The presentation of the Lifetime of Achievement Award to Larry Frank became a timely celebration of fatherhood and of Israel.
“All children not only deserve their parents’ unconditional love, but to actually feel the constant hug of that unconditional love. Our dad gave and continues to give such a gift. … It is this love that has guided him to a lifetime of contributions in the Atlanta Jewish community,” Rabbi Adam Frank, who lives in Israel, said while leading his three brothers in presenting the award to their father on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta during its annual meeting Wednesday, June 7, the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when Larry Frank became involved in Federation, and 11 days before Father’s Day.
Aaron, Joshua, Adam and Isaac Frank grew up listening to their parents talk about politics, Soviet Jewry, synagogues and Israel at the dinner table while developing a passion for social justice.
“Our home was the opposite of lip service,” said Rabbi Frank, who joked that he was speaking to a crowd at Ahavath Achim Synagogue for the first time since becoming a bar mitzvah. “It was the actualization of seeking out ways to help other Jews.”
Frank learned about anti-Semitism when he was as young as a kindergartner and noticed the difference between himself and the boy next to him in the school bathroom. When he asked his classmate about it later, the boy said, “You Jews killed Christ.”
It’s a story he passed on to his sons.
Frank was a star athlete in football and baseball at Grady High School and later captained the football team at Vanderbilt to a conference championship. He still recalls the slurs the Grady team had to withstand while playing some high schools in football and the suggestions to hit the ball with his nose in baseball.
“The backdrop of our dad’s experiences of the world as a Jew was his reality of growing up in the anti-Semitic South, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in a lifetime of seeing the state of Israel attacked on all fronts,” Rabbi Frank said.
Frank’s advocacy of Israel led him and wife Lois to travel to Israel multiple times between the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars while encouraging support for the Jewish state among diplomats, generals and politicians. The couple hosted visiting dignitaries and became friends with people like Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, who then had them over when the Franks visited Israel.
“In retrospect, I realize how special that was,” Frank said.
Having inherited a love for Israel from his mother’s involvement in Hadassah, Frank said he has searched for ways to ensure that future Jewish generations love and protect Israel despite not having lived through the Holocaust or Israel’s birth or threats to its survival and perhaps not having experienced anti-Semitism.
It’s vital, Frank said, that Jews are responsible for one another because we can’t count on anyone else.
“If you want to honor me in a way that would immortalize the value for which I received this award tonight, you will join me in the support, the understanding, the education, the experience of Israel, and all of us will reap the honor,” Frank said.
The Franks set the example. Through their family foundation, they send groups of “outstanding, smart, caring Jews” on trips to Auschwitz and Israel.
“Each mission of young leaders to Auschwitz helps put into context the gratitude and importance that the 21st century Jews must acknowledge in order to begin to build a mature relationship with the Jewish state,” Rabbi Frank said.
The youngest Frank son, Isaac, has shepherded five of those life-changing Frank missions so far.
Larry Frank said he’s proud of “my boys,” and the feeling was mutual.
“I imagine every child believes his father to be a type of superhero. … However, at some point the curtain of fantasy comes down, and the awe and admiration is replaced with the child’s impatience and criticism,” Rabbi Frank said. “Larry Frank was not an exception to the transformation with his own four sons, who have never had a moment of uncertainty regarding our father’s unwavering commitment, courage and passion toward his family and people.”