November 3rd, 2002

Mama Deb


Today, we're going to a funeral for a man I've met once or twice, but who was Jonathan's best friend from high school's father.

I'm waiting for Jonathan to call. He's at a synagogue board meeting, all dressed for the funeral. When he can go, he'll call me and I'll call a car service and pick him up and we'll go to Rabbi Block's funeral service, which will be held in the synagogue he'd built and ran until he retired. I'm all dressed, too, and it's hard to dress for a funeral. I don't want to wear black, but I don't want to wear bright colors, and I need to find tops without stains (hard to come by) that aren't the nice sweatshirts I wear to work and skirts that go with them. I discovered a skirt I thought didn't fit anymore did, and it's gray, so that works. I should also change to a smaller purse, I guess.

Silly things to worry about, I know. But. It's all awkward. Herbert was a witness at our wedding, rearranging a very busy schedule, because he was the Jewish liasion for the then-current mayor of New York City. Which he became at the age of 24. And which was eventually a disaster because of an explosion of racial tensions later that same summer. So, when that mayor was voted out of office, to be replaced by King Rudy, Herbert went to law school. And he got married.

But he didn't invite us to his wedding. He didn't invite a lot of friends. He had what he admits was a very mistaken idea - invite people who might help his career later instead. But it hurt to read his wedding announcement in the Times. It's not the only reason we haven't been close in years, but it's one of them. So, it will be awkward.

But Jonathan needs to go, and it's the right thing to do all around. So I'm sitting here in my grey skirt and green sweater and a grey hat waiting for the phone to ring.
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Mama Deb

I didn't know Rabbi B.

I barely knew his son, except that my husband talks about him all the time. I'd met Rabbi and Dr. B. *once*, and Jonathan and I weren't even engaged yet.

So, his funeral was a revelation to me. We got to the synagogue early - it's extremely unusual to hold a funeral in a synagogue. Traditionally, one never brings a body into a synagogue, although there are exceptions. This was one of them - Rabbi B. was the founder, and even though he'd retired years ago, he was still very much involved up until the end, asking about people by pointing to letters when he could no longer speak. So, this was right and appropriate.

Anyway, we got to the synagogue early. And it was already getting full. By the time the service began, it was fully packed, both the ground floor and the balcony. Note: this was a Conservative (that is, liberal) synagogue, so the balcony is for overflow, not women. This didn't bother us, as no one worries about separate seating for funerals. Although, when I realized that I was the only woman in our particular pew, I did ask Jonathan to switch seats with me so I was at the end instead of between him and another man.

And then came the service. They opened with a couple of psalms, of course. And then the many eulogies. And.

Rabbi B. was an amazing man. He was an old fashioned liberal social activist from the days before it was a dirty word. He spent his life and career working for all Jews, all people. If he heard of a need or a position he or his synagogue could fill, he filled it. Immediately. It wasn't in him to sit still and watch if he could do something. And he instilled that same ideal in his son, who is working in public service now because that's the only career he could imagine having.

There were. Odd things. His brother, also a rabbi, gave a speech that sounded. Odd. The words and the cadence were such that I could hear him give a similar speech at the funeral of a congregant, as opposed to that of his brother. It bothered me, but, as Jonathan says, it might be his way of dealing with it. Also, habit is very strong, and if he gives many such speeches, this is what's going to come out. By the end, though, his voice broke and you could hear how much he was hurting.

The service was long - two hours when I'm used to a half hour, but given the man, it makes sense. When it was over, they drove the hearse around Grammercy Park, a little gated park next to the synagogue, and we followed it on foot. And. Herbert hugged Jonathan, which was good. It's...there's a protocol for taking one's leave of mourners, but that doesn't start until after the burial, so it was awkward.

Thing of it is...Rabbi B had a life. He believed we were put here to change things. And he did. And he could see the results of it in his synagogue, his city, his friends and his son. I'm sure he died thinking that there was so much more left to do, but he did more than most of us even think about.

He's to be buried in Israel tomorrow.