Monday, August 6, 2007

A man should be able to walk at 3 a.m.

This story does not have a happy ending.

It's about a man who had more than his share of problems during a hard life, but a man who had met his reverses with goodness to his family and others.

His name was Moniek Eckhaus, he was 84 and his funeral was yesterday (Aug. 5, 2007). He did not die of natural causes, but causes that seem to be more common in New Haven.

I have to admit I didn't know Mr. Eckhaus well. I was good friends with his son, Zvi, who was known around New Haven as Henry Eckhaus. I still consider his daughter-in-law Sima as one of my closest friends. One of his granddaughters and one of my daughters were all but inseparable during high school.

So I don't come to this piece impassionately.

Mr. Eckhaus had trouble sleeping. That's not unusual for a Holocaust survivor who lived in Eastern Europe until there was an Israel to which to run.

He fought for Israel for many years. He and his wife divided their time between Israel and a neat, well-kept house in the Beaver Hills neighborhood of New Haven, not far from Southern Connecticut State University.

He buried Zvi in 2001. Zvi, a jewelry designed and manufacturer, had suffered from catastrophic heart problems for years, which finally claimed his life.

So Mr. Eckhaus liked to walk at all hours of the night. The police knew of his habit and kept an eye on him, as much as they could.
His family said even the local no-goodniks knew him, knew he never carried money, and left him alone.

Most of them did, that is. Mr. Eckhaus was accosted and beaten during one of his night walks a few weeks ago. He lingered in the hospital until late last week.

All this is bad enough. The reaction of people who didn't know him was natural, practical but quite disturbing. Why would anyone walk in New Haven in the middle of the night?

That's the point. An old man should be able to walk in New Haven in the middle of the night.

One of the prime reasons given by government for vacuuming money out of the pockets of citizens at an obscene rate is that it's necessary to protect the most vulnerable among us.

I don't know who's more vulnerable than an old man walking alone in the middle of the night. We did a lousy job of protecting him. Protecting those who have played by the rules, worked, raised families and want to live out their last years in peace must be our top priority.

New Haven has been nominated for an awards by the National League of Cities. According to a city press release, the NLC awards " recognize outstanding programs that have improved quality of life in their city or town."

Until New Haven can protect people like Moniek Eckhaus who want to walk alone at two or three or four in the morning, we should be ashamed to accept such an award.

Until next time...

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