Sometimes chosen family matters as much or more than the family we are born with. That is certainly true for my wife Mary and our “adopted” son, Menachem Leasy.
Menachem was born in Tupelo, Mississippi during the time of the Camp David Accords. These were talks between the USA, Egypt, and Israel that lead to a brokered peace treaty between Israel and Egypt that has lasted for over 35 years. Menachem’s mother was so enamored with the possibility of peace in the Middle East that she decided to name her baby after one of the three national leaders. She was choosing between Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menachem Begin. She chose Begin.
Menachem was a good student who has always worked hard. When he was 11 years old, he got his first job working on the back of a garbage truck. After his shift, he’d head to school.
He played football in high school and was good enough to go on to play fullback at Rhodes College here in Memphis. He wanted to be a doctor and made good enough grades to be accepted, but he just missed being admitted to the University of Tennessee, his first pick. So, he became a clinic assistant at the Church Health Center.
He worked for us 40 hours a week, but had a second job as well. It was on a Sunday afternoon when Mary and I ran into him at his third job that we decided to adopt him with the full blessing of his mother Dorothy.
I worked hard to help him get ready for medical school and to help him along the way once he was admitted. During his senior year, he and I took several trips for him to interview for his residency. I have always hoped that he would be a physician who would care for the poor and eventually come back to work at the Center.
At least the first part of my wish came true.
From the first time Menachem set foot in Manhattan, he fell in love with New York City. He began his residency to be a family physician at Beth Israel Hospital in lower Manhattan. As a Jewish hospital, many Hasidic Jews would pick their doctor from a list that only had the doctors’ names. Naturally they were surprised when their doctor named “Menachem” turned out to be something different than they expected: a young, African American man. Quickly, however, they realized they were in excellent hands.
When he finished his residency, I in no subtle ways began making plans for him to come to work alongside me. Sadly, for Memphis, Dorothy, and Mary and me, the New York bug was too powerful. For the last three years, Menachem has worked at a clinic in Harlem that provides care for the poor. He is everything I hoped he would be, only he is doing it Manhattan.
His mothers and I hope that one day he might again come back to Memphis, and he does not rule that out. For now, we are stuck with twice-a-year visits. Recently he came home to Memphis and I gave him the tour of Crosstown. I am hoping that seeing what is possible there has gotten his wheels turning.
No matter what I know, he is an excellent physician. It is evidenced by the fact that many of his Hasidic patients have followed him to Harlem even though they live on the lower east side, which in New York is a long way to travel to see your doctor.
While peace in the Middle East is still elusive for the world, I have to believe that all three world leaders would be pleased with knowing that a baby born in Mississippi at the time of their work has gone on to do the type of work based on justice that all three hoped for. I am especially sure that Menachem Begin would be proud of his namesake.