Doctors told Murray Weiner in May that he wasn’t going to live much longer. He had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The devastating news blindsided him.
Weiner, 77, a Pompano Beach, Fla., resident, told doctors he needed to live until Monday, Sept. 18. He made a promise to himself that he would make one last trip to his native Baltimore to visit his son’s grave. Doctors said that it seemed highly unlikely he would be able to keep that promise, and that even if Weiner were alive, he would not be able to travel.
“Nothing was going to stop me,” Weiner told the JT with an emotional tone. “I was going to do whatever it took to make it.”
On Sunday, Weiner, clad in a crisp light blue button-down shirt, slacks and a Baltimore City Police Department baseball cap, defied the odds and returned home. He joined about two dozen people at Oheb Shalom Memorial Park in Reisterstown to remember his son, Baltimore City Police Officer Ira Weiner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty 25 years ago.
“I made it,” said Weiner, who grew up in the 5400 block of Park Heights Avenue. “I can’t believe how many people showed up. I was just so proud of Ira.”
That the memorial service has become an annual tradition for the last seven years is due largely to the efforts of Jeremy Silbert, a detective and spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department. As president of Shomrim Society of Maryland, a fraternal organization for Jewish public safety officers, Silbert has organized a number of similar events. He often teams with Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, chaplain for the Baltimore Police Department and director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland, who officiated Sunday’s service.
As a Jewish officer himself, Silbert said Ira’s story hits especially close to home, even though Silbert never knew him personally. In Silbert’s estimation, Ira is the only Jewish officer among the 136 Baltimore police officers who have been killed in the line of duty in the department’s 233-year history. Silbert started his career on the force in the Western District, as did Ira.
“Having worked with officers who have been killed in the line of duty, that’s not something you forget,” said Silbert, who spent seven years as a patrol officer in the Western District. “You think about it every day at work. You think about it every day when you drive by that area where they were killed. It’s something that we’re constantly thinking about.”
Murray will never forget that fateful day. It was Sept. 19, 1992. Ira had answered a domestic dispute in which a man was making threats and causing a disturbance with an ice pick at a home in the 1900 block of West Mulberry Street.
The suspect, Lewis Thomas, 29, waited patiently for Ira to enter the home. Once Ira came in, Thomas attacked the officer with the ice pick. Thomas stabbed Ira over the left eye, grabbed the gun from Ira’s holster and shot the officer in the head.
Ira was immediately rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Thomas engaged in a shootout with four responding officers and was shot and killed.
“Just 10 minutes, and I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with you today,” Murray said of the time it took for backup officers to arrive.
Ira died two days after the incident. He was 28. Doctors told Murray it was useless to operate, so Murray decided to remove his son from life support, one of the hardest decisions of his life, he said.
Murray and Ira had rekindled their relationship earlier that summer after seeing one another sporadically over the years following Murray’s divorce from Ira’s mother, Arlene, when Ira was 3. Ira trekked to Connecticut, where his father was living at the time, to ask Murray to come back to Baltimore to meet his fiancée.
But, as Murray recalled, Ira said there was a problem.
“I says, ‘Yeah, what’s the problem?’” Murray recounted. “Ira says, ‘She’s not Jewish.’ I says, ‘Was my wife Jewish?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about what people think. It’s what you think that matters.’”
Though Ira never got to marry his fiancée, Murray said, “In Judaism, what’s beshert is beshert. That’s what I live by. What’s meant to be will be. [Ira] meant it for me to be here today.”
As the years continue to wear on, similar sentiments were shared by those who were closest to Ira.
Susan Finkelstein, Ira’s aunt, said she helped raise Ira when he was a child and developed a close relationship with him. After Ira was fatally shot, Finkelstein, a lifelong Baltimore resident, said she gained a greater appreciation for the hardships officers face on a daily basis. She also learned of the bonds among officers.
“I had never realized in my life the brotherhood, the kinship, the love that these officers have for each other,” Finkelstein said.
As the family member of a fallen police officer, Finkelstein said she thanks officers and other public servants when she sees them for their decision to protect and serve.
“I know how hard it is for them,” Finkelstein said, tears streaming down her face. “That’s why I go out of my way to show them the support, because what they do is not easy.”
Ira graduated from Northwestern High School in 1982. He enrolled in the Baltimore Police Academy in 1988 and joined the department after graduation.
Former and current law officials with Baltimore Police Department expressed their deepest sympathies with the family and remembered the many joyous times they shared with Ira.
Chris Malecki, 50, choked up briefly when speaking about Ira. The two trained together at the police academy, formed a close-knit friendship and loved to compete against one another in billiards.
“He was like a brother,” said Malecki, who made the trip from Florida.
In the academy, Malecki said, Ira struggled to keep off weight and had to stay within 10 pounds of a mandated weight limit to avoid being kicked out. With some help and support from Malecki and others, Ira did.
“All of us had to exercise extra to make sure he stayed within the weight,” Malecki said with a laugh.
When word had spread that Ira was shot, Malecki was competing in a police league softball game for the Western District. The game stopped immediately, and Malecki rushed to the hospital.
“It was difficult,” Malecki said in a somber tone.
In the Western District headquarters, a memorial wall bears a plaque with Ira’s name, along with the names of each officer who has been killed in the district.
Silbert said seeing that image every day at roll call during his time in the Western District continues to serve as a source of inspiration.
“This will always hold a special place in my heart,” Silbert said. “Even if there are only two of us out here, we will always come out here to celebrate Ira every year.”