Over recent weeks, three exemplary members of the Twin Cities Jewish community went to Olam Ha’Ba, the World to Come. Their lives and their contributions are worthy of remembrance. As it happens, I spent some brief time with each of the three dearly departed and wrote stories about them for the Jewish World.
Felicia Weingarten’s life contained enough heartbreak for a dozen lives. She died on April 27. She was 96. Born in Łódź, Poland, in 1926, Weingarten was a young teenager when the Third Reich invaded Poland, in 1939, and soon confined the Jews of Łódź in a ghetto. Weingarten survived the hellish ghetto and four concentration camps. She was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.
In 2005, Weingarten published a memoir about her extraordinary experiences, Ave Maria in Auschwitz: The True Story of a Jewish Girl from Poland. I visited her small, immaculately kept home in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood for an interview about her book. I met her husband, Leon, who also was from Łódź, and who survived Auschwitz and other death camps. He died in 2008.
Leon and Felicia met at a displaced persons (DP) camp at Landsberg/Lech after the war. They married in New York City on Sept. 4, 1948, and moved to St. Paul in 1950, where Leon worked in a liquor store. He later opened his own liquor store in Minnetonka.
One theme I recalled from the 2005 interview was the dislocation the Weingartens felt in St. Paul. The students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, she met at the University of Minnesota seemed immature and uninterested in the Weingartens’ experiences during the Shoah. “During the war we aged very quickly,” Weingarten told me. “I think every year was like 10 normal years. Our experiences were most unusual, and therefore it was not easy to relate to these young students.”
Even Weingarten’s relatives showed little interest in hearing about what she’d been through in Poland. “Well, my relatives asked me once,” she remarked. “And that was it!”
Weingarten eventually became part of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s nascent speakers bureau, along with fellow survivors Dora Zaidenweber and Hinda Kibort. She developed seminars on Jewish culture, the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust for high schools and colleges, and spoke over decades about her personal experiences. The Weingartens also experienced the premature death of their son Jeffrey, a medical doctor. Their other son, Stephan, died in 2018.
In another personal connection, my son Max was a recipient of the Dr. Jeffrey Weingarten Award, which the Weingartens established to annually recognize one outstanding student in each Temple of Aaron Synagogue religious school class, from fifth through ninth grades. The award recognizes students for exemplary “enthusiasm, respect, and a love of Judaic learning.”
Another remarkable member of our community, Robert “Bob” Latz, left this world on April 19. He was 91. Latz literally wrote the book on Jews in Minnesota politics: His 2007 volume is titled Jews in Minnesota Politics: The Inside Stories (Nodin Press) — with a foreword by the late Walter F. Mondale. And Latz was the proverbial pillar of the legal and political (DFL) communities in Minneapolis and the North Star State.
A graduate of North High, the University of Minnesota and the U of M Law School, Latz served four terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives (1959-1966), representing his Northside Minneapolis district. He also was a member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.
Latz had an abiding commitment to the local Jewish community and served as president of the Jewish Community Relations Council and on the ADL’s National Commission. He also was a leader in various roles for Temple Israel.
In a recent statement, Steve Hunegs, JCRC executive director, remembered Bob Latz as a person who “dedicated his life to addressing the promise and challenges of our country and honoring the values of Judaism and the traditions of his family.
“Bob worked assiduously to improve lives through all three branches of Minnesota government: serving in the executive branch as an Assistant Attorney General enforcing Minnesota’s civil rights statutes; representing the north side of Minneapolis in the Minnesota legislative … co-authoring Fair Housing legislation; and appearing in the courts of Minnesota representing those injured or victims of discrimination.”
And in the April edition of the Jewish World, Bob Latz received recognition in Laura Weber’s story “Jews and the Civil Rights Movement in Minnesota.” Weber mentioned that Latz’s father, Rubin Latz, was the business agent for the laundry workers and dry cleaners union. And Black Civil Rights legend Nellie Stone Johnson credited the elder Latz with “building a bridge between Blacks and Jews in labor.”
Bob Latz “continued in the family tradition of ‘struggle for equal opportunity’ when he successfully ran for the state legislature in 1959,” Weber wrote. “Latz put together a successful coalition of Black, Jewish, and Irish Catholic voters in his North Minneapolis district that, he claimed, ‘helped unify the diverse political elements in North Minneapolis’ and remained active in civil rights after he stepped down from the legislature in 1966.”
The Latz family legacy of political engagement continues today, as Bob and Carolyn Latz’s son, Ron Latz, represents a suburban Minneapolis district in the Minnesota Senate.
Finally, I remember Ron Rabinovitz, who died on April 27 at the age of 76. A native of Sheboygan, Wisc., Rabinovitz, who was upbeat and garrulous, developed a love for baseball at an early age.
I met him in 1997, when Major League Baseball was celebrating Jackie Robinson, who broke the “color barrier” in the Big Leagues when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. And Rabinovitz played a role in the 50th anniversary celebration of Robinson.
As it happened, Rabinovitz wrote a fan letter to Robinson that sparked a lifelong friendship with the baseball legend. He first met Robinson when the Dodgers came to Milwaukee to play the Braves. Somehow the young Jewish boy and the Black athlete found common ground, and a relationship ensued. On one occasion, Robinson brought young Ronnie Rabinovitz into the Dodgers’ locker room and took him around to meet all the players and have them sign a baseball.
When I visited Rabinovitz for a 1997 story, he told me about this, then retreated to his bedroom and came back with the baseball. It had the signatures of Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, et al. Also, a young rookie pitcher signed the ball: Sandy Koufax.
Rabinovitz enjoyed speaking about his friendship with “Jackie,” especially before groups of young students. He framed the friendship in terms of inter-racial understanding, which, as we all know, the world needs more of.
Felicia Weingarten, Bob Latz and Ron Rabinovitz: May their memories always be a blessing.
Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com
(American Jewish World, May 2022)