The following story has had a huge impact on my life. I initially read it in a beautiful book of inspirational Jewish stories. I have since lent the book out and can’t remember who the author was. However, this story has been told and retold by many, many sources. This version came from my treasured book.
Rabbi Michael Weisser received a phone call. “You will be sorry you ever moved into 5810 Randolph St, Jew boy”, a man’s voice rasped, harsh and dripping with menace.
On the Southwest side of Lincoln, Nebraska, a blind, bearded man laughed hoarsely as he slammed down the phone. He was wearing a gold swastika on a chain around his neck and a faded red T-shirt with the words, “White Power” printed in white next to a black swastika. Blue-grey tattoos—a skull and crossbones with “Hell’s Angels” written underneath, and a heart pierced by an arrow and an Iron Cross, (a German military symbol used as a Nazi emblem) adorned his arms. Nazi rings with swastikas glittered on his fingers. His name was Larry Trapp and his official title was “Grand Dragon of the white Knights of the KKK” He was a double amputee, confined to a wheelchair.
That first phone call was just the beginning. More terrible phone calls and menacing hate mail followed:
“The KKK is watching you, scum”;
“The holo-hoax was nothing compared to what’s going to happen to you!
“Heil Hitler! May his memory refresh your soul and give you inspiration!”
“Your time is up!”
“The Jews will pay the penalty for High Treason with death by Hanging.”
Rabbi Weisser and his entire family were spooked and terrified. But finally, one day Michael Weisser had had enough. He knew Larry Trapp’s phone number, because he had had some of the calls traced. The Rabbi picked up the phone and left a message, “Larry, you better think about all this hatred you’re spreading, because one day you’re going to have to answer to God for all this hatred, and it’s not going to be easy. He hung up. Somehow, he felt better. As time went on, he continued leaving messages for Larry Trapp.
After seeing Larry on a TV show, Rabbi Weisser left this message, “I just saw the interview in which you stood so proudly near a Nazi flag. Larry, do you know that the very first laws that Hitler’s Nazis passed were against people like yourself who had no legs or who had physical deformities, physical handicaps? Do you realize you would have been among the first to die under Hitler? Why do you love Nazis so much?”
Weisser’s wife, Julie suggested that the calls needed to show love and kindness. Many of his messages became different versions of, “Larry, when you give up hating, a whole world of love is waiting for you.”
These calls bugged the heck out of Larry. Larry thought, the next time he calls, I’ll answer and put a stop to this harassment once and for all.
The next call from Weisser, Larry answered and said, “What the _____ do you want?” Michael followed Julie’s advice, “Well, I was thinking you might need a hand at something,” he said “and I wondered if I could help. I know you’re in a wheelchair and I thought maybe I could take you to the grocery store or something.”
There was a very long silence. Then Larry said gruffly, “That’s OK. That’s nice of you, but, uh, I’ve got that covered. Thanks, anyway. But don’t call this number anymore. It’s my business phone.”
That Friday night the entire synagogue prayed for Larry. As he tried to sleep, his KKK rings started bothering him. At first, they itched but then it felt like they were burning his fingers. Larry took one off. But he hadn’t slept without that ring in years. His hand felt naked, so he put back on. But it felt like it was burning his finger, so he took it back off. This happened several times.
Next evening Larry called Michael Weisser. “I want to get out, but I don’t know how.” The Rabbi was stunned nearly speechless. “Would you like some help?” Larry sputtered, “I don’t know, I don’t think so.” Michael quickly responded with, “I’ll bring some food over”. Hesitatingly Larry replied, “I guess that would be ok”.
As Michael was walking out the door, not having any idea what to expect, Julie said, “Take a gift, he’ll know you’re serious.” Weisser found a ring of twisted silver strands—known as a brotherhood ring.
When Larry answered Michael’s knock on his door, Michael offered his hand. Larry hesitated, then shook it, but then pulled away as if he’d been shocked. He twisted the KKK rings off his fingers, saying, “I can’t wear these rings anymore. Will you take them away?”
Michael reached into his pocket and pulled out the gift he had brought, the silver brotherhood ring. Larry reached out and gingerly touched it. Both men admired the ring in silence and tears sprang to their eyes.
Epilogue: Larry Trapp resigned his position with the KKK, renounced his membership in all the hate organizations he had joined, and made amends to the people in Lincoln, Nebraska, whom he had harassed over the years. He called each one of them individually and asked for forgiveness. He met with law enforcement officials from various agencies such as the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and the local police and gave them inside information on the activities of hate organizations operating underground in the US. He converted to Judaism on June 5, 1992 and died three months later of diabetic-related illness. During the last several months of his illness, he had moved in with the Weissers, who nursed him tenderly until his death.
Rabbi Weisser’s ability to return good for evil is mind-boggling. And incredibly humbling.
Prejudice is like a hideous disease. In the United States, former friends and neighbors are being infected and afflicted by it. They are walling themselves off with slogans that define their new identities: “Never Trumpers! Make America Great Again!” “Law and Order on our Streets”, “Women’s rights!” “Black lives matter!” and so on and so on. What seems to have been lost in all the din and clamoring is the remembrance that we are all Americans and more importantly, all brothers and sisters in God’s family.
We have lost the Christlike traits of love and compassion. Instead of seeking to understand another’s point of view, we are tempted, first to talk louder and ultimately begin hurling insults. Judging and condemning come all too easily and seem to roll of the tongue with an extra kick of anger. We feel self-righteous. Self-justified.
A new word, not used previously, has begun to be used in news articles and commentaries. Suddenly, several times a day, we are hearing the word tribal used to describe the political climate in the United States. Every time I hear that, I cringe. That is the exact word that Moroni used to describe what happened to the Nephites 350 years after the Savior’s visit to this continent. Instead of the “happiest people under heaven”, they became tribal. We all know how that ended for the Nephites. It was the beginning of their march to their inexorable end.
There is a better way. From CBS news: Opposing candidates in Utah’s gubernatorial race released ads that are as shocking as they are heartwarming. Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox and law professor Chris Peterson, a Democrat, appear together to call for civility among voters. “I’m not sure this has ever been done before…but as our national political dialogue continues to decline, my opponent and I decided to try something different,” Cox tweeted. “Let’s make Utah an example to the nation.” “We can disagree without hating each other,” Cox says in one of the ads, in which he stands next to Peterson. “We can debate issues without degrading each other’s character,” Peterson said. Cox and Peterson are running against each other to become the governor of Utah. “Our common values transcend our political differences and the strength of our nation rests on our ability to see that.”
What a breath of fresh air! In the Belgian Congo, anciently they had a fascinating tradition of never voting when there were disagreements. Realizing that when a vote occurs there are winners and losers, they instead, had a policy of both parties sitting down together and not getting up until they had reached a compromise that was agreeable to both. What an amazing concept!
For more than two centuries, the two main political parties in the U.S. have worked together—usually coming at an issue from opposite viewpoints, arguing, and eventually compromising. Sometimes one party held more power than the other. But they realized that they had to work across the aisle in order to get anything done. That meant they had to listen to each other and try to understand the other party’s point of view. They did have the advantage of not having to deal with strident internet platforms where people can anonymously hurl vitriol and hurt at anyone disagreeing with them. But they still had to commit to a willingness to look beyond differences to find solutions.
The diversity of the United States is unique in the world. It has caused a lot of dissension among its people, but as we work to understand one another, it has also been the catalyst for unprecedented scientific advancements, new insight and understandings, greater strength, an economy unequaled by any other nation in the world and remarkable opportunity. It is our strength, not our weakness. Let’s keep it as one of our greatest strengths!
But that means we have to sit down together. We have to listen to each other. We have to afford everyone equal respect and dignity. We have to seek solutions to our differences that result in win-win policies. It’s not impossible. I believe God intentionally created us with individual differences. He challenges us to learn to love unconditionally and to seek for fair treatment of all. It’s part of our training to become more like Him.
Perhaps our Jewish brother, Michael Weisser can help us see a greater vision. His example of returning good for evil should inspire each of us to reach for a higher response to those who disagree with us politically. He loved his enemy, the man threatening to annihilate him and his family. He prayed for his enemy. He treated this man as a precious son of God. Surely, we can each do as much to those who simply disagree with us politically!