Kaddish for Krauthammer
Ask most Americans if they know the name “Charles Krauthammer,” and many will nod their heads, recognizing Charles Krauthammer as the renowned American political writer and Fox commentator, who died this past June at age 68. For most Israelis, however, the name will elicit a blank stare.
For Rabbi Shmuel Krauthammer, 60, rabbi of the Young Israel of Kfar Ganim synagogue in Petah Tikva for the past 27 years, the name is familiar, because Charles was his first cousin. Though Rabbi Krauthammer is not intimately familiar with Charles’s body of work – his coining of the term “Reagan Doctrine,” his numerous essays and articles on such disparate topics as baseball, chess and Winston Churchill – he is aware of his late cousin’s staunch support of Israel, both in print and on the air. Rabbi Krauthammer was so moved by Charles’s passionate support of Israel that he recites kaddish for him daily in his memory.
Says Rabbi Krauthammer, “I say kaddish for him at least once a day – not just because he was my first cousin, but because I held him in high esteem for his love of the Land of Israel. It is not always easy to write positively about Israel, even in Israel. But outside Israel, it is even more difficult. Charles did it with great respect and honor. He never renounced his connection to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, and for this reason I decided that I would perform this service for him.”
Sitting in his comfortable home in Petah Tikva, Rabbi Krauthammer shares his recollections of the family’s history, his cousin Charles, and long-ago family visits.
THE KRAUTHAMMER family name is not all that unusual in Israel, he explains. Someone who came from the town of Krautheim in Germany was called a Krautheimer. The word kraut means cabbage in German, and some in the family were involved in planting cabbage. Originally, he says, the Krauthammer clan was exiled from Spain and Portugal, moved northward, and ended up in Krautheim. Two hundred years ago, one of the members of the Krauthammer family moved to Tiberias, and as a result, many Krauthammers living in Safed and Tiberias are related to one another.
Charles’s father, Shulem, was the oldest of six, and Rabbi Krauthammer’s father, Yehuda Yosef, was the youngest. Charles was born in New York, and the family moved to Montreal when he was a child. Shulem’s brother Simon had moved to Brazil, and eventually Yehuda moved there as well. Shmuel was born in Rio de Janeiro, and his family moved to Israel when he was four years old.
Rabbi Krauthammer has fond recollections of his aunt and uncle, Charles’s parents.
“His parents had distinctive, real personalities, and Charles absorbed Jewish tradition from his home, growing up. They were in our home in Tel Aviv frequently,” he says. “Shulem Krauthammer was a religious man who attended Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s weekly Torah classes regularly and would send summaries of the lectures to his sons Charles and Marcel. Charles had a fine, traditional Jewish education growing up. If his father sent him Rabbi Soloveitchik’s classes each week, Charles must have maintained a connection.”
Though Charles did not remain fully observant, his cousin says, “I don’t examine people by their level of observance. I do know that he remained very attached.”
Shmuel Krauthammer recalls the many visits from the Canadian branch of the Krauthammer family. “I remember Charles very well from when we moved to Israel,” he says. “They came, and stayed occasionally in the Accadia Hotel, sometimes in our home. Charles was about 13 or 14, and he played with us. He was a very handsome boy.”
Rabbi Krauthammer’s eyes light up, and he mentions that “I can remember this very clearly. I recall studying Talmud with him. We studied the Mishna and Talmud from the beginning of the third chapter of tractate Bava Metzia, “Hamafkid.” He taught me.”
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER attended McGill University in Montreal, graduating in 1970. He then went on to Oxford, before returning to the United States to study medicine at Harvard. It was during his Harvard studies that he sustained a life-changing injury, when he was injured in a diving board accident, and became paralyzed from the waist down.
Says Rabbi Krauthammer, “After the injury, we had very little contact with him. It was very difficult for him to get here, due to his condition.”
Despite his severe injury and accompanying disability, Krauthammer managed to complete medical school on time with his class in 1975, becoming a psychiatrist.
His first foray into politics was with the Democratic administration of president Jimmy Carter, serving as director of psychiatric research, and then becoming a speechwriter for vice president Walter Mondale in 1980.
Krauthammer’s political views changed, and – known for his erudition, wit and keen intellect – he became one of the top conservative voices in the United States. He wrote for The New Republic, Time, and The Weekly Standard, was a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, and was a regular contributor on Fox News. His 2013 best-seller, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, contained a collection of essays written over the past 30 years. A second compilation of Krauthammer’s work, The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors, edited by his son Daniel, was released earlier this month.
Charles Krauthammer wrote passionately on many subjects, especially about Israel and Judaism. One of his best-known pieces on the subject was written in 1998 for The Weekly Standard. Titled “At Last, Zion,” he described the differences between Jewish communities in the Diaspora and life in Israel, and opined that if Israel were to be destroyed, it would mark, effectively, the end of the Jewish people. Krauthammer wrote about Israel, “It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago.”
Shmuel Krauthammer recalls his cousin’s visit to Israel in 2004, and says, “I visited him in Jerusalem, when he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I spoke to him in Hebrew, though he didn’t speak Hebrew fluently. By then, we didn’t have much of a connection. I followed his development and successes, but we were not in touch very often after that period. I am sure that if he had been in a different situation and had been healthy, he would have visited much more often. Every movement was difficult for him.”
The written record of Charles Krauthammer is expansive, both online and through his collected works that are in print. There are numerous video interviews available which capture his unique take on Judaism and Israel. Yet the words of a close relative provide a greater sense of clarity into his personality, beyond the awards and acclaim.
Says his cousin, “I admire him for his willpower – to be able to get back on his feet, figuratively, without the use of his feet, to study, and to progress in life, to have a family. I rarely grant interviews, but in honor of Charles...,” Rabbi Krauthammer’s voice trails off. ■
Charles Krauthammer wrote passionately on many subjects, especially about Israel and Judaism
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER with his father Shulem and mother Thea at his graduation from McGill University.