There is no single way to convey feelings. That certainly holds true when trying to sum up a person’s life, and their accrued emotional baggage and legacy, in a matter of just a few minutes. But that is what Beit Avi Chai has been endeavoring to do for the past 10 years, with some measure of success.
Since 2011 the Jerusalem cultural institution has been producing short films that commemorate fallen IDF soldiers and civilians killed in acts of terrorism, as part of the “A Face. The Day. A Memorial” artistic venture. That seems like a commendable idea, but is a challenging project to take on. How do you encapsulate a person’s time on terra firma in two or three minutes, however powerful or emotive the images?
Violence knows no cultural, social or ethnic bounds. The two Palestinian terrorists could not have known that the passengers on the 78 bus they boarded near Armon Hanatziv in October 2015, before opening fire on them and attacking them with knives, included 76-year-old Richard Lakin from Connecticut, who had made aliyah with his wife and two children 30 years earlier.
Had he survived, Lakin may very well have struck up a conversation with his attackers and, possibly, mitigated some of the aggression they vented on him and the others on the bus.
“My parents – and my mother still does – always took a positive approach to life,” says Lakin’s now 51-year-old son Micha. “I was brought up on that.”
Micha Lakin was reared on a broad set of healthy and sturdy moral values.
“Both my parents were born and grew up in the US,” he says. “Both were teacher-educators in terms of how they guided their lives toward what was important to them.”
They spread positive vibes around them wherever they went.
“They were both believers in human beings and in love. My father was, and my mother still is, the kind of person who looks at people with a big smile and a lot of love. He always refused to get drawn into the bad and the evil.”
That cheery philosophy comes across in the Fragments of a Dream animated short about Lakin Sr., made by the Studio Poink filmmaker team. He is portrayed as a kindly senior citizen who takes a keen interest in the world and, especially, in the people around him. He made a habit of using public transport, which allowed him to continue observing his fellow man and woman and that, tragically, led to his death on that fateful bus ride five and a half years ago.
“My father’s whole education and upbringing was about love and about equality,” Lakin observes.
His dad didn’t just sit around pontificating and thinking good thoughts. He was a man of action, and put his beliefs into constructive corporeal form.
“He was very active in the civil rights movement in the sixties, and he marched with Martin Luther King. That was at a time when there was still segregation in the States. That guided his life and I had the luck to grow up in that environment.”
Richard put his optimism to good use as an educator.
“He was an elementary school principal in Connecticut, and he really had that unique gift that he could look at a five-year-old or a 10-year-old and understand exactly what they were thinking about, what they were feeling, what was interesting to them and what needed to happen to get them engaged. As a parent I can understand how incredible that is. I don’t have that gift but I can appreciate how powerful a tool that is.”
Lakin’s parents were true pioneers and set about spreading the good word of mutual respect and of the importance of giving children a chance to make a go of life, regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, religion or any other inherited baggage.
“My father set up the first integrated summer camp in Connecticut, for black and white kids, in the 1960s. And when he was principal of the school he pushed to accept [black] children from the inner city.”
Proof of Richard’s legacy, and of the enduring value of his humanitarian and human work, came to light in the aftermath of the terror attack.
“The story that is most powerful to me is that, after my father was murdered, I got a letter from a former student of his, the first black child who was admitted to his school. He wrote that not only did my father get him to be accepted to the school, and made sure he felt comfortable there, he also forced them to accept the boy’s mother to the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association).”
Lakin’s parents were not about to give up their vision of a better and more tolerant society when they made aliyah, either.
“When we moved to Israel in 1984, my parents set up a school where they taught English as a second language, for children in Jerusalem. It was critical to them that the school was open to Christians, Moslems and Jews, religious and secular. That wasn’t the goal of the school. The goal of the school was to teach English, but that belief was core to the way they viewed the world.”
That sounds tailor-made to upset the political boat here but Lakin says that wasn’t the case, partly because things were different back then, and also because of the way his parents were.
“Over the past 25 years I think the country has become much more polarized, but my father and mother were just such nice people who don’t, and didn’t, deal in politics. They were great teachers and people just brought their children there. People wanted a different education. I think their goal was just to educate kids. That was my father’s love in life and that was what he did.”
Understandably, at the time the media made much of the twist of fate that led to the life of a sterling campaigner for universal love, and peace, being cut short by such an act of racial violence. However, naturally, for the mourners there is just the sadness and grief brought on by the loss of a loved one.
“People talked about the irony of that, which makes it such an exceptional story. On a personal level it is a horrible tragedy. When I go to a shiva house and a person will say to me that what they are experiencing is nothing because their father died of cancer and my father died in a terrorist attack, I think to myself, ‘How did we ever get to that?’ It is a horrible horrible tragedy when you lose a family member or a friend. Period.”
At least, in Richard Lakin’s case, the legacy lives on and some of his bonhomie, and healthy approach to life and the people around him, are encapsulated in Fragments of a Dream.
Micha appreciates that.
“Beit Avi Chai is doing a wonderful job, and the film gives you some idea of who my father was, and what a positive person he was.”
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