This is an archive of the "memories" page spanning the dates:
October 6, 2002 - October 12, 2002
To return to the most current memories page please click on the memories button at the left.
October 12, 2002
For the first time in years I went to the Greenberg home last week, down the same stretch of Independence Avenue where so many of my fondest memories were born. This time, unfortunately, it wasn't to hang out with JJ in the basement, playing pinball or listening to Queen tapes, or to discuss The Graduate with his sister Deborah, but to express my condolences on the tragic and untimely passing of a wonderful and unique friend.
It's only about a five minute walk from the Greenberg residence to Manhattan Hebrew High School, where JJ and I were classmates, and it's safe to say that he had the shortest commute in school. It's probably also safe to say that on the typical morning he was the last student to arrive. I remember how one day he rolled in even later than usual - almost two hours after the morning prayers and towards the end of our Talmud class. When asked what had happened he explained that on his way over he saw a dead squirrel by the side of the road and that even though he was already late for school he couldn't just pass by and not give it a proper burial. As there was no shovel around he had to improvise, and in any event if he was going to do the job he would take the time to do it right.
To my teenage mind that seemed kind of hokey, of a piece with the sweatbands and, later, the name tag and phoneless chord and other "mishigas" that many of you are familiar with. The word "zany" has been used quite often to describe JJ and certainly with some justification. But as I look back I realize that what I perceived as idiosyncrasies were not just little quirks but rather manifestations of a personality that in a quiet, non-confrontational way was actually quite radical, if by radical we mean that it didn't hold social conventions and values to be immutable or absolute. It was radical in its affirmation for life, for happiness, for music, and for maintaining ? even in the middle of New York City - that world is not a zero sum game where we each have to grab our piece but rather a place in which each action has an opposite and equal reaction and that by doing something for others we are doing something for ourselves too. The word "generous" has also been used to describe JJ, as has "humble", and maybe, in the striving, dog-eat-dog place that New York often is, to be as generous and humble as JJ was you have to be a bit zany as well. The story posted by below by my old friend Allen Krasna about the drive to Philadelphia seems unbelievable until you stop and remind yourself that it's about JJ. I can't think of too many other people of whom such a story could be told and somehow, to people who knew them, it all seems true to character.
If you're taking the time to read this board you probably already know how infectious JJ's joie de vivre could be. After being out of touch with one another for a long time, JJ and I reconnected two years ago and were in increasing contact ever since. After a crowded and noisy party that I hosted last year, people (and not just single women) called to tell me that they met this guy JJ and wanted to know how they could get in touch with him. I passed on his phone number, and soon enough began to bump into him at their parties. As our social circles began to overlap and we got reacquainted I had the privilege of knowing JJ as an adult, even if only too briefly.
As fate would have it JJ's time on this earth was cruelly short. But if measured by how he lived and how much he enjoyed life and the number of people that he touched, it was a full life indeed. I will always consider myself a better person for having known JJ Greenberg as I'm sure many others do as well.
October 11, 2002
There are many things that stand out in my mind about JJ. His toothbrush, which he never left home without, his wristbands of course. I remember asking him on a JPSY Shabbaton why he wore them and being told, "Just so people'll ask." His Zoot-Suit like sweats that always let you know JJ was there. His sunglasses during an auspicious round of "Good- Shabbos" and the Kosher Police. I remember being in Queens for a Shabbos with the JPSY-advisor crew, and being made privy to JJ's enormous Keepah S'ruga collection and the shrine he'd created to Cyndi Lauper. JJ was one of the first people to give me back my Judaism and make it mine. He made it fun, he challenged us to have fun with him, and all, all, within a Halachic framework. He took his joy very seriously.
I found out that JJ had been in an accident from my then and now-best friend, Michele. We maintained a distant vigil, with her in NY and me in Chicago, all the while knowing that we feared the worst. When we learned he had died, we both felt intangibly sad, knowing that no one else could "get" why we were grieving so. My husband tried to listen, but even he could not understand what this meant to me. Neither Michele nor I had spoken to JJ in nearly 10 years, but his gifts, his gifts could still be felt. I wrote a letter on behalf of both of us to Lenny Solomon because we needed to connect to that time, that place, and those people- all who helped create who we are and knew how vitall JJ was in all of that. I read Lenny's response letter aloud to Michele on the phone, and we held each other though more than 750 miles seperate us. We were consoled by JJ's spirit too, so distant and yet so close.
And now here I sit, reflecting upon JJ and all the names I have read on this site. He's still uniting us, the literal world, from the Throne he now attends. JJ's legacy for me? Well, you can see it in the faces of Esther Leah 7 1/2, Tzvi Hersh 6 1/2, Reuven Elisha 3 1/2, and Yair Shmuel, 16mos. And his spirit? Well that can be easily found during morning carpool as our kids debate what the real title of "Rappin' Jewish" is and yell "Jewish Pride" on the 5-count Lenny taught us so well. To see our kids celebrate Judaism is in and of itself a celebration for all of us. JJ taught me, amongst many, many wonderful others, that Judaism is in fact cause to celebrate. He, his humor, his sincerity, his love of family, and his desire to support and embrace all Jews and the world, will forever live with me.
May his family never know of sorrow, and may we all be comforted amongst the Mourners of Zion.
October 11, 2002
I am only one of hundreds of lives that JJ touched. I grew up in Atlantic Seaboad NCSY, and was lucky enough to have JJ as an advisor. I can clearly remember that he was the one that all the kids flocked to, because of his sense of humor, but also because he made the serious stuff like sessions and davening interesting.
One of my favorite memories of JJ is his love of watches. I remember we were at a shabbaton in Allentown, and he must have had 5 watches on. One was set to our time, one to Israeli time, and a couple of others that I cannot remember, but the coolest one of all (to this 13 years old mind) was the one that had a picture of his niece in it. I remember thinking that this little girl was so lucky to have an uncle who loved her so much.
May his memory be a blessing.
Faye (Berman) Gildin
October 11, 2002
I have many memories of JJ from our time in Israel together but the ones that stand out the most for me form the bookends of our friendship. I arrived in Israel at BMT with my core group of friends from Montreal. BMT was supposed to start on a Monday or a Tuesday and we had all decided to fly in to Israel early and hope that the Yeshiva would be open so we could "move in" the shabbat before school was supposed to start. The "Americans" as we called them, seemed to all show up at the same time. One day, the halls were empty and the next day it seemed as if the corridors were overrun with loud, obnoxious guys, all of who seemed to know each other and had already formed fast friendships. (Don't worry guys, I learned to love all of you and still do to this day!)
I remember standing outside the Beis Hamidrash looking over at a crowd of people and seeing this tall lanky guy with a wild head of hair, literally standing head and shoulders above just about everyone else. He was at the centre of the crowd and had the warmest grin on his face. I can still remember thinking "wow, that guy seems like a really nice guy, I hope I get to be friends with him". Not 10 minutes later, JJ walked over to me (I may have been standing with Ephram, or Jeff Braverman, 2 of my Montreal buddies) and introduced himself. As they say in the movies, it was the start of a beautiful friendship.
One of the last memories I have of JJ is from shortly before I left Israel. My father became very ill while I was in Israel and I had to leave BMT in late December, shortly after Chanukah. One night, a whole crowd of us went to town and it became a kind of "going away party". There were a lot of smiles and laughs, and some tears. JJ and Jonny O. gave me a T-shirt which I still have to this day. Many years have passed since that night in Jerusalem, and while I did see JJ a few times after that when visiting NY, that time in BMT, 19 years ago, will always be frozen in my mind.
October 10, 2002
You're missed beyond what you could have imagined, and we cherish your memory.
October 10, 2002
Hi. This is from Alex Sagan in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
When Jeremy Hockenstein and I were working with JJ and Yitz on a plan for JLN's retreat center project, JJ went with us to look at Camp Solomon in Patterson, NY, as a possible location for the center. That was in June 2001. I took the attached picture of JJ sitting and gazing out over the lake, and I like to think it captures a bit of JJ's relaxed and reflective personality.
I will send a copy of the picture to Yitz and Blu, but I also thought you might want to post it on the website.
JJ is missed by all of us who knew him.
October 10, 2002
My fond recollections of JJ go back to the mid-1980s, when we were both
in our young 20s and fired up about Israel, the challenge posed by Jewish
assimilation in America, etc. Some of those memories are just dim images
laced with happy feelings set in east coast landscapes of Philly, New
York, and DC; a clearer one is of his impact on an NCSY Shabbaton in the
south when he "swept" through for the weekend, where I was the
October 10, 2002
JJ Greenberg made us better people and better Jews.
JJ led by example. The great axiom of my grandfather was, "in this world there are doers and talkers, always be a doer." JJ was the quintessential doer. JJ was deeply involved in more organizations then I have even heard of. He was involved in almost everything meaningful both as a vocation and passion.
Perhaps his greatest gift was his innate ability to touch individuals. Whether at an event, a synagogue lobby or just out around town, JJ left a wake of influence and impact.
On a personal level, JJ would make me feel like I mattered. I was important to him and that he truly cared about me. He would always take the time to see how I was doing, what projects I was involved with and how, when and in what capacity he could assist. When JJ spoke to me he was focused. He made me feel special.
Further, JJ had a keen understanding of his skills and abilities. He incorporated them into his life so as to contribute these gifts to those a round him. He used his music, stagecraft and characters to reach deep inside each of us.
The visions he left behind: You had to love him as Elvis, seeing his name on his ever-present nametag (like we would forget his name!!), and JJ proudly wearing his Russian Army coat.
JJ showed us that life needs to be lived fully. One can be funny, madcap, zany, and wild while imparting his deeper message of love caring and understanding. JJ deeply cared for his fellow man. I never, not once, heard JJ speak ill of anyone. He always had a kind word to say. Yet another great lesson that he taught me by example, it's easy to tear someone down, the challenge is finding their goodness to build them up.
He walked the walk, strutted the strut, and made it fun.
In candor, JJ's death has been very difficult for me. How and why G-d would dream of taking such a committed, talented, giving, caring soul. There are so few JJ's in the world we need every single one. But I know that my human perception is incapable of seeing the big picture and that G-Ds grand plan is all good. Perhaps that is the point I must grasp and hold fervently, If G-d can take a person as incredible as JJ Greenberg, then the ultimate plan must be so good - indeed so great - that Hashem needed JJ by the very virtue of his greatness, selflessness and dedication, to experience it immediately.
I know that JJ is having a great time in the world to come. If they didn't have it already, he has set up a stage and is doing some sort of routine or concert. And he has them rolling in the aisles begging for more. The world to come is lucky to have JJ Greenberg because this world misses and will miss him forever.
Like the boy who sticks his finger in the dyke to stem the leak, I fear that we will not be able to plug all the holes left behind. The challenge for us is to fill the deep voids of JJ 's love, joy and creativity.
I am deeply proud to have called JJ Greenberg a friend and colleague. I am blessed that he was in my life for the all to short 15 + years. Perhaps there is the final lesson JJ has taught me-cherish the time we have, it is short. It is precious. Cherish the friends and family we have, they are precious. Don't wait. Live life to the fullest. Don't be self conscious or worried about what others will think. Understand your G-d given gifts and use them to do good.
I hope I can aspire to what JJ has created and the values he represented. JJ has challenged all of us by placing the bar so high. Only with each others help, with the unity of the entire Jewish people can we merit his great legacy which he has bequeathed to each of us. A Gamar Tov to all. Through JJ's intercession with the heavenly court may we all be inscribed into the book of life.
Mark Moshe Bellows
October 10, 2002
On Shabbat after shul in Zichron Yaakov, about a year ago, I was feeling despondent having been beaten at table tennis by every man, woman and child in the Weil household. Nobody was willing to play me - except JJ who agreed to take up the challenge. We had a nice friendly game, evenly matched - resulting in a draw towards the end. Feeling smug I advertised rather loudly my success and also mentioned, in passing, what a coincidence it was that we were both left handed...... only to be corrected by Goody, that he was infact right handed.
October 9, 2002
We remember J.J. from Y.U. seminar, Schlock Rock and JPSY programs. We close our eyes and see him with that huge warm smile roller blading around with a toothbrush in his pocket. J.J. had a great impact on us and on so many-he was such an amazing role model of a "cool" observant Jew .We are filled with grief over this terrible loss.
Gabi and Barry Gelman
October 9, 2002
What's in a nametag?
I began to get to know JJ (Jonathan) only in the last year. I recognized in JJ characteristics that I learnt in Jewish day school are those of righteousness, and I admired JJ for how ingrained these traits were in his personality. I saw in JJ a dynamic individual who exhibited genuine humility and concern for others. Most impressively, JJ would perceive what concerned others and he would find a way to help, even if doing so might cost him socially. Beyond righteous characteristics, JJ possessed the strength of character to pursue the right course of action.
Following Jonathan's passing, I heard numerous accounts of JJ's activities on behalf of individuals, the Jewish community and all G-d's creation. Let me share just one example I experienced.
On the Upper West Side of Manhattan there is one synagogue that draws the most young adults on Shabbat mornings. On a typical Shabbat morning more than 500 young adults can pour out into the street following the morning services. The singles stay an hour or more after services to socialize. Because this synagogue is known as the place to be, it draws members of other synagogues as well as otherwise less-affiliated Jews. In the past however, many who have visited this synagogue have said they found it to be a "cold experience" and that "it seems people only speak to those they know". The truth is that despite this synagogue's Rabbis actively encouraging the congregants to reach out to newcomers, most attending are not sure who is a newcomer. One looks around at the hundreds of young people and cannot know who is a fellow occasional visitor from a local congregation, who is a guest accompanied by a local host and who is alone. This uncertainty is compounded because even the "established crowd" is a relatively transient crowd, typically in the community for a couple of years and frequently rotating between synagogues. JJ realized this emptiness people were experiencing and thought about how he could make himself available to those who were alone.
To help alleviate this situation, JJ decided to wear a nametag that read "Hello my name is JJ Greenberg". (I learnt just today from reading a eulogy for him that he first wore the nametag to make himself available to the general community when he ran to ground-zero to help rescuers following the 9-11 terrorism tragedy.) Following services at this synagogue, JJ would position himself close to the exit of the synagogue building so that anyone who was alone could easily find a friend to speak with. I would see him introducing himself to some, perhaps those he discerned were new. But more importantly, his nametag identified him as a person who welcomed making your friendship.
Those who knew JJ may have been initially curious why a popular man, who before sporting a nametag already has more friends than most people could keep up with, was extending himself to be a new friend to anyone. Far from needing more friends, JJ was a man who accomplished much and who had a busy private life. Moreover JJ traveled charismatically in the social scene of young professionals, he knew that wearing a nametag was not a "hip" thing to do. He must have known that it could cost him socially among the many who would not realize why he was wearing a nametag. In a trendy social scene where everyone wants to meet a potential spouse, people are very socially conscious. Yet the prospect of diminishing his appearance among those who misunderstood why he wore the nametag did not deter him from reaching out in the most effective way he saw possible to those who may feel left out of the social experience.
I was among the many visitors to this synagogue who felt welcomed in introducing myself to JJ. He did not forget meeting me after I left the crowd. When JJ would see me elsewhere in the City, he would stop to say hello, ask how I was doing and inform me of activities I may be interested in attending. When JJ inquired how I was doing, I deeply sensed that he asked in the most sincere way. My friendship with JJ had only just begun, but it is a friendship I will carry with me.
October 9, 2002
People go in and out of your life so quickly, but very few leave an impression like J.J.. I can't think of any specific memory, I just see him in his Batman costume on Purim and roller-blading through the Israeli Day parade. He was just a bright light-always with a smile, always with something nice to say..qualities we can all learn from.
My heart hurts for his close friends and family. I hope you all find comfort in all of the wonderful memories and may we all strive to be better people, kinder to one another, as a tribute to the memory of such a wonderful human being.
Banji Latkin Ganchrow
October 9, 2002
Monday night, Motzaei Yom Kippur
Dearest Blu and Yitz and members of the family,
It was a cool Shabbat afternoon last fall when Susie and I were walking through Central Park from our home at 90th street. From afar I could see JJ's smile as he sat on a park bench looking out at the trees and the beautiful day. I could literally feel his sincere warmth and interest as we approached him. That sincerity was so extraordinarily central to his character. Every encounter that he and I had (over what I now realize was actually many years)was always filled with his goodness, his charm, his engagement with me as an other, and with ideas and concerns for the many causes and commitments that we shared. This personal tragedy for all of you is a huge one for the Jewish people; I have never met anyone quite like JJ. I will miss him dearly.
I cannot adequately express to you the pain and sorrow that I feel. He was such a model for all of us. He was your kid, which made him special to begin with. But he was such an independent and thoughtful voice. He was authentic and real in ways that most of us can only strive for.
I will never forget his response to me after my accident. His kindness and compassion filling every word and gesture. JJ will not be a distant memory for me. He will be there in front of me forever as a model and stellar example of what I have devoted my life to helping to mold: the character and values of the best of our classical tradition wrapped in the garb and being of the age in which we live. "Living the past in the present tense " as Heschel said.
There is likely no comfort for a loss like this. I pray that the community's love for you, your whole family, and for JJ in particular, will help to ease the pain.
äî÷åí éðçí àúëí
With deep love and respect,
Peter Geffen and Susie Kessler
October 9, 2002
In the weeks since J.J. passed away, three vignettes have been ever-present in my mind.
A few months ago I received a late-night call from J.J. He told me I should wake up at 4:00 am in order to catch sight of a rare shooting star - he didn't want me to miss it. I told him he was crazy, but J.J. was good at talking people into things, so I woke up at 4:00 am and looked out my window - but lo and behold - no shooting star. When I called J. the next day to tell him I didn't see anything, he told me that looking out my window was not enough - I needed to go to Central Park. J.J. had gotten up at 4:00 am and gone to Central Park so as not to miss out on a rare shooting star. He said it was beautiful.
Last April, J.J. came to a minyan I started with a number of friends. I remember how proud he was to see a sefer Torah that was dedicated to Drisha in memory of our grandfather being used. The minyan was very crowded - particularly on the women's side of the mechitza, and I was standing in the back making sure people had seats. Seeing that I did not have a seat, J.J. shlepped one (not very subtly) over the mechitza. I didn't mind standing, so I gave it to someone else. J.J. shlepped another chair over the mechitza, and I gave that to someone else as well. J.J. then shlepped over a third chair, stood next to me in the women's section, and said he was not leaving until I sat down. I sat down pretty quickly.
No Wasted Moments
On a car ride back from a family bat mitzvah last June, I teased J.J. for always trying to accomplish so much. (My image of him is roller-skating while talking on the cell-phone while reading the paper.) I told him he needed to relax more. He told me - with seriousness - that life is short and if he wanted to experience it he couldn't relax - he always had to do as much as he possibly could.
If we can all live a little harder this year, we will honor his memory. Yehe Zikhro Barukh.
October 9, 2002
When I spoke to a friend a few hours after JJ passed, she said something very interesting to me. She said that JJ never had a bad breakup. She knew many people who went out with JJ but there was never anyone who he had a relationship that ended on bad terms, at least in the long term In a way that is so true and defines another aspect of JJ.
The only person who I know who had a bad breakup with JJ was me. People joked that the Kosher Police had gotten a divorce.
We went from acquaintances to best buddies and a "team" then we had a serious parting of ways. As time progressed, though, on JJs initiative we became friends again.
I knew JJ peripherally from our time together in BMT84-85. I did not know him well then. What I remember most about him was that he was universally liked, and that he would get along with and talk to everyone.
A few years later JJ and I met again when we were both involved in the outreach organization JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth Movement). At this point JJ and became a team of sorts. We worked together in JPSY, TLS, NCSY Baltimore and various other acronym organizations for Jewish youth. It was there we worked on various Kiruv Programs, had many roadtrips to Baltimore etc. We stayed up all night with Lenny working on Shlock, we invented the Kosher Police. We also shared a passion for music and would listen for hours and make insane music mixes. In a word we were a team, down to our similar Honda Accords. (KRAZ KP)
For various reasons after a few years JJ and I had a falling out. The point of this story is not why we had our fights, or even if in retrospect who was right or wrong . It is about JJ wanting to be friends.
I remember that at the time I got married I was still very angry and did not have much contact with JJ. I had him to my wedding at the request of Lenny Solomon who knew how important it would be to JJ to be there. I invited him and had a message sent to him that I did not want any of his shtick at the wedding. He came and obliged.
For the few years I lived in the US after I got married I ran in a very different circle than JJ and it was easy to avoid him I saw him infrequently and did not say much to him. When we made Aliya though, JJ made an effort to reestablish contact. Every time he would come to Israel he would leave me a message. I usually did not return his calls and spoke very briefly if he caught me.
Then as time wore on he told my wife that it was very important that we speak. I thought there was something urgent and called .. he just wanted to say hi, and to find a time to meet. It was just important to him to see me. I started warming up a bit. Whenever he would come to Beit Shemesh he would call and say I have to see you ... at first I did not make a special effort ... but whenever we did meet I left with a smile.
We never talked about our "issues" past, he was not looking for forgiveness or anything like that he just wanted to be my friend.
Not sure when it happened... but at some point I looked forward to the chagim cause I knew he would come by (and it would always be him searching me out never the other way.)
At some point he not only had to see me, he had to see my family. There were times that he came to the house, and I wasn't home but he spent time with my wife and kids ... showing my daughters the infamous wrist bands. but he always made sure to call me. And to try to get together.
JJ and I did not become best friends again .. but we became friends again. And only because he made the effort. Why? He had more friends than anyone I know? He had nothing to "gain" from me. JJ just liked people.
And now B"H I look back and remember those last times we had together.
When Lenny JJ and I were in the studio together for the last time as we recorded "The Kosher Police - Menchville".
How JJ popped up at our hour at the funniest times.
To join us for our daughters 8th birthday. He took her upstairs and helped dressed her like a princess.
How he happened to drop by, about an hour after our we brought our newborn son home from the hospital.
Our last long conversation. In my car (JJ and I always did our best talking in the car .. from all our roadtrips together). we went back to our roots - Kiruv and Rock Music. We talked about how the intifada was effecting Birthright and what the long- term results of Birthright would be.
Then I showed JJ my 40 gb mp3 player.. and he freaked out. We played our favorite music game of name that tune .. this time with 8000 songs. We made plans to combine our CD collections and make a huge mp3 library. (He later mailed me a list of all his albums).
The last night I ever saw him. The Succot Concert in Bet Shemesh Last year. We played phone tag about 20 times ... then he did Elvis on Stage. A half hour later I looked at my phone, in the noise I did not hear it ring.... I had 9 missed calls .. all from him in the last half hour .. he wanted to make sure to see me - we met and chatted over the noise of the concert. When I left he shook my hand and gave that extra squeeze to my forearm. JJ always made his handshake special.
The last time, I was in touch with him, before pesach I overloaded 2 of his email accounts trying to send him some silly mp3s of us from years ago. I'm not sure if he ever got it.
And as I wrote before .. our last contact when he sent me a clipping from the Times about Springsteen .. cause he new it would interest me.
So yeah its true he never had a bad breakup.
October 8, 2002
I was deeply saddened and sorry to learn of JJ's passing. He was truly
a unique and special person, who inspired me with his incredible warmth,
kindness, modesty and humility.
October 8, 2002
I came to MHHS in 11th grade and JJ immediately made me feel at home.
We shared an admiration for Scott Muni, Squeeze, Elvis (Costello), Bruce
Springsteen and general schmoozing. He often invited me to his loving
home for Shabbat and he guided me in how to have fun. When we went to
a movie, it was not just a show but an event. We left Rambo (with Richie),
acting out the scenes on a New York City public bus and in the streets
of Riverdale. We saw the Kinks at Nassau Coliseum to celebrate the possibility
of graduating from High School. His affection for spicy V-8 was so extant
that he had to share it with others - he brought a big can to our home
for Shabbat so that my whole family could enjoy it.
J. (As I called him) had such a great connection with his siblings. In talking to him and in seeing them together, this was so clear.
I am just one of thousands that was effected by J.J. in a special way. To me he was Elvis - a bit above life, Mother Teresa - a pure soul, Aharon Hakohen- a friend. He was J.J. Greenberg. He did not conform to an expected standard of behavior, not out of rebelliousness but as a natural expression of his true essence.
October 8, 2002
[For reasons that will become obvious as this story unfolds, I wish to
remain anonymous. Although I would like my name left out of this posting,
I feel that my story offers us something from which we can all learn a
very important lesson.]
October 7, 2002
JJ and I became close over a Chai Lifeline Young Leadership July 4th
Weekend (sometime in the early 90s). We had a chance to really bond during
the bus trip back to NY city. He invited me to his new apt on 88th street.
He eagerly showed me his table from Massachusetts, and was explaining
how he would build shelves to house his vast collection of books and CDs.
October 7, 2002
Thanks to all who had the foresight to create this site of remembrance on behalf of all of us who mourn.
During Yom Kippur my thoughts kept returning to the Greenbergs and what they must be feeling as they waited to go to Israel. I have no pretension that I can imagine or empathize with their experience of among the worst of all tragedies, but I kept coming back to a midrash that has been of enormous consolation to me in my own times of loss. Somehow it seems appropriate when I think of JJ's parents --
(very loose translation and all attendant errors my own)
A tale is told about Rabbi Meir, who used to sit and expound in the study hall of the synagogue on Shabbat in the afternoon, that his two sons died. And what did their mother do? She laid them out on the bed and spread a sheet over them. That evening, Rabbi Meir returned from the study hall and entered his house. He said to his wife, "Where are my two sons?" She said to him, "They went to the study hall." He said to her, "I looked in the study hall and I didn't see them." She gave him a cup of wine and he prayed. He returned and said to her, "Where are my two sons?" She said to him, "Twice they went to that place and now they are coming." She served him his meal and he ate. After he said the blessing after the meal she said to him, "Rabbi, I have one question to ask." He said to her, "Ask your question." She said to him, "Rabbi, someone came to me once and gave me an object of value to hold, and now he has come to reclaim it. Will we return it to him or not?" He said to her, "My lady, someone who is holding an object of value as a deposit must return it to its owner." She said to him "Were it not for your opinion I wouldn't have given it to him." What did she do then, she took him by his hand and went up with him to the room. She approached the bed, took the sheet from upon them, and he saw them both dead and lying on the bed. He started to cry and said "My son, my son, my teacher, my teacher, my sons, my teachers who brightened my face with their Torah." At that moment the Rabbi's wife said to him, "Rabbi, didn't you just tell me that we are obligated to return an object of value that has been lent by its owner? As it is written, the Lord gives and the Lord takes, may the Lord's name be praised." And by these words his soul was calmed and his soul was settled, and so it is said that a woman of valor, her value is far beyond jewels.
Ha-makom y'nachem etchem b'toch sh'ar avelei tziyon v'yerushalayim
October 6, 2002
I knew JJ from my days on the West Side (I lived one block away on W.87)
and we shared several shabbat meals together at which JJ regaled us with
his stories and jokes. But it is in my new career as rabbinical student
and as Rabbinic Intern at the JCC in Manhattan, in which I feel most connected
to JJ. I feel that we have all lost a brother in arms, one who led the
way in applying creativity and love as a means to inspire Jews to learn
and to come together as community. I hope to keep this good work going
in my small way.
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