trial of Islamic Jihad/unindicted ’93 WTC bombing co-conspirator Imam Fawaz Abu Damra, I called Dad. My father found ICE an expert witness in Israel and faxed a tremendous amount of files and information on Damra’s witnesses to the ICE attorney. The case he helped ICE mount was so strong that Damra pleaded guilty and agreed to deportation. As you may know, Damra was recently deported.
My father was constantly pointing out Islamic charities to me near his office that he thought were suspicious. Many of them turned out to be exactly the nefarious organizations he suspected. He constantly watched a large Islamic charity in his neighborhood and gave me tips on suspicious activity there, which I passed on to the FBI agent working on that case. The charity was raided, and it is known to fund Al-Qaeda and HAMAS. My father had the inside scoop on many of the extremist imams in town who are agents of terrorist groups and terror-nations.
My father prided himself on being a good and honest doctor–honest to a fault. He insisted his patients always get a second opinion and had snarky, funny signs up in his office about it. He was a Doctor’s Doctor, and that’s why so many of his medical colleagues came to him for medical care. With my dad as their physician, they knew they’d get a thorough, honest, ethical, caring, and respectful healthcare experience. With HMOs and other pressures on doctors to do rush jobs, my father always spent a lot of time with his patients and said he gave them “a thousand dollar exam.”
And even though he didn’t have a lot of money, my father was always very charitable with his medical care. He even still made housecalls to patients who were sick or otherwise unable to get to his office, and he didn’t charge a premium for it. And he often gave patients he knew couldn’t afford it and didn’t have insurance free exams, even arranging for free surgery and other treatments. “Just don’t tell my wife,” he’d say. He always put family above business and saw less patients so he could spend more time with us kids.
Dad was proud to call himself a Zionist, even though the word became vilified. America, Israel, and family were his passions. My father’s life’s dream was to live in Israel, but he never realized his dream. Still, he was a true patriot who loved America and was so enthused about American history. When he first learned he had cancer, he stopped by my apartment to give me a three-volume set, “The Colonial American Jew, 1492-1776.” He wanted to make sure I had it before he died. He subscribed to Montana Magazine, among his many eclectic reading selections and dreamed of going to that state. At long last, he and my brother went on a “guys only” trip to see Montana.
My father was sickened by far-left, liberal Jews, whom he felt inspired anti-Semitism. Even though he was not wealthy, he gave to conservative candidates for office because he wanted them to know that there were, indeed, Jews who were politically conservative who supported them, wanted them in office, and recognized that they were our best allies in America, whereas the liberals were our enemies. In the ’80s, a letter my father wrote in response to a liberal fundraising letter from Ed Asner gained national attention, as a story about it hit the newswires. My dad was angered that the barely Jewish Ed Asner was using his Judaism as a reason to attack conservatives.
Dad refused to allow my mother to subscribe to “The Detroit Jewish News,” because he did not want to be counted in its subscription numbers to advertisers. I have so many of his letters to its editors and publisher against what he accurately called its “smarmy editorials.” In one letter about an editorial against the Ten Commandments in the courtrooms of Alabama, my father responded:
I would like to propose an alternative prayer, which I shall reverently call “A prayer for the Jewish News.”
“May the Jewish News be granted the wisdom to realize the silliness of some of its ultra-liberal positions and how much damage they could cause to the Jewish community.”
Why does the Jewish News find the Ten Commandments, one of the foundations of Western civilization, which express values held by most people around the globe, an offensive document when it is displayed in a courtroom. This is carrying separation of Church and State to absurd extremes.
Speaking of the liberal Jewish establishment, my father was extremely angry a couple of years ago when The Jewish Fund gave money so that kids from Detroit could tour the National Arab American Museum, which is filled with anti-Israel and anti-Semitic exhibits and propaganda. When I told him about this, he immediately took off from his office and toured the museum, calling me with a complete report. After I wrote about it, using his information, The Jewish Fund never gave money to such an activity again. After writing this letter, he stopped the University of Michigan from using its musical society as political statement for Islamic terrorists who want all of Israel. And there were so many things like this that my father helped stop and/or correct.
Dad often went to extremist Muslim events and collected information and literature for me. He felt this was his civic duty as an American citizen. If only the FBI and ICE felt the same way. He was incensed when the feds voluntarily overturned the conviction of the Detroit Al-Qaeda terror cell on a trumped up technicality, and even more angry when my friend, Richard Convertino, was indicted for courageously prosecuting them. These kinds of things kept him up at night, and he eventually asked me not to tell him this kind of info after 3:00 p.m. or he’d never fall asleep.
But my dad had so many other interests. He was truly a renaissance man, expert on so many topics and issues and with so many eclectic interests. Cleaning out my dad’s office and library, so many memories came back and there were so many new things I learned about my father, who would never toot his own horn. They say the Jews are the “people of the book.” And my dad definitely was definitely a person of the book . . . so very many books. He had an extensive collection of books on so many very important topics. My dad had an extensive book collection and a tremendous body of knowledge. He knew more about Islam, terrorist groups, and the Middle East than any of the so-called experts you see on TV or read in the paper, decades before 9/11.
But he also was an expert on the founding of the CIA (which, incidentally, turned 60, yesterday), and a host of other institutions in American culture. He knew a lot about American Indians and the Old West. He loved history and politics. He subscribed to magazines galore, including “American Cowboy.” He had books on magic tricks, science, you name it–he’d read up on it and could expound on it at length. I learned so much from him and will miss that he will not be able to teach me more.
My father and I were very close and had a special relationship that I know I’m lucky to have had. His interest in politics and political issues is what inspired mine, and from the time I was a kid, he would ask me to read articles he picked out from The Wall Street Journal or Commentary Magazine or The American Spectator. My father was always copying articles and handing them out, whether at was at synagogue or at my brother’s graduation from Penn, where the anti-Semitic Desmond Tutu was the speaker (and my Dad wanted people to know about the real Desmond Tutu; he also wrote letters to U-Penn’s president in protest).
We were definitely evidence of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” both conservatives and proud of it. My father was forever passing out articles on political issues at synagogue or other events. And he tirelessly wrote letters to the editor, repeatedly getting published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. My father was very proud of his activism in campaigning for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and very proud of his record of combating leftism in any way he could.
But my dad also wanted to make sure my Hebrew skills were in order. He was proud to read every week from his Hebrew Israeli religious Zionist newspaper, HaZofe (pronounced “Ha Tzo Feh”). He also knew quite a bit of Arabic, Latin, and other languages, including Yiddish (the German/Hebrew hybrid).
My father was concerned about the Black Christians in Sudan, decades ago, before the Darfur issue was chic. He had a giant Sudan file of stuff he’d collected on this issue throughout his life, which he passed on to me, along with his other files on political issues, when he knew he had few days left. Those were his treasures and valuables, not money and gold, and now they are my inheritance from him. My father was a great writer. He wrote countless letters and made countless phone calls to try to get the issue of Muslim Arab torture, rape, and mass murder of Black Christians in Sudan on the media front-burner. He was disgusted at this race- and religious-based persecution.
Unlike many doctors, my father was not rich. That was never his goal. Money was not important to him, and he sacrificed his income for his political passions, principles, and integrity, which he rightly felt were far superior. But taught me that those were the things that were priceless, and he was far richer than anyone. His knowledge and ideas were the most valuable gift anyone could ever give me. I will miss his calls giving me ideas for or criticisms of my work, including his comments under a fake name on my site and his many published letters and calls to shows, also under pseudonyms. My father was so passionate about America and Israel, often to the cost of his health and his business. But that was what was important to him.
I will miss so many things about my father, too numerous to mention here. My father was a classic gentleman. But even though he was old school and buttoned-down, he had a great sense of humor and enjoyed the self-deprecating variety. He loved C-SPAN, Book TV, eating Copper River Salmon, and reading about American history (the History Channel was his favorite). Dad loved “Seinfeld” and could relate almost anything to the show. When I wrote about Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s self-proclaimed metrosexual obsession with his “Ahmadinejad Jacket,” my dad called me and said: “That’s not an Ahmadinejad Jacket. That’s a Kramer Jacket. Put up a comparison on your site.” He was right. And I did. It got a lot of laughs, but the ones I enjoyed most were my father’s distinct laughs.
I will miss my father taking me to so many different eclectic types of events, whether it was a “Leahy” concert of eclectic Irish stepdancing and fiddles, or a jazz concert with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. My Dad loved John Denver, “The Irish Rovers,” jazz, classical and Celtic music, Bluegrass, and the outdoors. He could expound ad infinitum on Bob Dylan and Arlo and Woody Guthrie. Dad took us whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, subscribed us to “Ranger Rick” Magazine, and took us on hikes, trips to parks, and canoeing on local lakes and rivers. He took me fishing as a kid and taught me how to drive.
My Dad prided himself on his expertise in Middle Eastern Arabic music and the Jews from that region who also produced great Arabic music and song, many of whom were persecuted, like his favorite, Cheikh Raymond Leyris of Algeria (who was assassinated by Muslims).
My father had tremendous respect for religious Catholics and loved evangelical Christians and had many of them as friends (as well as those from other Christian denominations). Although he wanted our government to remain secular, he felt they were good for America, its morality, and civics, and were the best friends the Jews and Israel ever had. He felt it is because of them that our country won’t become Islamic as quickly as Eurabia has. My father accompanied me to a speech at an evangelical “Thank G-d For Israel Day” event last year, and was very inspired by it. He admired religious Christians as much as he was disgusted by liberal Jews who kowtowed to far-leftism and pan-Islamism.
Dad strongly believed in the Second Amendment. He believed that as Americans and as Jews, we should always be strong and armed to protect ourselves. He recounted how the great Jewish Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky visited Europe from then-Palestine before the Holocaust. He said, “Yiddin Learnin’ Shissin”–Yiddish for “Jews, Learn to Shoot.” My father also recounted how when the Detroit riots erupted in 1967, Gentiles went to buy bullets, but Jews were only just going to buy guns.
It’s for those reasons that my father loved the photo, below, by photographer Allan Tannenbaum, and asked me to get it for him. It is a picture of religious Jewish settlers in Elon Moreh, Israel at the funeral of an Israeli girl who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists. He loved the fact that a religious Jews was holding an M-16 and protecting his people. My father made a poster that said: “That was Then” (with a pic of the Nazis forcibly shearing off a rabbi’s beard); “This is Now” (with the photo at the bottom); “Never Again.”
Dad was not just a passionate fighter, activist, and patriot. He was a great father. He always supported each of us in what we wanted to do in life. And even when he discouraged me from something, he always let me know that he was pulling for me, even when he became sick. (In the last four months of my father’s life, my humble gem of a brother–a Wharton grad who works in finance in New York–dropped everything to return home and take care of my father in his dying days.)
I could go on and on about my father. Although he was only 70 years young, there was so much he did. There were so many great stories that I didn’t have time or room to tell here. My father would be embarrassed by all of this adulation and tribute. He never wanted any of that.
I will miss you, Dad. You were a great father, whose memory, spirit, and courage will live on with me forever. Your death is a great loss not just to your family, but to so many others whose lives you touched.
For those who want to know, in the Jewish religion, children of the deceased mourn for 11 months, but the most intense period of mourning is the first seven days after the funeral (called “Shiva” or “Sitting Shiva“), during which we don’t wear leather shoes (a sign of luxury and comfort) or makeup (a sign of vanity), shave, get haircuts, engage in sex, go to parties or concerts, watch TV or movies, or listen to the radio or music.
(In mourning my father, I will not have movie reviews, this week. But, although, religious Jewish mourners cannot go see movies for eleven months, because it is part of my job, I have a special dispensation. I don’t really enjoy movies, anyway. I enjoy music, which I will forgo.)
We also rip our clothing just before the funeral, wear that same ripped clothing all week, sit on stools or low chairs, cover all mirrors, and stay at the house of the deceased where we see visitors all day long, who comfort us in our mourning and conduct Jewish prayer services. After shiva, there are various stages of mourning after that in the 11 months. It has been a long week for me and my family.
Tonight, before the start of the Jewish fast of repentance, Yom Kippur, I will miss my father’s blessing–which he always gave to me first as his first-born child–for a good year.
And next week, when the Jewish holiday of Sukkot begins, I will miss eating with my Dad in the Sukkah (hut) he builds every year at my parents’ house, commemorating the Jews’ ancient wandering in the desert. My favorite of his decorations in the Sukkah is the laminated poster bearing an aerial view of the Old City of Jerusalem. A prominent set of strips of white tape covered up the mosque built atop the Temple Mount.
Thanks to all of my readers and friends who prayed for my father when he was sick and who’ve sent condolences upon his passing. They are very comforting and appreciated in this time of deep sorrow and sadness for me. My father supported the following charities and, therefore, if you wish to honor my father’s memory, please donate to the following charities:
* Vietnam Veterans of America
* Job Katif (finds jobs for Jews displaced from their homes in Gush Katif, Gaza, Israel; their land and homes were given to Palestinian Islamic terrorists)
* Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
* Jewish War Veterans and National Museum of American Jewish Military History
* Committee on Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
* Americans for a Safe Israel
* Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)
H.L. Schlussel, MD, My Dad, *Zichrono Li’Vrachah (Blessed Be His Memory).
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