Shalom, chaver… Eulogies delivered at the funeral of Rabbi Emeritus Gerald Brieger.

Rabbi Brieger with guitar

On 4 Av 5776, 8 August 2016 we said goodbye to our beloved Rabbi Emeritus Gerald ‘Jerry’ Brieger. Temple Emanuel sanctuary was filled to the brim, and eulogies were delivered by Jerry’s family, friends and colleagues. In the days and weeks that followed, we heard from many people, both those who could not attend and those who were in the room, asking to read once again the incredibly moving eulogies. With the family’s permission and the author’s approval, we are honored to share these words with you today, in the order they were delivered at the funeral.

May Rabbi Jerry’s memory endure as a blessing, and may Eternal comfort all those who mourn his passing.

To everything, turn, turn, turn.

There is a season, turn, turn, turn.

And a time to every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die.

A time to plant, a time to reap.

A time to kill, a time to heal.

A time to laugh, a time to weep…

 

Rita Brieger:

I have just gone from 2 weeks of extreme happiness and joy with the birth of Norah Judith and Evan Bruce to excruciating and loving Sorrow.

“If you have anyone to love, you had better love them now.  If you have duties to perform do not delay or you may be too late. If there is goodness in life and beauty in the world to share with your parents, your husband, your wife, your children, do it now. If there lies within you the possibility of a contribution to make the world better don’t postpone it, or perhaps you’ll never do it.”

Rabbi Philip Bernstein

When Jerry officiated at a funeral he always started it with this beautiful and poignant poem I just recited.

I met Jerry about 36 years ago when I joined Temple Emanuel.  I was a single mom with two young children. TE, once a year on an autumn afternoon had a Hike and Havdalah.   I decided to go with a friend and my children.   Jerry would not stop staring at me.    In future encounters he would blush every time he saw me.  And, I was clearly interested in him.   I finally got up enough courage to invite him for dinner. We fell in love on that dinner date.  We knew that evening after talking for hours that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. A year and a half later we were married.  We had been married for 33 years. Jerry was a loving and romantic husband, my best friend and soul mate and a fabulous and loving step dad to my children, Marla and Jon.  For those who knew Jerry he was a remarkable man, extremely smart, wise, non judgmental, unpretentious and he never really took himself seriously.  He was musically talented, great at magic and card tricks and very very funny. Oy, was he funny.

You will soon hear his friends and colleagues talk more about his intellect, love for Talmud and learning. I’m going to talk a little bit about a side of Jerry that many of you may not know. His funny, silly and goofy side.  At home and with close friends you would often hear him say, Oy! What a schmdrick I am!  I can go on and on for hours about his being goofy and absentminded.  Can’t tell you how many times the mail man knocked at our door returning his appointment book or palm pilot because Jerry left it on the top of his car and drove away. He even drove off with our cat on the car roof!  Jer could never leave the house without having to return for something he forgot.  His only dress style was dishevel.  At his first funeral he cut his finger so badly with a razor while doing Kriah that the blood was pumping out and he had to borrow a hankie from the bereaved.  He loved being the clown and getting attention.  If you were a child he would engage you by removing his thumb. He was always making funny faces, noises and sounds from his mouth. He was TE’s resident Magician.   He told his young congregants jokes at Sunday school. Or anyone else for that matter. There’s the famous pencil joke that he told with a Yiddish accent…..  Your pens-vil fall off if you don’t wear suspenders. I think only he got it!  That never stopped him from telling it over and over again. He could make his arm get longer, make quarters disappear in thin air. His niece Eva reminded me that he would pretend to thread his lips shut and then wiggle them.  When Marla and Jon were young he would play into the castle with them    And the “words” he used…….i’m whimbowed, if he was tired, the “backwards whaaldo” was coined when his nephew Mike and Jonathan were painting our house. They were sitting on the deck railing and Jer was concerned they would fall and do a backwards Whaaldo. That phrase is now a permanent part of Mikes vocabulary.

And then of course there was the “Grimber”.  It would not matter whether we were at Union League cafe, the local diner or our dinner table.  As long as an audience was present and a cloth napkin was on the table, you could not stop him.  He would turn the napkin into a little mouse called the Grimber with little ears and a tail and he would make it go up and down his arm. I could never quite figure out how he did that! He would make the salt and pepper shakers disappear, call the waiters over and show them how he pretended to bend the silverware and make napkins elevate.  He must have done his schtick 100s and 100s of times and we always, always laughed hysterically.

JERRY, I LOST YOU twice.  For all of you who know him and loved him you lost your Jerry twice.  The first time was to dementia.  IT took his mind, but not his sweet gentle soul, his beautiful smile, warm heart and that twinkle in his eyes.  IT didn’t take his compassion, humor and love for music, Rabbi Farbman can attest to that.  It didn’t take his love for his brother Steve, Carol, nieces and nephews, his children and close friends; and IT didn’t take his love for me.  I felt it every time I came to visit him.  I always left with more joy and love in my heart then when I first walked in.  I/We have been mourning his loss for a long time.

The second time I lost Jerry it was to G-d.   God wanted his sweet gentle soul, his beautiful smile, warm heart and that twinkle in his eyes.   Our love for each other will never be lost it is mine forever.

 

Steve Brieger:

At Meadow Mills, where Jerry has been a resident for the past year and a half, Madalyn  is my favorite of the caregivers.  As I arrived one day some 6 to 8 weeks ago, she came up to me with a big smile on her face.    She was so anxious to share with me her excitement about Jerry.  At that point in time he was having both good and bad days.  This was a good day.  He was back to his old self, she said:  able to stand, smiling all the time, reaching out toward you with one hand, ever so gently, as if to say, “I love you.”  By then his decline had become more pronounced, and Hospice had been brought in.  Even so, Madalyn was happy!  . . . “I love that man”, she said. . .  She’s not alone.  I shared with Madalyn that people have been reacting to Jerry this way all his life.  There’s just something about him . . . it’s been there since childhood.  Call it empathy . . . call it spirituality . . . call it whatever.  But it’s real.  And even when he could no longer speak, that certain something remained alive and well.

Jerry was more than my brother.  He was my friend.  Not early in our lives.  We’re 5 years, 2 months, and 5 days apart . . . I’m older.  That’s a big difference when you’re young.  Jerry looked up to me, but I looked down on him.

That certainly changed as we grew older.  And by the time we were in our teens and 20’s we were solid  . . . brothers who loved each other . . . brothers who liked and respected each other.  We were very different . . . always, in so many ways.  Yet there were things we shared in common.  Music was a big one.  Our dad taught us to play the ukulele.  Artie “ukulele” Brieger was the moniker on his business card when, as a young man, he sold musical instruments on the road.  He was a virtuoso and we both loved sitting at his feet . . . . . listening to him play and sing.  While I graduated to the guitar through my interest in Rock & Roll and eventually Jazz, Jerry’s Folk orientation moved him to the banjo and guitar (Pete Seeger and Earl Scruggs were among his heroes).  In college I sang Heartbreak Hotel on top of bars.  Jerry, ½ of the Folk duo known as Hank & Jerry,  landed a gig singing Irish ditties, in an Irish bar.  Through his involvement with Temple Youth Groups, his music drew him to conclaves and Camp Eisner and song leadership.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Yet his journey to the Rabbinate was circuitous, to say the least.  Brooklyn Tech H.S., 1 of the top 3 high schools in NYC.  A 2 hour commute in each direction from our home in Hollis, Queens every day.  Then CCNY (now City University) to graduate with a major in electrical engineering.  Our family thought it was pretty remarkable that he chose electrical engineering, given his difficulty with screwing in light bulbs.  But he loved physics!  I remember that we used to discuss Relativity and Quantum Theory . . . literally.  Mostly, I listened.

In any event, he made the decision to become a rabbi about half-way through the 5 year program at CCNY.  His goal was to become a Talmudic Scholar. . . There was no thought then about a pulpit.  But lack of funds required that he go to work, hoping that he could complete his PhD dissertation while employed.  It wasn’t until many years later that he finally achieved that goal.   His doctorate in Ministry was a tremendous achievement.   I was never prouder of him when then when he made that happen.  So . . . going back . . .  he sought a pulpit position, never dreaming at the time that Temple Emanuel would be his career.  To us . . .  in retrospect, how could it have been anything else?  Everything he wanted . . . everything he needed . . . .and most importantly, everything he offered, would be right here.  It didn’t take very long for him to realize that.  I think what he learned about himself in the early years here had everything to do with his complete happiness in a career he hadn’t planned for.  Namely, the people . . . the congregation.  He loved the people . . . loved serving them . . . men . . . women . . . kids . . . .oh my, the KIDS!

And kids not just at Temple Emanuel.  Remember International Torah Corps.  Those of you who got to visit Jerry at the White Mountain School, summers, in the mountains of New Hampshire, know about the kids.  He was the Pied Piper to those youngsters.  With Rabbi Dov Taylor, his partner, he created a program of Jewish study and play in this beautiful, natural environment imbued with spirituality.  Jerry the teacher . . . Jerry the song leader . . . Jerry the magician . . . Jerry the inimitable Jewish folk dancer . . .  not holding hands with the others in the circle . . .  dancing outside the perimeter . . .  to his own improvised .. . indescribable steps . . . a combination of Danny Kaye and Red Skelton.  Hilarity ensued.

Jerry knew he’d never become wealthy and he cared not a whit about that.  For him it was about the people, the relationships, the teaching and the study.  He loved this congregation, and he knew he was loved back.  That’s a career . . . that’s a life well-lived.

Carol and I are so happy that we relocated to CT 12 years ago.  It brought us closer physically to Jerry & Rita and, although we didn’t know it then, it gave us some time to be with Jerry while he was still healthy.  For that we owe Rita.  Dear, dear Rita, who told us about Oronoque Villlage in Stratford, where we ultimately bought.  We owe so much to her.  Yes, she’s an amazing person . . . we all know that.  And we all know that she and Jerry had a wonderful, truly wonderful marriage.  But how she has cared for Jerry during these years of his decline . . . the constancy of her love . . . how she has carried herself . . . her courage . . . her self-possession . . . the decisions she’s had to make . . .

Marrying Rita was the best decision Jerry ever made!

Goodbye my sweet brother.  Rest in peace, knowing you are loved and remembered by so many.

 

Alan Kliger:

Jerry Brieger was my closest friend for nearly 40 years. Ten years before we met, we both were undergraduates at City College of New York at the same time, but didn’t know each other – even though we lived 2 blocks apart in Queens. He studied electrical engineering, I was in liberal arts. But when we studied in the library, I went to the engineering library, which was quiet and studious. Jerry went to the liberal arts library, to watch the girls. How interesting then that Jerry became a rabbi and got his doctorate in counseling, while I became a clinical scientist. Jerry the electrical engineer – – had trouble screwing in a lightbulb.

How often he stood here, at a funeral like this, helping families like mine fulfill our obligations to lovingly remember, honor and bury our own. From this spot he welcomed new children to the world. He performed b’nai mitzvah and confirmations for all of our children, as he did for our daughter Jo-Anna 35 years ago. He officiated at marriage celebrations. How I remember standing on this bimah with our daughter and her groom, singing alongside my Rabbi, my friend, with tears in my eyes. How many children he touched. How many TEers and others Jerry reached, teaching, celebrating, supporting, loving.

Jerry showed me by his example, what it means to love God. He shouted with joy RABONO SHEL OLAM, Master of the Universe – at a beautiful sunset, or a hike in the White Mountains, or the beauty of an exciting idea. He got through to adults and children alike, with magic tricks, with arguments for a just world, with crazy jerky dancing… with joy in learning and a passion for life.

Jerry’s focus always was on others, and never on himself. He wanted to make people happy. He never passed a beggar or street person without stopping to give them something. Once I remember he opened his wallet and handed over a $20 bill. I said, Wow Jerry, Incredibly generous! He looked at me strangely – – he thought he’d given a dollar.  Jerry.  He always saw the glass as half FULL – – no, usually he saw it as completely full.

Jerry was a scholar – reading constantly, sharing new and interesting ideas, a reform Jew with an early academic interest in Talmud. I loved his Shabbat services, where he framed questions for the congregation from the week’s parsha. He then led discussions and sometimes debates. He was so skillful juggling our thoughts, our challenges, and our interpretations at multiple levels of thought – simultaneously. Decades after he finished Rabbinical training, he still talked about his teachers: their theories, their mishagos, and he in turn loved teaching – here and at Torah Corps in the White Mountains.

Jerry taught me this Jewish custom for a eulogy. He said, “at a funeral, talk directly to the person who died.”

So – – Jerry, what a beautiful soul you have! Even as you lost your memory, lost your incredible intellect, lost your words – – still each day you smiled and laughed, you never lost your sense of humor, you found joy in the world. When you could say few words you still said, “it’s wonderful” about the world around you. You lit up smiling ear to ear when you saw your loving Rita. You cried and clapped your hands when Rita and your brother Steve sang to you. After the dementia you braved through had taken away so much, after all was scoured away, what was left? Your beautiful, joyful, smiling, giving soul.

And so Jerrileh, I am so lucky to have had you, my closest friend, my Rabbi, my teacher, in my life. All of us here and maybe thousands not here have been so touched by your life. So now maybe you can do your crazy dance with the Ribono Shel Olam.

 

Rabbi Hesch Sommer:

I had the good fortune of calling Jerry Brieger my friend and colleague for more than three decades.  He was one of the brightest, most intellectually gifted, individuals I have ever encountered. His ability to recall a text and to understand the multiple layers of its meaning was uncanny.  I am not sure if he realized the profound uniqueness of his ability.  Perhaps an aspect of his gift was an intellectual modesty or it is possible that he did not readily sense the powerful capacity of his  mind which he brought to his studies and his teaching. For like beauty, genius may be in the eyes of the beholder.  But those of us who were honored to learn with and from him, saw it and knew that we were blessed by knowing this truly gifted teacher.

When I had my first sabbatical from Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison in 1990, I asked Jerry if he would be willing to study with me and when he agreed, I invited him to choose a kabbalist text. He chose Sefer Yetzirah, one of the oldest mystical writings. Having been a lifeguard from my early years of high school through college, I knew the signs of someone who was drowning… when Jerry and I dove into Sefer Yetzirah, it was his amazing insights and comprehension which kept me afloat. I was awestruck by his ability to decipher and his courage not to be intimidated by the text’s obscurity. The turbulent waters of its mystical secrets, its seemingly opaque illusions, calmed with Jerry’s elucidation.  I learned some text, got a better understanding of kabbalist thinking, but I learned so much more…the power of chevurat, of a fellowship and closeness which could grow when a knowledgeable teacher welcomes a less talented colleague into the sparkling and refreshing waters of learning.

Jerry and I had the opportunity  to explore this bond even more in depth, when a few years later we entered the Doctorate of Ministry program offered in partnership between the Post Graduate Center for Mental Health and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.  Each Monday for two years, we would travel together into the city by train, leaving very early and returning home very late, but from the moment we were seated until the time that he got off in Milford in the evening, we talked and tried to better understand the secret texts of psychotherapy.  My swimming had improved, we could now support each other through the rough waters, and we learned a lot about each other. We continued to study beyond the program, long after each of us had received his doctorate. We continued with other colleagues, and through it all, Jerry’s unique abilities continued to offer insight, knowledge and wisdom.

If , for a moment, we contemplate life as a jigsaw puzzle, with G-d as the Ultimate Puzzle Maker and we, not only pieces of a greater puzzle, but also individual unique puzzles ourselves, then imagine that our lives are a coming together of these different pieces, of our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and defeats.  Imagine that in the course of our lifetime, we live many different lives, encounter many people, experience much through work, daily living and loving. And that through each encounter, the pieces of our individual puzzle come together to make us who we are…that one-of-a-kind puzzle. Now think of the special puzzle each of us in our own way knew as Jerry Brieger and how the tragic accident so many years ago could slowly and insidiously start to dismantle that beautiful puzzle, removing a piece of that sharp mind and intellect, leaving behind confusion, taking away the corner piece of the talented teacher which left him wordless and the piece of the wise and sensitive spiritual guide which left him adrift…but in the end, the pieces which could never be taken away were the kind heart, the welcoming smile, and the sparking eyes, to the end willing, wanting to engage.

Jerry Brieger was one of the good guys. And we are not only bereft in his passing, but are truly diminished as well. Our tradition says that the memory of the righteous will be a blessing forever. And so it will be of our good friend, our teacher, a mensch.

 

Rabbi Norman Cohen (read at the funeral by Rabbi Donald Splansky)

The writer of the Song of Songs captured the love that people have for another, when he wrote(2:14):
Let me see your face;
Let me hear your voice.
For your voice is so sweet
And your face is so beautiful.

We who loved Jerry, long to see his face again and to hear his voice.

— But for me, the true window to Jerry’s soul, as the Ancients believed, was his eyes. In Shir ha-Shirim, Song of Songs, we read:
“Hinach yafah, einayich yonim”(1:15) Behold, you are so beautiful with your dove-like eyes.
Can we forget Jerry’s eyes—their twinkle, their warmth, their love, even in the last years, when he was so limited? Yet, how well did his eyes communicate his persona: “einayich yonim” = Eyes like those of a dove:
— Soft and Caring = they showed his deep concern for others, for what they were feeling, thinking and this was his most defining characteristic.
— Loving = the twinkle in his eyes reflected his passion and deep enjoyment of life. His eyes lit up when he saw someone for whom he cared; their lightness and playfulness illumined and engaged
young and old alike.
— Inquisitive = His eyes took in all around him; he was interested in people, in situations, in ideas.
— Bright and Intelligent = He was a person of serious study..and deep interest in learning in order to teach.
— Humble = His eyes invited people in for whom he always made space; he was there for others, and they could feel his embrace and his willingness to share himself.
— And they showed his Integrity = his willingness to always stand for what was right; he was the most genuine human we ever met.
Simply put, it was his eyes that won us over from the first time we encountered him. As Shir ha-Shirim emphasizes:
“You have conquered my heart with one glance of your eyes.”(4:9)
Jerry, we and our children will sorely miss you, with all of your music and songs, your magic tricks, and your love. But, you will continue to live with us, because we know that–

There is a love like a small lamp which goes out when its oil is consumed;
Or like a small stream which dries up when it doesn’t rain.
But, there is another kind of love that is like a great well in the earth. It keeps its fullness forever and is inexhaustible.

 

Rabbi Dov Taylor

It still hasn’t quite registered—this unwelcome, untimely, unseemly death, which gives us yet another reason to mourn during this mournful month of Av. The fragility of everything we hold dear—of everyone we hold dear—is brought home to us with crushing finality. How do we mourn such a death?

David—sweet singer of Israel—knows how to mourn. In the first of his many losses, when the news of his beloved friend Jonathan’s death at the hands of the Philistines reaches him, his lament for his soulmate comes ringing down to us through the centuries, as he cries out in anguish: “Ha-tsvi Yisrael al bamotekha chalal. Eikh naflu giborim! Your beauty, O Israel, despoiled upon the heights. How the mighty have fallen!”

And when King Solomon’s grand temple is destroyed and the city of Jerusalem laid waste, the prophet Jeremiah moans: “Eicha yashva badad, ha-ir rabati am. Alas! How forsaken sits the city once great with people!”

And a midrash imagines him leading a procession among the ruins of Jerusalem, calling Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Moses and all the other luminaries of Israel’s past from their graves, and the mourning procession grows longer and longer as they go from site to site, remembering all the glories of the past, weeping like a man whose beloved dead lies before him.

And finally—and perhaps most poignantly—the legend pictures a sorrowing God—“How could I have let this happen to my children,” he whispers through his tears. The angel can’t bear the sight of God weeping. “Let me weep, but you mustn’t weep,” he implores. “It’s not fitting for the King to weep before his subjects.”

But God insists on his right to mourn. “If you won’t let me weep,” he says, “then I’ll go somewhere where you can’t enter and I’ll weep there in secret.”

It’s one of the boldest images in all of rabbinic literature—the notion that when good people die unseemly deaths, even God weeps at the suffering of His children.

“Your beauty, O Israel, despoiled upon the heights!” Lover, Companion, dutiful Son and Brother, second Dad to Marla and Jonathan, Musician, Magician, Student, Teacher, Rabbi, Mentor, Confidant, Friend—Jerry was all of these and more. We each have our own memories. We each mourn our own loss. I will speak of mine.

In 1965, with the support of the inimitable Rabbi Hank Skirball, at the time Assistant Director of NFTY, I started and directed for twenty years an intensive summer program of Hebrew and Jewish studies for teenagers from around the U.S. and Canada. It was called the Torah Corps. But we had a problem. We lacked a songleader, essential to such a program. In the fall of 1967 I was entering my fifth and final year of rabbinic studies at HUC-JIR in New York City when I heard about a freshman rabbinic student named Brieger who might fill the bill. We spoke and hit it off immediately. I offered him a job as songleader at Torah Corps for the coming summer. I told him we’d pay him $800, but if he got an “A” in his first-year Hebrew course, we’d pay him $1000.

The rest, of course, you know. He earned an “A” in Hebrew and became not only the Torah Corps songleader for the next seventeen years, but also a beloved teacher and colleague—and my co-director and best friend. Torah Corps would never have happened without him.

For the teenagers, Jerry was the Pied Piper. At mealtime, the kids raced into the dining room, hoping to win one of the prized eight seats at Jerry’s table. And the laughter that came from that table throughout the meal made us all wish that we could be there too. Frankly, I was jealous.

And he could get a group of Reform Jewish teenagers excited about Talmud. “U-reminhu!” he would exclaim, using the Talmud’s term for introducing a contradiction between two sources of equal authority, and explaining that Rabbi Ploni raised an argument against Rabbi Almoni—perfect for young adults who loved to argue with their elders as part of their need to exert their independence and individuate themselves.

With his guitar or banjo in hand, he would criss-cross the dining room after meals, teaching wonderful Hebrew songs. He trained a choir that brought beautiful and exciting and spiritually uplifting music to our daily and Shabbat services with their lovely youthful voices.

Marc Saperstein writes from the U.K.: “The strongest memories I have of Jerry are of his leading worship services at Torah Corps—making the entire Shabbat evening service a continuous musical event in which everyone participated. I have never been as inspired by the worship experience as I was when he was the sheli’ach tsibbur.” Many of us can say the same.

And Hank Skirball writes from Jerusalem: “I have thought of him often and reminisced about Hank Sawitz and Jerry and often hummed or sang songs they brought to my life as, of course, to generations of Jewish youth of all ages. To paraphrase Peretz “There is a new musician in the Heavenly orchestra.”

And then there was his shtik, of which I’ll mention just one example. On leil Shabbat, after dinner and singing and student-led services, we had Israeli dancing. Picture this: Led by our dance teacher, the students and faculty are dancing in a big circle. And running around the outside of the circle like a meshuga, there is Jerry, doing his own ridiculous version of the dance, cracking everyone up and making us laugh so hard that we could hardly dance. It was impossible to ignore him. It was impossible not to love him.

There were his many card tricks, performed to the delight of his audience. And there was the grimber, but don’t ask me what it was. He would take a cloth napkin, fold it until it resembled a small creature, which he would then pet until it suddenly took flight on its own—a source of endless merriment. And now I understand why we all loved him: His inner child was so readily accessible to him that he helped bring out the child within all of us—the playful, joyful, uninhibited child.

Jerry had another side, though I saw it only once. One summer at Torah Corps, we had a tall, strapping young student who brazenly broke every rule and eventually managed to break his leg as well, jumping into a raging river and getting smashed against the rocks. The doctor put a cast on the leg and instructed him to stay off it as much as possible or it wouldn’t heal properly. That very afternoon, Jerry and I saw him playing tennis, hobbling around the court on his cast. And before I could say a word, Jerry started screaming at him at the top of his lungs. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I never knew he had that in him, as I was usually the disciplinarian. He screamed for what seemed an eternity while I stood speechless at what I was witnessing.

Our children, Yael and Jesse, were crazy about him. He had a special “Tsipi song” for Yael, who remembers his ready smile and the twinkle in his eye. He led a Shehecheyanu in the dining room when fifteen-month-old Jesse took his first proud steps. And several years and many steps later, Jesse—together with Jerry and Marc Saperstein and me—climbed Mt. Lafayette in our beloved White Mountains, stayed over at the AMC Greenleaf hut, hiked the Franconia Ridge and descended Little Haystack by the Falling Waters trail.

Judith and I shared many wonderful moments with Jerry and Marcia before he became a tsaddik and stopped eating lobster. And we saw him through his divorce and loneliness. And we celebrated his newfound love for Rita and shared many more wonderful experiences with Jerry and Rita. One summer we met them where they were camping in the Grand Tetons. It was pouring rain as the four of us sat cross-legged inside the tent eating chumus and drinking Jack Danel’s.

And another time we attended a CCAR convention in Seattle together, after which we rented a car and headed up to a guest ranch in British Columbia, where we all rode horses from morning ‘til night in the most glorious settings, which made the sore butts worthwhile.

Jerry’s music made words superfluous. I offer instead music of a different sort—a poem by Zelda, an Israeli poet who understood as well as anyone about living and dying:

Each man has a name

given him by God

and given him by his father and mother.

Each man has a name

given him by his stature and his way of smiling,

and given him by his clothes.

Each man has a name

given him by the mountains

and given him by his walls.

Each man has a name

given him by the planets

and given him by his neighbors.

Each man has a name

given him by his sins

and given him by his longing.

Each man has a name

given him by his enemies

and given him by his love.

Each man has a name

given him by his feast days

and given him by his craft.

Each man has a name

given him by the seasons of the year

and given him by his blindness.

Each man has a name

given him by the sea

and given him by his death.

With apologies to the poet, I add:

Each man has a name

given him by his music

and given him by his books.

Each man has a name

given him by his laughter

and given him by his tears.

Each man has a name

given him by those he helped

though they could never help him,

and given him by those who helped him

though he can never repay them.

Each man has a name

given him by how he handles his money

and how he handles his temper,

how he plays the hand that is dealt to him

and how he accepts being checkmated.

Each man has a name

given him by his hands

and given him by his head

and given him by his heart.

Each man has a name

given him by the sunrise

and given him by the sunset.

And some things there are that have no name. What name is there for such devotion as that shown by Jerry’s family—Steve and Carol, Jonathan and Marla and Gerard, Eva and Brian, Michael and Karen and so very many friends through the long last chapter of this ordeal? And what name is there for such loyalty as that shown by Rita, soulmate through this long twilight zone as she was throughout their years of shared companionship and romance and home-making, and good wine and food, and so many adventures—reflecting his attentiveness and supportiveness and interest with her own—anticipating his every need, communicating to him in a thousand ways, spoken and unspoken, that he was loved as much as ever, with all the tenderness and care as ever there could be between a woman and a man. I know of no name for such loyalty. Some things there are that have no names.

I remember when Jerry sang for his father at his dad’s funeral. His loving tribute was Dan Fogelberg’s song, “The Leader of the Band,” which says in part:

And he gave to me a gift

I know I never can repay

A quiet man of music

Denied a simpler fate

He tried to be a soldier once

But his music wouldn`t wait

He earned his love through discipline

A thundering, velvet hand

His gentle means

Of sculpting souls

Took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired

And his eyes are growing old

But his blood runs

Through my instrument

And his song is in my soul

My life has been a poor attempt

To imitate the man

I`m just a living legacy

To the leader of the band

I thank you for the music

And your stories of the road

I thank you for the freedom

When it came my time to go

I thank you for the kindness

And the times when you got tough

And, papa

I don`t think I said

I love you near enough

The leader of the band is tired

And his eyes are growing old

But his blood runs

Through my instrument

And his song is in my soul

My life has been a poor attempt

To imitate the man

I`m just a living legacy

To the leader of the band

I am the living legacy

To the leader of the band

Jerry was the son any parent would be proud to have—the brother anyone would want to have, the partner anyone would be blessed to have, the teacher any student would wish to have, the friend anyone would be lucky to have—sweet, kind, caring, compassionate, thoughtful, modest, responsible, appreciative, undemanding, uncomplaining, loving—and just a bit like Homer Simpson. What a legacy, indeed!

Thank you, Jerrele, for the music and the laughter and the loyalty. Thank you for your kindness and your sweetness. Thank you for being my collaborator and co-conspirator through some of the best years of my life, and thank you for being my friend.

If you wish, I invite you to repeat after me the words of consolation that our tradition teaches us to address to mourners: “Ha-Makom yenacheim etkhem/betokh she’ar aveilei Tsiyon vi-Yerushalayim. May God grant you consolation/together with all the mournersof Zion and Jerusalem.”

I offer these words of consolation as well to the God who is Parent to us all: Riboyne shel oylam, Gotenyu, Tatenyu, may you find consolation for the beloved son whose illness you were unable to prevent. May the joy he brought to you and to so many others bring you consolation, together with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

                                                                                  Amen

Jerry

 

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