by Joel Allen
My father, Harry S. Allen, died on TuB’Av, the night of Aug. 10th, at the age of 91 in Jerusalem. When I think of Tzadikim, I think of my father and I would like to take the opportunity to share it. The righteous are different — human beings with their triumphs and faults, but cut from a different mold and moral structure. They stand outside of our acceptance of the everyday way of doing things and the acceptance of mediocrity. Not Harry Allen.
Harry was born Sept. 28, 1922, in Denver to immigrant parents. They were refugees from Mariampole, Lithuania who had escaped Czarist Russia to be married in 1908 in the only synagogue in Helena, Montana. They were going to build houses and do construction in the expanding Denver economy. By the time my father was in elementary school, his parent’s dreams were shattered by the depression.
My father went to Cole Jr. High and graduated from East High School. His brother, the late David Allen, and he needed to go to the University of Denver and Law School simultaneously. Finances were an issue, so together with my grandmother, the late Sarah Allen, they bought a gas station and all took turns, depending on the class schedule, running the gas station and doing the mechanical work involved.
My father attended BMH through the confirmation process. He told me that at the confirmation ceremony the late Rabbi Kauvar would whisper in each confirmands ear the following phrase, “May you never be an orphan from the children of Israel, or the children of Israel an orphan from you.” My father lived that phrase by upholding kashrus, for example. He lived in Reno, Nevada, after getting a master’s degree from the University of Denver in Public Administation in 1947.
On his first date with my mother, Anna, they discussed their mutual desire to make aliyah to what was then Palestine. In Harry Truman’s whistle stop election campaign in 1948, my father connived his way on the train to confront Truman about supporting the incipient State of Israel. He apparently got an earful from Truman in response.
In 1948, my father helped in the smuggling of armaments through the west coast to Israel. His Jewish commitments continued in Denver where he was the chairman of the Beth Joseph Hebrew School, which during its heyday had over 800 children. As part of his responsibilities, he took specific interest in the curriculum and quality of the education, actively hiring and firing teachers and administrators. He was chairman of the Rocky Mountain Hillel Council, involved in Jewish Family Service, ADL, and Hillel Academy.
His professional life in Colorado was as the Chief Budget Analyst, Staff Director of the Colorado Joint Budget Committee of the State Legislature, the director of the then Coordinating Council on Higher Education for the State of Colorado. He was intimately involved and the architect of Metro State College in Denver, and one of the creators of the Auraria Campus concept. His success in these endeavors was his creative ability to strategize solutions and solve problems that seemed difficult and impossible to many. His secret weapon in all of these efforts was his incredible honesty in these intense political and power struggles.
Not all battles are won, and he was forced to move away from Denver in 1965. He was the Director of Institutional Research at the University of Nebraska from 1965-1983, when he retired and made aliyah to Jerusalem. His crucial contribution was as the consummate insider quietly suggesting and organizing managerial improvements at this major university. He continued his Nebraska connection as an Israel columnist for the Omaha Jewish Press.
Today we talk often about political corruption and accountability. For my father there were no questions. Often after school, I would take the bus downtown. I would go to the new public library, walk to our cousin Ida Goldstein’s jewelry store, and then appear in my father’s office within the state capitol. It was time to go home, and my father had an official car from the state of Colorado. He would send me back to the bus to get home with the simple explanation that “the people of Colorado are not paying taxes for you to get a ride home in their car — you take the bus!” That was his honesty.
He was president of the shul, Tifereth Israel, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and during his tenure had a sefer torah written to re-excite the community and make it the focus of the shul. One of his former rabbis relayed a funny anecdote. When the rabbi started his job, he decided to add a d’var torah to the daily minyan; it also added fifteen minutes. After the first attempt, my father came up to him and said that if these continued, he would have to stop coming to the Minyan. It made the davening too long, and he had to go to work! (as did other people). That was my father.
During my father’s life in Jerusalem, he was privileged to welcome, without exception, each american grandchild who pursued at least a year of studying in eretz yisrael. Two have followed his example by making aliyah. I would often call, and immediately be engaged in a political or theological discussion, when my only intention was to inquire about his and my mother’s welfare. He was engaged and active.
Within the past few years, he was an active painter as well as organizing a class on the synthesis of modern philosophy including Kant, Hegel, Marx and Gemorrah. The professor at the shiva, who told us about it, said his greatest fear was that Harry Allen was going to ask a question.
His yartzeit of Tu b’Av seems like a Siman(sign) from Hashem. The full moon of Av is the brightest moon of the year, when the earth is the closest to the moon. Like the moon, my father was not a man of fire or power. He had the ability and righteousness to be able to capture the light around him and transmit it to us — his children with brilliance, clarity and purity. This was Harry Allen. When we will look at the Av sky, his neshoma(soul) will be close.
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Anna-our Ayshes Chayil, and children, Rabbi and Dr. Morris Allen of Mendota Heights, MN, and their three children, Rabbi and Mrs. Daniel Allen of South Orange, NJ, and their three children and two grandchildren, Dr. Miram and Avrum Kluska of Kibbutz Naan, and their three children, and seven grandchildren, and my family, Dr. and Mrs. Joel Allen, our three children, and thirteen grandchildren of Monsey NY.