Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
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.

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