If my parents had met and married a few years earlier, I would have enjoyed the delight of witnessing Al Jolson perform.
Jolson literally outperformed everybody. He was a singer with no real singing voice at all, but the sheer power of his personality made him one of the palpitating marvels of the 20th century.
Can you believe I feel a kind of painless deficit in my life that I never saw Jolson in action? Straight 78 rpm records (what we would now call “early vinyl”) of his so-called singing had to suffice.
Jolson’s technique was to start with an earthquake and work his way up to a climax. He would begin his routine with a proven rouser such as “Mammy” or “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.” And when the socks started flying (figuratively – he was “knocking their socks off”!) across that center ramp in the auditorium of the Winter Garden Theatre and the audience started going clinically insane with delight, Jolson would descend to one knee, throw his arms upward and outward, and literally scold the audience for being too easy to please with “Y’all ain’t heard nuthin’ yet!” (or so I’ve been told).
Hurricanes and tornadoes are the release of the forces of nature. What Jolson conjured up was the release of the forces of human nature. And this happens to be a rare and valuable commodity that we happily possess in greater abundance than we realize. And our need is almost equal to that which we would happily possess.
America now needs the release of the forces of human nature.
America fortunately developed a life-lifting habit of chasing fire engines around the world. As a small boy I remember being proud of all the occasions our teacher told us about America dashing to the aid of victims of wars, pestilence, floods – whatever was needed, there was Uncle Sam with a helping hand and a big smile!
It was a coincidence that the teacher told us about our aid to the survivors of Tokyo’s catastrophic earthquake a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Now that just about everybody is convinced that there is, indeed, a crisis on our southern border, here’s how to unleash Jolson-magnitudes of the forces of human nature at this time. I long ago developed a mini-doctrine that maintains: “Government alone simply can’t do it!” So, instead of relying on government, let’s unleash those wonderful forces here and now by getting out of the way and letting the churches, synagogues and other houses of worship have at it!
My little doctrine was a huge help in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1956, when the entire Jewish community helped Catholic Charities resettle Hungarian refugees in an overwhelmingly Protestant community. We provided, not sleeping space on concrete floors with tinfoil instead of blankets, but housing – houses donated and legal deeds filed! Our band of volunteers provided meals, complete wardrobes, jobs, English lessons and hospitality and entertainment, with a growing number of townspeople eager to meet and try to communicate with our new Hungarian friends – and not a single paycheck was handed out to those extending hands to help.
As the Beatles would say, all we needed was love, and we had plenty of that!
So, government, excuse us, please! We love you, we need you, but there are some things that go better without you!
I disappear into a dream world of what we were able to do before the era of the computer. Matching those who need with those who have and want to give would be a slam dunk.
A man, undoubtedly a poet, once described an attractive woman thusly: “I can’t identify exactly what she has, but when she comes into a room, it comes right in with her!”
Likewise, I can’t identify the thrill of succeeding in our little Greensboro refugee rescue, but that quality, that thrill and that joy have barely diminished over the decades. We’ve seen what government can do with a crisis like this. May we show you now what faith-based efforts can achieve? Beginning with the awareness that hands that help are better than lips that pray?
But let me add this disclaimer. If one believes everything one sees and hears on TV and in the papers, it might seem that America’s houses of worship are lining up with those who would do away with borders altogether. But that is not the solution. I have great confidence, however, that those in the faith community who would erase our borders and, with them, erase our national sovereignty and integrity and even our rule of law, are getting publicity far out of proportion to their actual numbers.