Hank Schwab: Exemplary Jew/Iconic Human Being

I knew him only two years, and I had no idea that his death two weeks ago would be such a loss. I have never met such a person—he truly merited the term “amazing”—a word that is thrown around so-frequently today that it has lost its punch.  He was a Holocaust survivor—April is the month designated for Holocaust memorials. Luckily, after five weeks in Buchenwald family connections got him released in December 1938 on condition he would leave Germany.  At that time, the Nazi’s were more interested in expelling Jews than in killing them.  In the U.S.A., after a failed attempt in Chicago to start up a sporting goods store, he was hired by an insurance agent to sell a new product that had never been offered before—health insurance.  He soon had his own agency.  At that time African-Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies—they paid the same premiums as Caucasians, but received only half the benefits.  Hank quickly perceived that this discrimination was akin to what he had experienced as a Jew—so he persuaded the Universal Casualty Company to let him break the barrier.  To make a long story into a brief one, Hank’s work with the African-American community led him to identify with Martin Luther King’s movement, become actively involved with King and play an important role in Operation Breadbasket and its successor, Operation Push and the Chicago Urban League.  Jesse Jackson, Jr., delivered a eulogy at Hank’s Shiva service, and the Urban League issued a statement honoring Hank’s service.

This extraordinary Holocaust survivor from Germany became acquainted with a host of African-American musicians and singing stars, including Sammy Davis, Jr., and such jazz musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Because of his business acumen, he was asked to arrange concerts and organize tours for these stars.  Earl “Fatha” Hines asked Hank to become his manager.  Hank participated in the 1963 March on Washington and had a front row seat for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  He continued with King in the later protests against the Vietnam War.

Hank was defined by his Jewish identity.  For me, he embodies the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam—healing the world.  Jews believe that God created a world that is not perfect, and calls humans to work that makes it less imperfect.  God’s people, as my Jewish friends tell me, are “chosen” to take a leading role in this work of healing.  Tikkun olam is a powerful and beautiful belief whose crystalline eloquence stands as inspiration to all the world’s religions.

Hank Schwab’s embodiment of this hallmark of Jewish faith prompts me to call him exemplary and iconic.  He holds a place in my calendar of Saints.

To read Hank’s entire story, see– http://www.hankschwab.com/index.html

2 Responses to “Hank Schwab: Exemplary Jew/Iconic Human Being”

  1. Carolyn Allen April 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    This is a lovely tribute to a very fine man. Everyone who knew him will thank you.

  2. thehef67 April 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    What a truly amazing man who lived a truly amazing life. I wish I had gotten to meet him.

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