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Anniversary, Birthday and the Passing of a Friend #438

07/12/2016 07:06:23 PM

Jul12

Anniversary, Birthday and the Passing of a Friend #438

This has been a week to mark the passing of time.
 
As many of you are aware, this Shabbat morning, my wife and I will officially celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
 
It's been a time for Patte and me to count our blessings, to trace the path we have travelled together, from Fort McMurray, to Edmonton, ultimately to New York.
 
We were married in Fort McMurray in January 1991, on a day when the temperature was minus 43. It is only appropriate that on Shabbat, with the first few inches of snow expected, we celebrate again.
 
After attending a Jewish Women's Conference in Vancouver fifteen years ago, Patte approached me with a vision of us moving from the comfortable life we enjoyed in Edmonton to an uncertain future in the United States.
 
As they say, the rest is history.
 
It was Patte who inspired this journey. She saw in me the potential to merge the many roads I had travelled during my first fifty years: Love of Judaism, planning, learning, teaching, and song. That journey has led us here, to this flourishing and joyous community which in many ways is redefining how Judaism should be practiced, and how congregations can grow.
 
Values, as we say here, and human connections come first. And when we focus on the Tzelem Elohim, the spark of God within each of us, we can create a community of warmth and respect.
 
On Saturday, I will tell some stories about Patte - about the time she made us drive from the Netherlands back into Belgium because we had forgotten to pay for a bag of chips.
 
Or the time, she gave away my $500 Government of Alberta-issue parka to a homeless person.
 
I am truly blessed by her chesed (kindness) and by her guidance. Patte is the Rabbi's rabbi, and Saturday will be a time to pay tribute to her and our 25 years.
 
* * *
 
This week also marked the 91st birthday of my mother who continues, in spite of her few ailments, to embrace life as an eternal optimist.
 
When an eye disease fogged the view from her right eye, she said, "I still have one that works."
 
My mother is in many ways a cross section of cultures.
 
She entered Baron Byng High School in Montreal in the early 1940s. It was the same high school which matriculated such notables as actor William Shatner and poet Irving Layton. The school was empowered to take the children of Jewish immigrants, and mold them into good British subjects.
 
My mother adores Queen Elizabeth; only a year separates them in age. She still has a scrapbook she built of Her Majesty when she was a princess. For my mother, the Queen is not only Canada's head of state: she is a woman whose dignity and sense of duty are to be emulated.
 
My mother is also steeped within a sacred Jewish tradition, which focused less on prayer, rules, and regulations, and more clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and taking in the homeless.
 
In both Montreal and Toronto, she delivered Meals on Wheels to those who were housebound, long after she'd exceeded the age of most of the people she delivered to.
 
I continue to be blessed and inspired by her example.
 
* * *
 
I had not heard Mark Richler's name since I graduated Hebrew school in 1966.
 
We were a very tightly knit class of twelve boys and twelve girls. For many years, we were entwined as we grew from childhood to the edge of maturity.
 
In so many ways, we were brothers and sisters. Daily, we were paraded in front of the class by our teacher and principal Dr. Maurice Ogolnick (z'l'), and quizzed on Torah, the prophets, and Jewish history.
 
I still get anxiety attacks thinking about it.
 
I remember the first awkward socials.
 
I remember our eccentric European-born Hebrew teachers.
 
I remember the commotion in the halls one day in 1963, and the deafening silence when Joe Leibovitch our vice principal entered the classroom and announced that JFK had been shot.
 
I remember our teacher Mr. Ben Shir who, while squeezing his red hand exerciser, would ask someone to go the snack bar and buy him aCoffee Crips chocolate bar.
 
After we graduated, we went our separate ways. Some entered Hebrew high school. Others, continued through public school, and beyond. Often, I wondered what had happened to everyone.
 
Until the news came this week, that the first of the twenty-four, Mark Richler, has passed away in Montreal.
 
For many of you in your later years, this is a regular occurrence. But for those of us of the Talmud Torah class of 1966, it was deeply sobering, shocking and saddening.
 
This week, each of us is mortal.
 
You see, Mark Richler was perhaps the most kind, generous and pleasant among us. He sat next to me in class, in his blue pair of corduroys and madras shirt.
 
He was not the first to be chosen on pickup teams as we turned small milk containers into soccer balls during recess.  But he was good-natured, and kind, the type of person you wanted in your corner.
 
At his funeral this week, he was eulogized as someone who performed and embodied the highest attribute that the great Talmudic rabbi Rabban Gamliel demanded of this students. His "insides matched his outsides."
 
He performed mitzvot, he donated to charitable causes, and he never spoke lashon hara (gossip).
 
He was a mensch.
 
His passing has inspired a wave of reconnection between many who have not communicated for fifty years. We have families. We have careers. We have enjoyed successes and endured hardships.
 
Each of us in our own way is mourning the loss of a mensch - and in many ways reliving those innocent times of fifty years ago.  It is under the shadow of Mark Richler's wing that friendships are being renewed, reunions planned, and reconnections embraced.
 
So we mourn Mark Richler and perhaps learn from his passing that connections never truly die. They remain dormant, tucked in our memories, until a time of renewal.
 
A few years ago, during Rosh Hashanah, I shared results of a survey, which listed the five life regrets that palliative patients express during their final days.
 
One of them was "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends." It was only natural that our Hebrew class would move in separate ways. Life goes on, and we were only kids.
 
But as each of us strives to live a life free of regrets, it begs us to ask the question, "are there those in our lives who we have been meaning to call?"  Each day, that call is a little harder to make. Until fifty years pass.
 
Indeed, in many ways, those childhood connections, are the most precious of all.
 
In this week's Torah portion, Beshallach ("Pharaoh Let the People Go") the newly liberated Israelites stand poised on the banks of the Sea of Reeds. Ahead of them are the waters of a forbidding sea. On the other side, there is freedom.
 
As the Egyptians approach from the rear, the Israelites begin pounding their hearts, and crying out to God.  Observing this scene, God calls down to Moses in puzzlement, and inquires:
 
"Why do you cry out to me, tell the Israelites to go forward." (Exodus 14:12) And then one person, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped in, and the sea parted.
 
There are so many times in life where we wait for some stroke of fate to initiate our actions. So many pray endlessly for answers. We wait for a sign, or the right moment to move forward.
 
In this week's Torah portion, we are reminded that endless contemplation, reflection, and inaction do not create miracles. It is taking firm and decisive steps that leads to a meaningful life.
 
And so this week, I celebrate the courage of my wife Patte, as she encouraged me to become a rabbi. I thank my mother for her love, and for everything she has given me.
 
And I remember and mourn Mark Richler, a friend I had not seen in fifty years, but who has inspired many to re-walk the bridges of our youth, as we continue our journey into the future.
 
May his memory inspire us to reconnect with those of our past.
Indeed, in his life, and along our journey, may there be no regrets.
 
Thank you, Mark.  May your name always be for a blessing.
 
Together, we will carry you forward.
 
..............................................................................................
 
Shabbat shalom, v'kol tuv (with all goodness)
 
Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780