Abraham Zwickel

July 15, 1903 – January 31, 2000

Abe's Memorial Service
February 6, 2000
St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church
Berkeley, California

And a Fyne Tyme was had by all .... Multi-cultural, ecumenical, music, chanting–in keeping with nearly every action my father participated, it was fitting that we were few but mighty, a marvelous cross-section of peace, environmental, civil and human rights activists and organizations, spanning twenty-four years in the Bay Area and coming from Davis, East Contra Costa County, The City and everyplace in between. Here in spirit were our family throughout the U.S. and Canada and the Puerto Rican independentista communities from Chicago and New York, as well as the Island, herself, and her "sister", la Isla Nena, Vieques.
In the beautiful, 130-year-old church, beginning with music improvised on wooden flutes hand-made by their Native American player, and the Japanese Buddhist chant accompanied by my father's drum, we celebrated his life with poetry and song and stories and reflections, and concluded with an abundance of the best Mexican food north of the border (the Michuacán border, that is–I can't speak for food south of Uruapan), from the New Mecca Cafe in Pittsburg, CA. What can I say? My father loved to sing, tell stories and eat.

Here's how the program went. Check it out, then sing a song for my dad. Or get yourself arrested doing something right. Likely you'll be busted by a County Sheriff or Cal cop who remembers "Old Abe" fondly.

The Prelude was performed by Walter Ogi-mow-ga-bo Johnson who began by improvising on flutes he had hand-made from Native American designs.

The Opening Japanese Buddhist Chant Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo, was led by Lois Flood and accompanied by Shanti Baker on a drum given my father by Nipponzan Miyohoji monks, a Japanese Buddhist order dedicated to promoting peace throughout the world.

The Opening Song was my composition, Shehecheyanu / Sing To The Heart! Clarinetist, Anthony Scarr stated the theme at the beginning, setting an appropriate tone with a wonderfully Jewish sound I just couldn't resist. The piece was sung by a vocal quartet comprised of Soprano, Dana Belson, director & Alto, Laura Prichard, Tenor & accompanist, James Lowrie and Bass, Michael Prichard. Laura is Director of Music at the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church.

The text opens with the traditional Hebrew prayer, Baruch ata, Adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, ("Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Ruler of the Universe"), and continues with Shehecheyanu v'ki y'manu, v'higi yanu lazman hazeh. ("... Who has kept us in life, sustained us and permitted us to reach this new season.") Following is the English text, "Sing to the center of the universe. Sing it out loud and clear, so that everyone can hear. Sing To the Heart; Sing To the Heart!"
          The Hebrew interlude, before concluding with a recap of the English, is also the Baruch ata Adonai, but with a single line borrowed from the chorus of the Israeli anthem, Yerushelayim Shel Sahav ("Jerusalem of Gold"): ("Blessed art Thou, O Lord, Ruler of the Universe), to all of your songs I am a violin."

The Gathering Song was the favorite of "Dead Man Walking's Sr. Helen Prejean, "Be Not Afraid". Father had always been passionately opposed to the capital punishment, and had vigiled at every execution at San Quentin he could attend. I had the honor of leading the singing of this song at the opening of a symposium on the death penalty led by Sr. Prejean. Father took the lyric to heart – he was absolutely fearless.

My father considered St. Joseph's Fr. Bill O'Donnell to be his rabbi, and so Fr. Bill led the Opening Prayer.

I then sang a song I wrote for my father, called, "Today". The church I refer to in the song is my "home" church, the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek, but St. Joseph the Worker has become my spiritual home as well, and so it applies just as strongly.

          "Today is a day like any other day –
                    I got up, showered, got dressed, and here I am with you.
                    And I'm singing for you this afternoon
                    Because my father, Abe, would have wanted me to.

          "And this song is a song like any other one –
                    It starts up, has words, chords, and a melody.
                    And if it speaks to you, then it's yours for free.

          "But this church is a church unlike any other one –
                    It allows me to be as I am, and as I wish to be.
                    And it brings all kinds of good and loving friends to me.

          "And my father is a father unlike any other one.
                    Much of the best of what I am comes from him.
                    And it's to my father, Abraham, that I sing this hymn.

          "And this day, and this song, and this church are special
                    Because of him."

The Rev. Dr. David Sammons of the Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church shared his thoughts, followed by one of Father's favorite songs, "The Holy City", sung by Laura Prichard and accompanied on the organ by James Lowrie. Before she sang his other favorite, "The Lost Chord", one of my family's favorite pastors, Rev. Lee Williamson of the Hayward Wesleyan United Methodist Church shared his thoughts, including the story of my father, in the hospital two weeks before his passing, telling him, after Pastor Lee's reading some prayers, "I didn't understand a word you said, but I got it by osmosis."

Following the second song, we heard from "Rabbi" Bill O'Donnell.

Walter Ogi-mow-ga-bo Johnson then shared an offering of Interlude music on his flutes.

The final portion of the service began with a reading from the Book of Micah (the text from my composition, "Songs of Micah", a work commissioned by Salvatori Ferrantelli, director of I Catori di Carmel) 4:2-3, 6-8:

          "And many nations shall go, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
          "And he shall judge among many peoples and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
          "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God: shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sins of my soul?
          "He hath shown thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"

I then read the first poem I ever memorized, "Immanence", written by a dear family friend, the famed and beloved Canadian poet and pacifist, Wilson MacDonald.

MacDonald, who had a beautiful calligraphy "hand" would illustrate his pages with "illuminations", much as did the monks in the Middle Ages. He would even hand-color selected volumes after they were printed. Lacking a calligraphy font, I shall at least share his words with you in color.

I never think of God
As a God afar
When He lifts His torch
To the first white star
I never think of Him
As a spirit aloof
When His kind rains dance 
On my dark, wet roof.

I never think of Jesus
As in Galilee
When I wander on the shores
Of a gold-rimmed sea
I never think of Him
On a shining throne
When I walk at high morning
in a wood, alone.

I know a path
Where the hollyhocks nod;
And when I go there
I grow friendly with God
And when young daffodils
Dance before my eyes
I cannot think that heaven
Is away in the skies.

I have a friend
Whose hands feel in mine
Like the very same hands
That turned water to wine.
And when, at the day's end,
I look in his face
The whole, wide world
Is a God-filled place.

"I have a friend whose hands feel in mine...." I had never noticed it before, until the last weeks I spent with my father, how enormous his hands were, his healing, chiropractor's hands....
When Father's obituary appeared in the local Contra Costa Times, they omitted a crucial piece of information. Under "military service" they should have put: Conscientious Objector. I read the following E-mail I sent to the Times' obit editor:

          "Dear Kathy,

Thank you for posting my father, Abraham's obituary yesterday.
          I was, however, disappointed at a glaring omission, that of his service to his country.
          My father served as a conscientious objector during World War II. He worked in a Quaker fire camp, which could be as dangerous a civilian job as one could find. My father devoted his entire life in service to his country. People seem to only recognize those who serve militarily. But historians will tell you that any war in history could have been prevented, and it is pacifists and persons of conscience who work to prevent war that should be lauded as well as those who must clean up our failures once hostilities have begun.
          It may well be the job of soldiers to defend our country's shores, but it is the job of the pacifists to see that those conflicts never occur. Do we not recognize those who have brokered peace between nations, between peoples? Do we not recognize people like Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Rev. King, Jr. and César Chávez who fight non-violently for the rights and dignity and lives of us all? Well, people like my father and David Hartsough and Andy Baltzo and legions of pacifist foot soldiers who fight the good fight throughout their lives so that young persons need not sacrifice their lives for our leaders' mistakes should be lauded as well.
          Let me give you one example of how one person can make a difference. My father once engaged a young Pittsburg lad in conversation outside the local post office, counseling him on alternatives to the draft. As that young man's career developed, he would follow my father's activities recorded in the Pittsburg paper. My father influenced his politicism, his style and the way he practiced his art and craft. My father may have, in some small way, contributed to the young man's success. Johnny Steele told me as much as he spoke to me at his victory party after winning the S.F. International Stand-up Comedy Competition. You never know, right?
          I am a pacifist, and proud to be one. I am not a very good one, but I do my best, through my music and my writing, as in my Pacifist Nation Website, www.PacifistNation.net.
          I served as a conscientious objector, like my father before me, during the Vietnam War. But I didn't stop being a pacifist once my service to my country was over. Nor did it begin the day I first reported to duty at Mercy Hospital in San Diego. I am not just a Sunday Christian. I try to live my ideals throughout my life, to help change hearts and minds, as did my father before me. You should have seen how sheriffs, Concord Naval Weapons Station and Lawrence Livermore Lab security officers treated my father: with affection and respect, as they would their own grandfather. I have seen it many times. That was years after his protesting of weapons and munitions shipping to Central America in the seventies, when Contra Costa sheriffs would drag him, crying with pain, across the pavement in front of the Weapons Station from blocking the trains. He did indeed change hearts and minds.
          He served his country with honor, all throughout his life of ninety-six years. He may not have prevented a war. But neither does one individual soldier win one. It takes many individuals, and each one is vitally important. I have great and sincere respect for soldiers and for police, those who put their lives on the line, who truly "serve and protect." And at the dedication of the "Peace Tree" by the base chapel (a cutting from the olive tree in front of our home), the former commander Owens of the Weapons Station demonstrated his respect for Abraham and for all soldiers of peace when he voiced his hope that when the base was no longer needed, the chapel and the Peace Tree would be preserved as a memorial to soldiers' concern for peace.

          Military Service: Conscientious Objector.

          To omit that would be to disrespect all that my father stood for and lived his life for.

                    Yours in peace,
                    Daniel Abrahamson Zwickel

Finally, I had asked my friend, Eve Gilmartin, whose late husband, [Aaron] "Gil" was MDUUC's Minister Emeritus, to read messages that came as people learned that Father was gravely ill:

          Nilda and I are thankful for having had the opportunity to meet Abe – and you and your mother. We are thankful for his presence here – and wherever his spirit may be – for it is his peace that we seek for Vieques.

          Robert Rabin & Nilda Medina
          Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (committee to return the sister island of Puerto Rico, now occupied by our Navy, to the people.)

Dear Daniel,
          Your message left me with continuous thoughts of my cousin Abe. I have known him probably longer than anyone else. You know, of course, he came to live with us in Newark when he was studying naturopathy in NY. Later, he managed my father's grocery store to make something of a living.
          I was so proud of his CO status during WW 11; he had shown such integrity and courage! And when Jean helped get him out of jail, we loved her forever. Altho' Uncle Charlie wasn't happy by an intermarriage, my mother adored Jean when she met her.
           Memories flood as I think of Abe and his life. He is such a remarkable person, I do hope you will someday write a profile, a biography of this idiosyncratic Jewish boy turned spiritual man for all religions.
           In the meantime, know that our thoughts are with you with the hopes that death will come as peacefully as possible.
          My love to you all.

           Florence and Harold Rader

Messages received after Abraham passed on:

Aunt Jean, David and Daniel, and family:
          There are so many wonderful thoughts and memories swimming around in my head.
          I am alone in this branch of the family and therefor I have no one to share my thoughts with about my very special Uncle Abe.
          A man of wonderful thoughts and deeds, that holds a very special space in my heart and my head.
          Not your traditional, ordinary kind of man, but a unique, loving, caring and generous man.
          I treasured every visit .
          He never forgot us up here in the north, and for that I am so grateful.
          How clearly I remember those reunions.
          I will never forget searching for my Uncle Abraham and Aunt Jean in Puerto Rico and finding them in a very unusual situation ........ living amongst very poor people in a far away town, sharing juicy sweet oranges with Aaron and I.
          I also remember when my father, Max was dying, Uncle Abe called and said to me, "I must come and kiss my brother's' warm brow, not his cold one". Before I knew it my Uncle was here, and lending me support and filling my head with family tales.
          You all have your own special thoughts about Abraham Zwickel. I cherish mine.
          With love and sympathy and a special celebration of life, I wish you all the very best.........

           Laney Zwickel Richmond

Dear friends and family of Abe,
           A preaching commitment today prevents me from being among you to celebrate Abe's life.
          I was kind of hoping Abe would make it to one hundred so we could celebrate our birthdays together again, but I gather that was a little longer than Abe wished to stay around. Yet as a fellow peace faster, I can't think of a more fitting way to go when your time has come.. And I know that when I walk through those heavenly gates, who will be there with his expression of sheer delight to give me one of those big bear hugs!
          In kind of a joking way, Abe and I saw ourselves as Father Abraham and King David, the two quintessential Hebrews whose vision it was to transform the Concord Naval Weapons Station into a Peace Park. Abe's Peace Tree by the chapel is the promise of that to come. And when that day arrives, I know that Abe will return to bless the many years and the hundreds of us who stood with him "outside the gates", waiting until they are flung open and the Peace of God descends on the land.
          Until we are all gathered with you again, peace be with you, my brother.
          David Duncombe
          White Salmon, Washington

With great pleasure I invited my patrón and friend, Guillermo Muñiz to sing the song My father used to love my singing for my mother, Schubert's "Ave Maria".

We then opened it up for reminiscences from the congregation, and closed with the simple chant,

          "Listen, listen to my heart's sound;
                    listen to my heart's sound.

          I will never forget you, I will never forsake you;
          I will never forget you, I will never forsake you."

Guillermo sang a final solo song, one of his favorites, "I Believe", then I led a congregational song exhorting us to build the "City of God." 

But, as they say on TV, That's not all! We were all treated to a magnificent (vegetarian, out of respect for my father, though I suspect at least half there were vegetarians as well) repast from Pittsburg's New Mecca Cafe, courtesy of, Guillermo, the Mecca's owner.

My thanks to all who have been so helpful and supportive throughout this difficult time, and who contributed to this service, especially:

Jan Cooper, Do Duong and Susan & Jason Tran, Eve Gilmartin, Mike Kerr, John and Margot Coker, Mary Lozano, the wonderful people at Hospice of Contra Costa County, musicians, Laura & Michael Prichard, Ogi-mow-ga-bo and Tony Scarr, Fr. Bill O'Donnell, the O'D., "Rabbi" David Sammons and Pastor Lee Williamson, my Patrón, Guillermo Muñiz and Fr. George Crespin here at St. Joseph the Worker. My thanks, also, to musicians, Dana Belson & James Lowrie for stepping in at short notice, and to any and all I have inadvertently left out.
–Shalom euvrecha (peace & blessings),
Daniel Beck Abrahamson Zwickel-Wicks

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