by Jonathan Rosenblum
May 5, 2006
When I was about ten, my parents bought tickets for me and my next oldest brother for a musical at the nearby high school. But there was a condition for going: We had to take a nap. Jeremy did; I didn’t. The time arrived to leave. As I got ready, my father told me I wouldn’t be going.
I cried and cried, but to no avail. My father took me on his knee and told me how much he had looked forward to taking me – Carousel was his favorite musical – but I had been told the conditions. It wouldn’t be fair to Jeremy, he said, if I were allowed to go.
I learned then that there are times when no matter how much one cries it won’t help. That lesson served me in good stead last week while I was sitting shiva for Dad.
But there was an even more important lesson that Dad taught me that night. There are rules in the world, and one ignores them at one’s peril.
Mom and Dad’s greatest strength as parents was teaching us that there is right and wrong, and that those terms were not determined by what other children were allowed to do.
At the same time, Dad made sure that we did not become too filled with our own righteousness. My senior year in high school, I organized a house-to-house collection campaign for Biafra. One Sunday, I returned home and mentioned to my Dad that I had been late to my class at Hebrew High School. Without lifting his face from the waffle iron, he said, "You’re such a big humanitarian, but you can’t show someone the common courtesy to arrive on time for his class."
I ran out of the house furious at my father for the first time in my life – furious because I felt so completely exposed.
Mainly, however, Dad taught by example not word. He showed us that there is a win-win solution to most conflicts, provided both sides are just willing to compromise a bit. His first impulse was to answer every request affirmatively, and then figure out how to make it happen. Whenever my brothers and I would start fighting over cars, he would go around the room asking each of us when and why we needed a car. He would think for a few minutes, and then show us how each of us could have a car when needed.
Compromise came easily to him because he held so little of himself. No question was more repugnant to him than that always asked by children: Am I doing more than my fair share? He did not have a lazy bone in his body, and never calculated his own time and energy when formulating his solutions.
Much of his legal career was spent in estate planning. He loved both solving the technical tax issues and the counseling aspects of the practice. Nothing pained him more than estranged parents and children.
THE JEWISH AGENCY COULD have used my parents to promote aliyah. On his 70th birthday, Dad said, "I’m a very blessed man. And I’m doubly blessed in that I know how blessed I am." And that was just the beginning of what he would describe as the happiest eight years of his life. Those years were chronicled by my father in hundreds of family updates sent to his large Email list.
In Israel, my parents found for the first time a group of friends among whom they could give full vent to their preoccupation with Israel and the Jewish people. I was astounded during shiva by how many friends they made here, and finally understood why I often had to take the initiative in calling my father. Dad became the de facto executive director of the synagogue, began studying Talmud for the first time in his life, swam, and joined Mom at frequent concerts.
My father always thought of himself as shy, but in Israel he cast behind him whatever shyness remained. The world came to know the father whom those closest to him had always known, especially his dry wit, always delivered deadpan.
Dad almost realized his lifetime dream of being able to jog from his home to those of his five sons. Four of his five sons and over thirty grandchildren and great-grand-children live within easy driving distance of my parents’ home.
And drive they did. Their car was in constant use shuttling grandchildren to supplemental lessons of one kind or another. Dad taught various grandsons to swim, and he and Mom were usually available to take a grandchild out for a private dinner. Their home was a refuge for grandchildren who needed a little space or a dose of unconditional love. Dad once baked a birthday cake for a grandson, drove up to the Golan to make a surprise delivery, and turned around and drove home.
If someone had told my father forty years ago that one day he would have more grandsons learning in Hebron Yeshiva and Mirrer Yeshiva than granddaughters studying at Yale, he would have laughed. But he accepted the changes in the family without complaint.
Nothing pleased Dad more than seeing all his grandchildren together at the frequent family simchos. And when there were no simchos, he would manufacture occasions to gather the children and grandchildren around him so he could kvell, "You can’t tell which cousin belongs to which child."
Dad left no strings untied. He passed away knowing how much all his children and grandchildren loved him, and we knew how much he loved us. The day before he passed away, I spoke to Dad about instituting some lifestyle changes after his pending return home. "I’m nearly 55 years old," I told him, "and I still need you so much." As long as he was around, the world felt safe.
Before leaving the hospital an hour before he passed away, I coaxed out of him the compliment on that week’s column that I always awaited like a puppy bringing his master a bone. He told my wife to be sure to pay his surgeon right after Shabbos. Then he told Mom to tell everyone in shul that he would soon be home so they could stop worrying.
He was buried on his 78th Hebrew birthday -- something we only knew from the birthday lists he was constantly updating. In his last Email, he listed family bar and bat mitzvahs up until 2010. "Some of us are not in the habit of buying green bananas," he wrote, "but one can hope."
We had assumed he would still be with us. But we still have his memory to guide us.
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