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December 31, 1925 – February 12, 2010
JEWISH WARRIOR FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
Graveside Eulogy Delivered by His Son, Bob
B’Nai Israel Cemetery, Eudora Kansas
February 14, 2010
My Dear Family and Friends:
We come here today to eulogize Norman Forer, our dear father, grandfather, uncle, and friend--an impossible task, perhaps, given the gravity of our grief, and the brevity of the bereavement ceremony. It is thus both fitting and proper that a public memorial service be scheduled for a later date, with a participatory invitation to the many people whose lives my father and my mother touched.
Who was Norman Forer? Assorted newspaper editors characterized him as a publicity hound,
a nay-sayer, a disgruntled academician, an elitist. His enemies spoke of him both publicly and privately, as a malcontent, a rabble rouser, a trouble maker or a subversive, and at polite cocktail parties perhaps spoke in whispers about "that ________ pushy Jew."
At best, the general public, uninformed, ill-advised and unacquainted, perceived him as an enigma--the proverbial and somewhat misguided Quixotic do-good-er. At worst, he was described in words best left unspoken.
But to the thousands and thousands of people whose lives he touched with his sweat, blood, and tears, with the warmth of his embrace, with the twinkle of his eye and the welcoming smile of his haimish face, with eloquent words both scribed and spoken, but most importantly and profoundly, with the courage and conviction of action instead of mere professions of opinion, desire or belief, Norman Forer, was, in a word, a Mensch.
In the salty air of Far Rockaway, a predominantly Jewish community on the shores of Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York, where he grew up, he was affectionately referred to by his extended and loving family, and close friends, at various times, as Norm, Normie, Normala, Normankay, bubbala, and kinder.
To his dear, now deceased brothers, Mortie and Herb, he was a third of an exclusive adolescent club, "The Junior Musketeers," complete with a thoroughly unoriginal and predicable slogan--"All for one and one for all"--perhaps suggested by the penetratingly simple philosophy of their Yiddisher mamele, a peasant woman with but a few years of education, born in a shtetl near Minsk, who taught her three boychicks that “one hand washes the other” all while grasping and rubbing her two hands together in exaggerated fashion. Sam and Mollie also instilled in the boys the importance of “Rochmanes,” a Yiddish word translated in English as “compassion.”
At schul, and in Hebrew School, he was officially known by his Hebrew name, Noach, son of Schmuel and Monia.
At Far Rockway High, he ran for Class President as “Rattlesnake Forer” (with an moniker like that are we surprised he lost?), edited the newspaper, was widely respected for his skills as a budding writer, poet, and playwright, and graduated at age sixteen, a hefty task for a richly academic school, a school world-famous, at least in a few isolated sections of Far Rockaway, for having graduated three future Nobel Laureates.
To the crew of his B-17 in the Army Air Corps of WWII, he was a Corporal Forer, sidegunner, radioman, comrade-in-arms and friend.
To many of his college classmates, he was “the star of Queens College” writing and producing plays, publishing short stories and poetry in the school's literary journal, and publicly speaking on the many pressing issues surrounding the aftermath of WWII.
He was mentored by Oscar Shaftel, a widely respected Professor of English, who showed my father's work to Maxwell Geismar, a prominent New York Literary Critic, who secured Dad an agent. Shortly after graduation, and based on the promise of a single, opening chapter, a major publishing house advanced him two thousand dollars, not a small sum in those days, to complete a novel, with the hope that it would be on par and received similarly to that of a contemporary young Jewish author who had recently published a novel entitled The Naked and The Dead. As Jewishness and humility are sometimes said to go hand-in-hand--notwithstanding the fact that the most frequent sentence uttered by a Jewish mamele begins with the words “My son, the Doctor”--I won't drop that author's name.
Our family used to tease Dad that he “never finished nothing ....... mowing the lawn, painting the house, finishing the revolution. Nothing!” So it should be no surprise to learn he never finished his novel.
In a partially autobiographical short story entitled Class Justice, which he started writing in the late fifties, periodically tweaked and kvetched over for …...... let's say four decades, give or take a little, until it was finally published a few years ago in a somewhat obscure literary journal, Dad wrote:The Day arrived when I no longer wished to write on paper.And write on people, he did. From the red-clayed back roads of Georgia where he organized African-Americans to vote, village by small village, and served as bodyguard for Larkin Marshall, a Black newspaper publisher from Macon and the first southern African-American to run for Congress since Reconstruction to the grimy factory-packed streets of Long Island City, Queens, New York, where he successfully organized workers in a small button factory.
Instead, I wanted to write on people, to create the inspiration for a mass
withdrawal from Factory Row to ascend the hill to the old school house
from which height all could see from whence they had come and the distant
Big Titty for which they had lusted.
From the dark threat of Selma, where he marched with Dr. King, to the excitement and hope of August 29, 1963, where he joined hundreds of thousands of Americans to hear Martin deliver his Dream, Norm and Una Forer were there.
It is with great pride that I can state, unequivocally, Norm Forer reported for duty and was in action at every major social movement of the twentieth century.
He flew with the Army Air Corps in the fight against fascism.
He bravely fought in the civil rights movement for over half a century, starting in 1948 and ending after the new millennium, his last struggle, where he fought for housing recollection benefits for the mostly poor and black folk of Union Hill near Crown Center, Kansas City.
The fight for workers’ rights. Norm was there.
The fight against antisemitism. Norm was there.
The fight against unjust wars. Norm was there.
The fight against sexism. Norm was there.
The fight for free speech. Norm was there.
The struggle for peace amidst the taking of hostages in Iran. Norm was there.
The fight for Native American Rights. Norm was there.
The fight for gay, lesbian and transgendered rights. Norm was there.
In Dad's favorite novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, in his early chapters shows us the importance of the family. But as the novel progresses, Steinbeck stresses the importance of transcending biological boundaries in order to embrace one's fellow human beings. Steinbeck stresses that only when “I” becomes “we” and “my” becomes “our” can progress be made. Such solidarity is critical for survival and true survival must be survival together.
While hardly a Steinbeck, Norm Forer, in writing both on paper and on people taught us there is redemption in the struggle ….when all is for one and one is for all.
And while our dear father's person has exited this great world, his teachings, memory and spirit live on. To paraphrase Ma Joad, “Because [Norm Forer, Jewish Warrior for Social Justice is of] the people, and the people go on.”