Without argument he was the leader of Kansas City’s Jewish people for decades. The Rabbi was a scholar, author, maybe even a bit of a genius. He was a strong advocate for Israel and the rights of people all over the world. As a speaker in this city he was nearly unmatched.
The Rabbi was my friend and sometimes foe over my nearly half century with him.
I have so many good – and not so good – memories of the Rabbi.
Around 1961 I sat in the pulpit with the Rabbi and a group of Hebrew School youngsters, all of us around 7 or maybe 8 years-old. It was one of, if not his first official days of work at Congregation Beth Shalom.
Margolies was a slim, handsome man who did not fit the usual mold of a Rabbi. He looked like a ball player. Later when we got to know each other, he often spoke of wanting at one point to be a pro baseball pitcher. He had the arm for it.
When my parents were divorcing in the late 60’s he came over the house a couple times to try and help stop it. Of course he couldn’t. I blamed him for not doing more, not caring enough, because we didn’t have Oakwood money anymore.
My dad had gone broke and wasn’t big or important in the Jewish financial community.
It was unfair of me to feel that way towards the Rabbi. Later when he taught Hebrew High School, I hated the Jew school. I was a senior by then and was a bit of a tough guy kid – loud, showy and always joking to make my points.
One day Margolies got sick of it, called me out to the hall and laid into me verbally. I got pissed and yelled back, “You don’t give a fuck about me or my family because we’re no longer wealthy. You’re a phony asshole!”
He told me, “Get out! I will let you graduate, but I will not sign your diploma.”
And he didn’t.
It was then that I left the “Jewish Life” altogether.
I was already a non believer in God, but I was proud of Israel for being tough and winning the wars in the Middle East over the Arab Nations. I was also cool with being a Jew.
A week later I was at a Boy Scout meeting – yes, I would later become an Eagle Scout – me, The Glaze, an Eagle. Ha!
After the meeting I went outside with soon-to-be doctor Barry Rose. We were waiting for our parents to pick us up on a Monday night. We were throwing rocks in the creek and one got away from me and busted a car’s windshield. I told Barry, “Well, I better go put a note on the car, so they know I did it but that it was an accident.”
And Barry said, “Craig, that’s Rabbi Margolies car. He’ll think you did that on purpose.”
I never told the Rabbi I was the guilty party for decades.
In prison, he wrote to me in the 1980’s and we became friends again. Margolies was a decent, sharp, but strict man. When I got out of prison and later moved back to KC, the Rabbi and I would meet once a month at Beth Shalom.
We had heated talks on all sorts of things. He enjoyed my “outlaw” tales but thought it wasn’t the right way to live. No kidding. He did admire my guts and that my brother and I had turned Stanford’s around.
In time, as Margolies got older, he got a bit cranky.
He tried to solve the break-up between my Dad and I in the late 90’s over Stanford and Sons but it didn’t work. That was our last meeting, sadly. He began to wear down, and the meetings stopped.
The Rabbi was a big figure in my early life. I admired him very much and never met a smarter, wiser man. He had no give on his positions, but that’s okay. In many ways I both loved and disliked the man.
Guess he might have been that dad type I always wished I had.
Rabbi Morris B. Margolies was and will always be a great man.
He earned the respect of Kansas City and people throughout the world. He will always have mine.
May his soul rest in peace.