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"Old Jim": The face of G-d in all of us

Posted on September 7, 2014 at 12:10 AM

By Gary Konecky


Some months ago, I reread Cast A Giant Shadow, the biography of U.S. Army Col. David “Mickey” Marcus, U.S.M.A. Class of 1924. Mickey Marcus is the only Israeli General buried outside of the Land of Israel and the only US solider buried at West Point who died fighting under a foreign flag. His tombstone reads: “A Solider for All Humanity.”


During the Israeli War of Independence, one of the Israeli Army officers asked Mickey Marcus why he spent so much time with common soldiers. The answer that Mickey Marcus gave was the story of an incident that happened while he served as the New York City Commissioner Of Corrections under beloved Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.


The story was of a bad riot in one of the prisons. At the height of the riot, a little dog who belonged to one of the prison guards got loose and ran into the cell-block where the riot was occurring. The rioting inmates caught the little dog and started torturing it. Then there was a rumbling from the shadows of the cell-block. It was “Old Jim,” the most terrifying inmate in the prison. Old Jim's physical appearance was in itself terrifying. Furthermore, Old Jim was a convicted triple murderer. He went to the cell where they were torturing the dog and said: “Whoever wants to be shortened by a head, let him go on tormenting the dog.”


There wasn't a sound except for the whimpering of the dog. Then the inmates put the dog down. The dog hesitated a moment then went over to Old Jim and rubbed its head gratefully against Old Jim's legs. Old Jim bent down and petted the dog. His face, a hard face, suddenly softened. In this instance, in that prison, Old Jim, whose face bore the evidence of his crimes, suddenly softened as he went from a murderer into a kind person.


The dog then left Old Jim and went back to its owner, and Old Jim's face hardened back into the face of the convicted triple murderer. Yet in that precious instant, that all too brief moment when Old Jim's face softened, we had a peak into his soul, his G-dly soul, his good soul, the soul that G-d gives every person.


The reason that Mickey Marcus gave that army officer to his question about why he, an Israeli Army General, would spend so much time with common soldiers was that everyone has a G-d given soul, and that he did not want to overlook it.


May we remember the story of “Old Jim” everyday of our lives. May we never overlook the G-d given soul in others, even when it is not apparent, even when it is hidden by the face of a murderer.




Pages 256-257 of Cast A Giant Shadow, The Story of Mickey Marcus Who Died to Save Jerusalem, by Ted Berkman, copyright (c) 1962 by Ted Berkman, published by Manifest Publications.

Categories: Sermon, Helping Others

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