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August 1, 2023

08/01/2023 12:05:00 PM


Sunday afternoon, I made my way to Plano to see the closing performance of North Texas Performing Arts' summer production of “Parade”—the 1998 musical based on a 1965 play by Alfred Uhry. This was an afternoon of serious theater. The youthful cast, I learned, prepared their cohesive performances in a few weeks’ time, and did not miss a beat. As a theater lover, I got special joy from the performance of Patrick Shukis as Leo Frank, along with a large cast. What a great experience for each of them.

Parade is a sprawling musical tragedy based on the unpleasant history from Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia. Alfred Uhry recorded the history he received. It is reported that his mother knew Lucille Frank, the tragic widow/heroine of the work. Writing some 75 years after the 1913-1915 events, in New York and with the context of the American Civil Rights Movement, the fundamental intolerance of racism, antisemitism, and longer-term recollection of the Civil War as a time that brought northerners as marauding soldiers and sophisticated businessmen as Georgia's struggled to rebuild before it became a musical in 1998.

The case of Leo Frank has at times been eclipsed in the popular imagination. It is one of several incidents that shaped my identity as I learned of them. In the 1950s, Meyer Levin’s “Compulsion”—based on the senseless kidnap/murder of Bobby Franks by Leopold and Loeb, marred the self-image of 1920s Jewish Chicago, from whose elite families all three were born into. (a personal bias here, Bobby Franks and I share common antecedents; his great-grandfather was my grandmother’s grandfather).


I was barely more than 10 when I covertly read Levin’s work. Later, more was popularized about the evil doings of the two intellectually gifted, socially privileged men, both of whom spent years in prison. Loeb was murdered by another inmate, while Leopold was paroled in 1958. Their story became the 1959 film Compulsion; Leopold was deeply involved in his own atonement, especially in Puerto Rico, until his death in 1971.


I raise these two histories together for their deep differences. Leo Frank and Bobby Franks were not relatives; nor were their destinies connected in a direct manner. Yet both untimely deaths share a senselessness, a needlessness, that is too frequently concomitant to sensational cases that seem to regularly dominate the news feeds. They shared innocence, vulnerability, and Jewish identity.

It is the response of the general community that differentiates between Atlanta 1913 and Chicago 1924. For Leopold and Loeb, the evidence of a pair of prescription eyeglasses proved their deed. Leo Franks, though exonerated in 1986, suffered by the lack of evidence.

I am not alone in being convinced of his innocence. Seeing him brought to life this year is a sharp call: bad intentions carry a price.

In Leviticus 19:18 we read:

וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃

Love your neighbor as yourself: I am Adonai.


The failure of that neighborly concern for Leo Frank sealed his destruction. The failure of the courts to protect him, and the often-duplicated parallels through the century since then, confirm the evil of untruth. Let us be active in the pursuit of justice.


Mon, October 2 2023 17 Tishrei 5784