Miklos
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14 mars 2013

Rabbi on Bicycle

Classé dans : Judaïsme, Photographie, Société — Miklos @ 23:22


Wishful glance.
Click to enlarge.

Then there is the tale of a girl being held against her will in the red-light district. Mounting his bicycle (which was the Rabbi’s mode of travel early in the twentieth century), he pedaled to the brothel, barged in the front door, brushed past the best-known Madam in town, marched upstairs, and found the half-nude girl. Her clothes had been taken so that she would not run away. The Rabbi wrapped her in a blanket and took her out of the bordello. He marched through downtown Galveston, guiding the bicycle with one hand and holding the girl with the other. Stopping at a clothing store, he ordered the startled saleslady: ‘Fit her out from head to foot.’ Then he took the girl back to her home and eventually found her a job.”

Rabbi Henry Cohen II: Kindler of Souls. Rabbi Henry Cohen of Texas. University of Texas Press, 2007.

One day, more than 25 years ago, word came to Henry Cohen that a man named Demchuk, a Russian, lay in a Galveston jail and had sent for him. The prisoner, Cohen found, was desperate. He had been mixed up in revolutionary activities in Russia and had escaped as a stowaway. Now Demchuk had been arrested and was to be deported. Inevitably, in Russia, he would face a firing squad. The immigration officer in Galveston could do nothing. Washington would do nothing. Yet something had to be done quickly.

With a quick resolve, Henry Cohen stepped in at the store of a friend. ‘I’ve got to have $100!’ he barked. ‘Don’t ask me why! I’ve got to have it—quick!’ He got it. People in Galveston have learned that when Henry Cohen says he needs money, it’s in a good cause. Rabbi Cohen jumped on his bike, pedalled swiftly to the station, stopping only to buy a toothbrush. He knew a train was pulling out in a few minutes. He bought a ticket to Washington and checked his bike in the baggage car. Landing in Washington, Cohen pedalled down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Department of Commerce and Labor. ‘I’m sorry, Dr. Cohen,’ said the Secretary. ‘I’ve reviewed the case and the man has to be deported. We can’t make exceptions.’ Rabbi Cohen turned away, his heart sick.

Then, with sudden decision, he strode out of the office and made for the White House. Rabbi Cohen even then was well known in Washington and, within an hour, he was telling his story to President Taft. The President, too, said, ‘No exceptions,’ and added, trying to soothe Rabbi Cohen, ‘You Jews are a wonderful people. I don’t know of any people who will do as much for your own race and creed as you do.’

‘My own creed!’ said Cohen. ‘What do you mean, Mr. President? This man is not a Jew! He’s a Greek Catholic!’

President Taft jumped as if Cohen had shot him. ‘A Greek Catholic! Do you mean to say that you came all the way from Texas to intercede for a Greek Catholic?’

‘Certainly,’ said Rabbi Cohen. ‘He’s a human being, isn’t he?’

Taft turned and rang for a secretary. ‘Take a telegram to the immigration office in Galveston: “Release Demchuk in the custody of Rabbi Henry Cohen.” ’

Returning to Galveston, Cohen got Demchuck a job at his trade in a boiler works. Demchuk did well, earned money, then through friends got his family out of Russia.”

Webb Waldon, “The Busiest Man in Town”, The Rotarian, February 1939.

A rumor reached Rabbi Cohen one day that a man in a Texas prison, Sidney Porter by name, had been wrongfully convicted. The rabbi investigated, and appealed to the Governor. Many months passed. Then one morning a man at Cohen’s door, with a satchel in his hand, asked hesitatingly: ‘Are you Rabbi Cohen?’ Reassured, the man fell on his knees, tears streaming down his face. ‘I am Sidney Porter,’ he said, ‘I can’t do anything now to pay you for what you’ve done for me. But I’m a writer. I’ll write things to help your people.’ Then he departed.

Years later, O. Henry, whose real name was Sydney Porter, wrote a story about a Southern rabbi who secured the release of a wrongfully convicted man.”

Webb Waldon, “The Busiest Man in Town”, The Rotarian, February 1939.

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