Wesley Clark Discusses Spirituality

Beliefnet: And what was your reaction when you first heard?

Clark: Well, of course I was interested to find out about it. I was actually thrilled to be able to complete the family history. Of course, while I was a young man I'd read the book Exodus and seen the movie and studied Israeli military actions: The war of Independence, the 1956 war. They were incredibly bold and daring military forces. And the 1967 war.

I was proud.

Beliefnet: Was there any anger at your mother for not telling you all those years?

Clark: None.

Beliefnet: What was her explanation?

Clark: When I went home I confronted her and I asked her, I said "Mom you never told me. Why?" She probably thought I was mad because I probably said it in an accusatory way, but I wasn't being accusatory. "I don't understand why you didn't tell me."

She started to cry. She said, "Wesley, you just had enough problems. You didn't need one more. You'd lost your father. You came down to Little Rock. You were in fights a lot. You had a Chicago accent. You just didn't need one more problem."

Beliefnet: Why was she so sure it would be a problem?

Clark: Because she'd seen the prejudice in Chicago. Once she told me this, she would then reminisce a lot about it. There were restaurants they couldn't go to. There were clubs they couldn't belong to. There were resorts they couldn't go to vacation to. There were friends they didn't really have. This was a prejudiced society.

And I think my mother probably felt the stigma when she went back to Arkansas as well. At the time, even when I was growing up in Arkansas, if you were Jewish you were not a member of the Little Rock Country Club. You had your own country club. It just so happened I lifeguarded for a few weeks at that country club.

I always got along very, very well with Jewish people. I don't know why. I remember there was a man named Jay Hyman, classmate of mine, and I don't know it was funny thing, it was the way they thought, the way they talked, I just felt a certain familiarity.

So when I found my father was Jewish, a lot of pieces just seem to slip into place the right way.

Beliefnet: Now you are still Catholic but you're going to a Protestant church?

Clark: Right we go to Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.

Beliefnet: Why are you not going to a Catholic Church?

Clark: We stopped going to Catholic Mass some years ago in the Army. We'd go to these Catholic churches, and when you're Catholic, of course, going to church is a duty. But we'd walk out of the church and say 'God,' and we'd complain about the homily.

One night I walked out of the church when the priest said that we should never have fought the Revolutionary War and every war was bad. It was 4th of July. It was an outrageously political statement. I just never felt right when people in the church would take these overtly political positions especially when I felt like I was a good Christian, I was serving my country, and I just didn't feel like I deserved to be lambasted by the priest on the 4th of July.

We finally realized, ya know, we spent years with me complaining that the Catholics wouldn't sing the hymns. In the Protestant church I was in the church choir but for whatever reason, we didn't do that.

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