(I delivered this eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral, Z”L, on July 29, 2008)
On Sunday night, I had the distinct כבוד to stay with my grandparents in the hospice facility in which my grandfather was residing. While I was up late that night, I composed the following letter, which I’d like to share with you.
July 27, 2008
As I sit here tonight with you and Grandma, I think about all of the good times we’ve had together, and about how you’ve enriched my life so much, as well as the lives of my parents, my siblings, and so many others around you.
You were always smiling, I remember; you always loved to make us smile. You were the kind of grandpa who loved to see us laughing, who was content to have your youngest granddaughter sit on your head and play with your hair, to show us new tricks on the computer (that is, before we knew more than you did). At every birthday you’d sing a perfectly in-tune “Good Evening Friends” at the end of the Happy Birthday song, even up to Grandma’s most recent birthday, which we celebrated when you stayed in our house this year on Pesach. I remember years ago, sitting on your lap, having you sing your own doctored version of Al Jolson’s “Sonny Boy,” which included each of our own names, and our age with some equation ending in three. I remember being seven years old, sitting in your lap, while you sang to me: “Climb up on my knee, Hinda girl, / You’re one plus two times three, Hinda girl.” I wished this year on my birthday you could have sung to me, finally seven times three.
As I sit, I’m playing through my head the interviews we did together, the great stories you told me. Through it all you seemed so modest, so understated, but your stories reinforced for me that you were a good soul, a brave soldier, a lifelong learner, an avid reader, a dedicated teacher. Even though I always knew you as an academic, I learned that you were the kid who disliked the first few days of kindergarten so much that you used to run home. You enjoyed a good laugh, a happy occasion. You loved my Grandma, your wife, for over 55 years, and treated her as an equal, with respect and honor.
My father, the biggest blessing you’ve given me (in greatness and in stature), summed up his experience of you in his own beautifully written words. I sit here reading them with you, Grandpa, at my side, grinning to myself because I know my father inherited his love of dinner-table grammar lessons from you. I know that in your condition you are not able to read his words yourself, but let me share them with you. You would be proud to read them.
“This week’s Torah portion, מסעי, recounts the path of the Israelites as they wandered through the desert on the way to their final destination and then goes on to describe how each tribe’s נחלה, or legacy of hereditary property, would be determined. In recalling the path of my father’s life, I believe that one aspect of his legacy was how Dad continued to strive to reinvent himself as a better person all through his adult life.
Dad grew up in a home that was unmistakably Jewish in that my grandmother kept a kosher kitchen and she lit candles on Friday night, but there weren’t a lot of other observances of Jewish ritual. When my brother and I developed an interest in attending shul on Shabbat mornings, Dad was supportive — at least to the point of getting us there and then picking us up again afterwards. By the time we were teenagers, both Dad and Mom had become regulars at Shabbat morning services. Those days at East Midwood marked the start of several lifelong friendships for my parents, including a particularly close friendship with my in-laws, Roz and Leon Schor. Years later, after Susan and I were married and Mom and Dad finally moved to the Midwood community from the “Diaspora” of East 58th Street, imagine my surprise to learn that Dad had become a regular at the daily minyan. The increased frequency of his attendance at shul, he explained, was somehow connected to his desire to help out the minyan with some computer work that he had volunteered to do, but while I never did fully understand the connection, I suspected that, somehow, some spiritual growth may have been involved. How proud we all were when he chanted the haftarah at his second bar mitzvah, just three years ago.
Dad reinvented himself in many other ways, too. He reinvented himself into a non-smoker, in response to a certain amount of loving pressure from the rest of us. He reinvented himself into a fairly adept personal computer user, after having grown up with IBM mainframes in the 1950s. And, patiently explaining to me all the nuances of the game, he reinvented himself into a Mets fan when I got interested in baseball after the ’69 Mets won the World Series, years after his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers had abandoned Ebbets Field for sunny Southern California.”
Grandpa, in your ability to reinvent yourself, you’ve touched so many people, so many different kinds of people. How many individuals get to serve in the U.S. Army, work at a parent’s store, teach at four different colleges and a prison, in addition to caring for a sister, two proudly Jewish sons and their wives, and six (now seven) grandchildren, all in one lifetime? You always very apparently loved your family. On this, Daddy writes:
“While we lived in the same house as my mom’s parents, we were blessed to have also enjoyed a very close relationship with my dad’s parents, who lived only a couple of miles away. I remember looking forward to our frequent visits with them. As much and as effusive as they were in their love for my brother and me, occasionally my grandmother let it slip that her only disappointment was that my parent didn’t also give her a granddaughter to dress up in ribbons and bows. After her first two great-grandchildren turned out to be boys, Grandma Fannie figured that all hope was lost. Imagine her delight when the first of her two great-granddaughters was born. In his own quiet way, I believe that this was Dad’s delight, too, and perhaps one of his greatest reinventions — being the proud grandfather of not only boys, but also two girls, who not only wore ribbons and bows, but are also quite accomplished in their own right.”
As I play through this retrospective, a whole lifetime of wonderful things passes through my head. And knowing that I’ve been alive not even one-quarter of your years, I can only imagine how much impact you had before I arrived. Through it all, Grandpa, though you reinvented yourself may times, you were always strong, always a fighter. Even when you got sick, you defied every prediction, you continued against all odds. You still do. And I could not be prouder to say that I have inherited from you your taste in music and theater, your love of laughter, love of family, proficiency for teaching, a bit of irreverence, and genes.
Daddy concluded his remarks as follows:
“May we all remember the legacy of Dad’s example, his דוגמה, of the importance of continually growing and improving oneself, setting and striving to reach new goals, one’s whole life long.”
In addition to this profound message, I would like to add my own, as I sit here watching you, Grandpa. I want to leave you with some lyrics from later on in Al Jolson’s “Sonny Boy,” that you used to sing with us: “You’re sent from heaven, / And I know your worth. / You’ve made a heaven for me here on earth.” I want to thank you for all of the blessings you’ve given us, all of the smiles we’ve shared. Even if you won’t be physically with us, I hope you’ll continue to share in all of the smiles we have for years to come.