Israel Drazin

My dad was a hero

Today is my dad’s birthday. He, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, was born on March 16, 1906. He is well-known as a brilliant man, a scholar with a nice personality. He was also a hero.

Although dad came from a wealthy Canadian philanthropic family and worked in the family real estate business for years, he wanted to be a rabbi like his younger brother Rabbi William Drazin. So he left the business, went to Yeshiva University and was ordained there as a rabbi and also received there the degree of Yadin Yadin, making him a judge in 1933, the same year that he married mom, who was also from a rabbinical family, and took the position as rabbi of Shaarei Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he acquired a PhD from Johns Hopkins University writing on the history of Jewish education as his thesis.

In the early days, Shaarei Tfiloh was a very popular congregation. It was packed every Shabbat, and during the High Holidays all of its 1500 seats were occupied. I had no seat during the High Holidays and had to sit with the choir.

This began to change in the early 1950s. In those days, white people did not want to live in a neighborhood with people who were black. In the early 1950s, blacks moved into the neighborhood, the people ran to the Baltimore suburbs, and all the synagogues in the area for miles, followed them; that is all but Shaarei Tfiloh. The board of Shaarei Tfiloh begged dad to agree to allow the synagogue to move uptown, but dad said it was wrong to do so; it was immoral and disrespectful.  By the early 1960s, instead of 1500 congregants on the High Holidays, there were only about 500. Dad’s salary was severely reduced, but he still refused to move. He retired from Shaarei Tfiloh in 1963 and I took over as part-time rabbi for seven years for a meager salary. He and mom went to Israel where he became the Director in Jerusalem of an institution that dealt with medicine and Judaism. He died in 1976 at the early age of 70.

There were rabbis in the early 1960s who joined the marches for Civil Rights, and they should be praised for their acts. But what they did only took a few days and it cost them only air fare and a little time. What dad did cost him lots of money. He also gave up being one of the most successful Baltimore rabbis with a huge congregation. He was a hero. I am proud of my dad.

Shaarei Tfiloh still stands where it stood in dad’s day. Few people attend services. It has a part-time rabbi. When there were riots in Baltimore and many buildings in the neighborhood were destroyed, no one touched the synagogue.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.