By Eboo Patel and Becca Hartman
We were talking to Rita Moskowitz Tuesday morning when she said, “After I get off the phone with you, I am going to put a call to Oral’s hospital – it sounds like he is really not doing well.” Four hours later, his passing was announced.
Rita Moskowitz and her husband, Frank, were good friends with Oral Roberts, the country’s preeminent televangelist (on air since the 1950s), famous for his revivals and healings.
Oral Roberts’ ministry is not without contention. His legacy includes Oral Roberts University (ORU), complete with a 60-foot, 30-ton praying hands statue, and the City of Faith Medical and Research Center, built with inspiration from a vision in which a 900-foot-tall Jesus spoke to Oral. His legacy includes the spiritual, emotional, and, many say, physical health of millions. His legacy also includes a bar mitzvah commentary.
Imagine the surprise of the Temple Israel congregation when Rita and Frank invited Oral to speak at their son’s bar mitzvah in 1972. The Temple’s Rabbi, Norbert Rosenthal, was also a friend of Oral’s, and he granted Rita’s request that Oral say a few words from the bemah (podium). When the service was completed, the Rabbi said, “A dear friend of Mitchell’s parents would like to say a few words.”
As Rita recalls, “Oral thanked the Rabbi for allowing him to speak. He stood facing Mitchell and praised his conduct of the service and his beautiful speech about his teachers and family. Looking at my son he said, ‘Mitchell, you have been truly blessed to have such wonderful and loving parents. Evelyn and I have been blessed as well….because of their friendship and dedication to their efforts to build a thriving Tulsa community.’”
This unlikely relationship began through business. When Oral had a vision to build a medical center adjacent to his university, his attorney, Judge Saul Yager, introduced him to a friend, Frank. Oral called Frank to a private meeting in his office in the Prayer Tower and described a dream he had in which God told him to build a hospital, which would require the undeveloped land next to the University. He asked Frank to find a way to put together this acreage for him.
Frank knew the owner of the land, a Petroleum Engineer working on projects in Jordan. Frank told Oral he could not go to Amman to make the request because Jews were not allowed to enter the country at that time. Oral told Frank, “If God wants me to have this property, God will show you a way.” Frank learned that the landowner would be home from Jordan for a 48 hour period two weeks from that day. Frank called the owner’s wife and made an appointment – the owner signed the contract before going back overseas, thanks to Frank’s negotiations.
But Rita, Frank and Oral didn’t simply have a commercial relationship. They had become friends, with a deep respect for one another. At the closing of the land purchase Oral told Frank and Rita, “I know you don’t believe what I believe, but I believe in you two, and I believe its God’s will that I work with you.” These two Jews were making Oral’s dream come true, and their relationship continued to evolve over the years. When Oral and Evelyn’s daughter and son-in-law were tragically killed in a plane crash in 1977, Rita and Frank were among the first people in their living room.
Oral wanted Rita and Frank to be remembered for their efforts in behalf of ORU, and so he named the Mabee Center Lobby in their honor.
A Jewish name on a Christian facility – there are some who do not celebrate or support this unlikely friendship. But there are those who know that such friendships are what makes the world go round, and that their loss is something to grieve and to honor.