Abraham & Jean Zwickel

In Celebration of their Life & Times

Presented under the sponsorship of the Mt. Diablo Peace Center at the
Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church August 30, 1998

You all know me, but I feel that the auspiciousness of the occasion demands a formal introduction.

Namaste (the Divine within me greets the Divine within you.) Shalom/salaam/mir. My name is Daniel Zwickel McJean ben Avram of Wicks & Hoss & of Winter and I am a life-afirminist rationalist mystic ovo-lacto activist-pacifist eco-feminist Zen-neo-pagan Judeo-Christian secular humanistic unitarian bio-theistic trinitarian pan-theistic existentialist Universalist trans-gender/generationist troubadour of jazz and a birthright Jewnitarian.

Mother and Father say I exaggerate. Of course. I’m writing it as I remember it. You should hear some of the whoppers on me my mom insists on repeating!

So consider all this to be lies and half-truths, mendacity and prevarication, smoke and mirrors, rumor and innuendo, but mostly true. My true, anyway.

My father and mother, Abraham and Jean Zwickel brought their ideals, including pacifism, to their relationship when they met in 1943. My mother was living in an interracial, pacifist Christian commune in New York City called the Harlem Ashram. My father Abe, who already knew the founder of the Ashram, Jay Holmes Smith, had heard that they were planning a walk from New York to Washington to protest the Jim Crow laws which legalized segregation. Living in Baltimore at the time, he joined them en route and there the two met.

Father was that great rarity – both a conscientious objector and a Jew, at the time of WWII besides! Mother, from a Unitarian family and strongly influenced by the New York City Unitarian minister, John Haynes Holmes, held a similar pacifist philosophy and had in fact lost a teaching job for refusing to aid in enlisting young men in the military to fight the Germans. Father worked in a Quaker fire-fighting camp and ultimately served in prison for refusing to cooperate with the military. That was but the first of a lifelong series of arrests in the cause of peace and social justice.

It was in New York and as a member of the Harlem Ashram that my mother met and was befriended by the great Puerto Rican Patriot, Don Pedro Albizu Campos, the second most influential individual in the history of that country’s 500-year struggle for independence, first from Spain and then from U.S. colonial rule which continues to this day. As a result of that chance meeting her involvement as an Independentista culminated in the publishing of her book, Voices for Independence in both English and in Spanish (and now accessible online at: White Star Press), which has received hemisphere-wide attention, particularly in Colombia where one of that country’s greatest poets, Sicomoro Zon, was inspired to write an epic poem titled Voces de Independencia (honestidad y conciencia), followed by a paean to her titled Dedicado a la Abuela Jean (Dedicated to Grandmother Jean.)

Not limited to those areas of endeavor, amateur musicians and staunch supporters of the arts, they became close friends with the noted Canadian poet and pacifist, Wilson MacDonald, and facilitated his entrée into the New York literary scene, beginning a life-long friendship with the great artist. They treasure many hand-lettered, illuminated and hand-colored examples of MacDonald’s poetic and even songwriting art.

An early sign of their love and compassion which marked a lifetime commitment to their ideals, one of their early jobs was running a home for spastic children in Southern California.

As you can see, it is impossible to speak of my father’s Lifetime Membership in the Usual Suspects’ Club without talking of my mother as well, for their partnership goes deeper that marriage. Both activists, Father was the one who always leaped to the front lines while Mother, quietly supportive, provided the necessary reality check and kept the rest of their life running in an orderly fashion.

Abraham Zwickel was born of Ukrainian parents in Brooklyn on July 15, 1903. While his father, Chaim, continued a family tradition as a master tailor, Father struck out in a different direction. Sickly as a youth, his interest in all aspects of natural living led to his becoming a vegetarian in his twenties as he pursued a career in healing as a chiropractor. Among the house guests at our home in Hemet was Jay Dinshaw, founder and president of the American Vegan Society. My brother, David and I were born and raised vegetarians, and I continue to this day.

Their early concern for civil rights and the nuclear madness led to their involvement in many areas of social justice. Mother, a language teacher and graduate of the Sorbonne at the University of Paris, created her own farmworkers movement while teaching English to local Mexican Nationals. When César Chávez came along she was already a veteran. Joining him on the picket lines, she would make juices for him when he became a vegetarian.

Of the many protests, demonstrations, vigils and marches I have participated in since before I can remember, even as a babe in arms, a highlight of my life was a march, with my folks, in the summer of 1962 for unilateral disarmament from Point Loma in San Diego to the Mare Island Naval Shipyards, West Coast site for the manufacture of Polaris subs. We only got as far as Salinas when we had to return so that I could begin my high school junior year in the fall. The sponsoring group, CNVA (Committee for Non-Violent Action)–West, was one of the first groups in the U.S. to use what became known as the “Peace Symbol”, a representation of semaphore for the letters ‘N’ and ‘D’ for Nuclear Disarmament from the British Ban-the-Bomb movement, and designed in1958.

Outspoken critics of and activists against the Vietnam War from the early sixties, their participation in the coalescing of liberal, progressive elements in their community led to the co-founding of the Hemet Unitarian Fellowship in Southern California’s Riverside County, a bastion for rational discourse which still thrives today.

Finally tired of fighting all the John Birchers (those of you with knowing glances are showing your age!), my folks moved to San Ysidro on the Mexican border, near where I had been attending college at San Diego State; during their brief sojourn there, Mother taught literacy in the poverty-ridden colonias of Tijuana. There her Sorbonne education showed – to this day she speaks Spanish with a French accent.

With my moving up north to the Bay Area in 1971, my folks followed in 1976 and immediately made their mark as the support van drivers for the Continental Peace March beginning with the feeder-walk sponsored by the Mt. Diablo Peace Center, and kept with them until Indio in Southern California.

From that walk their pantheon of friends was augmented by the friendship of the Buddhist Monks of the Nipponzan Myohoji sect and were invited by them to participate in the annual walk from Hiroshima to Nagasaki one summer where the Buddhists became their hosts. Father has gone through a couple of the Buddhist drums which have given him over the years, which have accompanied his diligent vigiling at the Weapons Station gate, blocking weapons trains and explosives trucks, being arrested time after time.

Their introduction to Puerto Rico, decades after their friendship with Don Pedro began, was a revelation. Armed with little but a few names and telephone numbers, mention of the name of Don Pedro caused the independentista Nationalists to spread the red carpet and greet them with abrazos and a love and affection that has spread to the Puerto Rican communities of New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Mother’s tireless lobbying on behalf of independence led to an international delegation sponsored jointly by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resisters League and attended by myself as the Zwickel family representative to study the effects of militarization on Puerto Rico and its little neighbor island of Vieques. Her lobbying of the Unitarian Universalists, however, has yet to bear fruit but, frail and tottering at eighty- five she relentlessly persists nonetheless.

The global range of interests having encompassed Servas, an international hosting organization, the Esperanto universal language movement, and World Federalism, since moving up north the Gray Panthers, the Sierra Club and Habitats for Humanity have been but a few of the many groups which have benefited from their participation. Joining the Mt. Diablo U.U. Church, for all their uniqueness they proved to be the prototypical Unitarian Universalists: they voted Democratic, shopped at the Coop and drove a VW van (well, actually, I did. But it was theirs first!)

Vocal activists against the U.S.’s adventures in Central America, they were at the Naval Weapons Station, Concord on that fateful day when Brian Willson was assaulted by the weapons train, costing him his legs.

As a sign of the strength of their presence in the Bay Area, a few years back they were nominated by local environmental activist, Ruth Meckfessel and were accorded the honor of being named “Humanitarians of the Year” by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.

Annual participation in the Ecumenical Good Friday services outside of the Lawrence Livermore Lab (and arrests on Abe’s part), vigils at each execution at San Quentin, vigils and demonstrations against the Gulf War and its progeny and other madnesses our country continues to perpetrate, against homelessness, false imprisonment of warriors for justice such as Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, the shipment of spent nuclear fuel rods through the Bay Area (following upon years of strong opposition to nuclear energy and the uncertainty and dangers it poses), support of the sovereignty of the Hawaiian people (Mother’s activity in solidarity with the Puerto Rican independence movement), travels to Israel where they met with Palestinian leaders under house arrest, to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, Mexico City for an International Conference calling for the decolonisation of Puerto Rico (leading to a brief visit to Sandinista Nicaragua), not to mention Jean’s testifying before the United Nations Decolonization Committee and, being the only Anglo testifying in support of independence, she was the only person of any race or nationality mentioned by name the following day in the New York Times – the list just goes on and on. Even their 50th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii was just a thinly-veiled rationale for studying the sovereignty movement and meeting with its leaders, one of whom, Kekuni Blaisdell, was our host.

Prominent mention must be made of my folks’ friendship with the woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim, whom they knew even before the beginning of Peace’s pilgrimage. That event took place on New Year’s Day of 1952. Having given up all her possessions and wearing hand-made trousers and tunic bearing the legend, “Peace Pilgrim” on the front and, on the back, “10,000 Miles on Foot for World Peace” and vowing not to initiate conversation unless engaged or to ask for anything, accepting only what was offered, trusting that “God will provide”, Peace went on to quietly, gently but deeply touch the lives of thousands of seekers after a compassionate way of living. Mother became her “press agent” and we were her hosts whenever Peace came to the area where we were living. Mother and Father once joined Peace on a pilgrimage through Alaska. That profound relationship was but one manifestation of the complete integration of my parents’ beliefs and lives.

(Oh, and did I mention Mother’s Hearing Parsifal at the opera House in Dresden (want to know what Dresden looked like before we bombed it all to hell–ask her), barely escaping by train the Nazi closure of Germany in 1939 following bicycling through Europe at times even solo, once staying in a centuries-old castle? Life is not all toiling in the vineyards!)

Let’s see. Have I left anything out? Of course I have, but I was told to keep it down to two hours.

Known and recognized and embraced by many public figures others but know and recognize, Abraham and Jean Zwickel’s is a small, seldom-visited place in history, but an incalculably significant one.

Together, with the world which is their beneficiary, we honor and embrace them, I honor and embrace them.

–Daniel Zwickel McJean ben Avram


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