This is an archive of the "memories" page spanning the dates:

October 13, 2002 - October 19, 2002

To return to the most current memories page please click on the memories button at the left.




October 19, 2002

I'm very sorry to hear about J.J.'s death. Last spring I took his "Just Do It" Hebrew class at Makor and until now had no idea about his greater achievements or his stature in the community. Humble, indeed. I just new him as a dedicated, silly and fun loving teacher who seemed to love people and who loved a good joke (or even a bad one).

When I picked up my ticket at the front counter on the first day the young woman said, with a huge smile on her face, "Oh...You're in JJ's Class!" and I thought 'Whoever this guy is, he must be popular'. And he was. Not a single class went by without some smiling face popping through the door to say hello to him. He would introduce them to the class as yet another former student and would always remember their name.

Being the 'goy' that I am, he took extra care in helping me pick out a hebrew name and even showed me a whole page of research he had done on my real name and how it could be translated in different ways. I quickly realized this was not extra care. He did this kind of thing for everyone. All this just so that he could print it on a very formal looking diploma and, on the last day (after reading a spoof letter from the President of the United States congratulating us all), hand it to everyone individually in front of the the class as 'Pomp and Circumstance' played on the boom-box (Snap-shot and all).

This was "Hebrew Reading 1" held once a week for an hour and a half. This was a special guy.

Often when a person is remembered after their death one only hears of their good qualities; The person seems heroic. From the moment I met JJ he seemed to have nothing BUT good qualities. I think the lighted faces I always saw around him would agree. And after learning about what he did for others in his life (and with his body in death), he seems nothing but heroic.

I am sure that for the people who knew him well these things have always been clear about JJ. I just wanted you to know that for the guy that only new him as 'My hebrew teacher', he always treated me as most would only a dear friend (he certainly emailed more than most of my friends). And he helped me to speak my wife's language.

I'm sorry for you, his loved ones, because you must miss this dear, dear man. I'm sorry for this world because we can't afford to loose such an extraordinary human being. And I'm sorry for myself because I will never be that one he so proudly introduces when I poke my head into his classroom.

Dylan Keefe


October 16, 2002

My name is Eran and I am JJ's nephew.
Last time I saw him and did something special with him was last time I went to America. He then took me, my mother, and my brothers to a restaurant where we all had hamburgers except for JJ who's a vegetarian.

He then took us to a music store called "hmv" where he let all of us buy cd's.

Then we went to see the broadway show "The Prince and the Pauper" and I got so lucky 'cause I sat next to him.
I had lot's and lot's of fun that day.

I remember that we used to love going to JJ's house cause he had a really fun Nintendo game and candy's that pops in your mouth.

He'd always fix us a great lunch or dinner.

Once he took us to Central Park where he taught my brother Nathaniel to rollerblade and we went into a circle of rollerbladers (my mother says everybody knew him but I don't remember that).

I'll write back,



October 16, 2002

When I was in high school at Bronx Science, I belonged to a group called JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth). It was a very special group that had local and regional activities. I met JJ at some of the Shabbatonim.

Though I haven't seen him in years, I can say that I have fond memories of him as an amazing Madrich with never-ending enthusiasm and co'ach.

Reena Barnett, Jerusalem


October 16, 2002

This was an email I sent to the listserve recently created for J.J.'s friends from his year at BMT in Israel. The news of J.J.'s accident brought together a group of close to 100 people spread all over the world, many who hadn't been in touch since their 1983-84 year in yeshiva together. I am sure that J.J. would love the fact that we are all sharing old stories and jokes, reliving old times, apologizing for past misdeeds, and rediscovering how much we all care for each other.

Dear Friends:

Its been very moving getting these memories and updates from you all.

I have always been very stoic when getting bad news, but saying Tehilim for JJ on Friday night brought me to tears for the first time in many years.

Its been incredible realizing just how many tens of thousands JJ seems to have touched personally. The sheer numbers of people who felt deep personal relationships with him, relationships that made them feel special and unique as a person, the little side jokes and shared experiences- in every part of the world! The wide range of people from Jewish leaders and scholars to everyday folks...The special relationships he had with his family and siblings and the time they spent together in Gloucester, the way they were his best friends...

Everything was a little bit more fun and special when you did it with JJ - whenever I spoke to him, he made me feel smarter, funnier, more interesting of a person. And he did it without doing it at anyone else's expense.

We are all so busy with our lives and careers, but so was JJ and still he seemed to have time to connect with so many lives. I promise to try to do a better job valuing those who are and who have been part of my life.

At the same time that J was so much of a people person, he was also so much his own person - his unique quirks - the sweatband, the pocket blowtorch he carried in Israel, the little chocolates in his carry bag, roller blading everywhere, being a vegetarian, his own schedule for classes and college, his music collection, Schlock Rock.

JJ's focus for his talents was kiruv - my suggestion for contributing to his good work is for us to support an outreach program that he was involved with - Makor, which he helped create and where he taught beginning Hebrew might be an idea. Rabbi David Gezelman, Executive Director of Makor, has been one of JJ's closest colleagues these last years.

(fyi - I have since learnt about the Foundation being established in J.J.'s memory)

J.J.'s impact on so many during his life was so vast, and it is clear that the impact of his death is rippling even wider.

Jules Polonetsky


October 16, 2002

To JJ's friends and relatives -

JJ was one of my closest friends in Queens College. We saw each other nearly every day, sharing classes and lunches in the Kosher Caf. When college was over, we went our separate ways, but would often run into each other in the city and would greet each other with a warm hello. That was the thing about JJ. It didn't matter how long it had been. You could pick up right where you left off.

A few years ago we saw each other at a party and decided to leave together with another friend. The elevator doors closed and I looked around and realized the elevator was packed with 16 men and two women. We had gone down about two floors when the elevator stopped -- we were stuck between the 20th and 21st floors. Surrounded by men who are a foot taller or more, I felt myself starting to panic. I confided to JJ that I was about to have a panic attack. I will never forget his kindness, especially at that moment. He looked in my eyes and told me we'd be fine. Then he pulled out his wallet and entertained me with stories and pictures of his niece and nephews.

Just as I was started to relax, JJ's other friend collapsed in the elevator. We all took a step back and tried to revive him. When we were finally released from the elevator, there was an ambulance waiting downstairs. JJ and I brought his friend into the ambulance where he was checked out and pronounced healthy. Even so, JJ brought him home and stayed the night to make sure he was OK.

That's the person JJ was. And these are the memories I will carry with me always. What a tragic loss. The world will not be the same without him.

Beth Balsam


October 16, 2002

I had planned at a later date to write and share something about my relation with JJ which I will do in the future...

But something very interesting came up:

As I left the memorial service for JJ I began home on the subway and became engaged in a wonderful conversation about Music and Theater with a person sitting next to me....approaching his stop he handed me his card: Playwright/Director.. John Jesurun.

I don't know how he does it but JJ will never cease to amaze and inspire me.

Much Love.. Wayne

Wayne Lopes

Music Prod Mngr./Sound Engineer
Makor/Steinhardt Center
of the 92ND ST Y


October 16, 2002

We have 4 kids, triplet 9.5 year old girls and a 1 year old son. My daughters adored JJ. All kids did. They say that kids are the best judges of character so it makes sense that they all loved JJ. And it wasn't just the presents, although they knew that JJ would never walk through the door empty handed. He really spent time with them, he would sit on the couch and just talk with them, asking about school, their friends, etc.

Once JJ's visit coincided with my daughter Talia's birthday party. He came into our house and told the girls that he just came to drop off their Beanie Babies but couldn't stay. Talia begged and pleaded with him to at east stay for the ice cream and cake and JJ agreed with a smile. Always with a smile. JJ then went upstairs with Talia and her 8 year old giggly friends and helped her get "dressed" for the party. He picked out a leotard and a tutu from the dress-up box and told her to go into the bathroom and change. When she came out, he fixed her hair and put a tiara on her head and sent her downstairs to the party looking like a princess. We have pictures of JJ from her party and we took them out to look at them on the day of the funeral. Talia's best memories from her party are of JJ.

JJ always brought my girls Beanie Babies. When we received the bag with the Beanie Babies that were found in JJ's suitcase after he died, my kids were kind of scared to open it. I have never seen them receive a present without ripping it open immediately. They opened the bag with reverence and didn't even fight about which doll belonged to whom, they just took them out of the bag gently and held them for a second. My daughter Netanya looked at me and said, "all of our beanie babies from JJ are special but this one is a mazkeret' (keepsake) to remember him". I noticed the other day as I was making her bed that she has it suspended from the top bunkbed so that when she is lying on the bottom bunk she sees it all of the time.

In typical JJ fashion, the Beanie Babies that he chose must have been the most bizarre looking ones in the store. Instead of cute little puppies or bunnies, he bought them odd looking colorful dragons. And of course my kids just love them.

JJ was very much a part of our lives, even though we only saw him briefly once every few months. I guess that a small dose of JJ goes a long way. We will miss him very much.

Judy Krasna


October 15, 2002

After reading the four eulogies written by his family, I now understand the size of the gift that this remarkable family gave to six other families by donating J.J.'s organs after his tragic death. I am one of those that received a kidney that is working 100% and has improved my life. I was, until the transplant, half person and I am now a full and a happy head of my family. I want to thank BLU and Rabbi YITZ GREENBERG for the gift and to send all the remarkable family my codolences for their loss. My story is in the shade of the GREENBERG's one. I hope to write it in this website soon after being in touch with the family.

" "

Friedlender Avraham Zvi, Petah Tiqva Israel


October 14, 2002

Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg, Deborah, Moshe, David and Goodey,

When I made Aliyah in 1991, one of the first people I was introduced to was JJ. I was convinced that he was a native of Jerusalem based on how at home he seemed to be here, (he seemed to know and be known by everyone).

What immediately struck me as I told you Rabbi Greenberg, was his warm and generously knowing smile.

In the few times that we met in the early 90's I remember well the excitement that was created when word got around that JJ was arriving on one of his seemingly frequent visits to Jerusalem. (JJ's coming!!) and how the room simply seemed to light up with his beautiful smile.

I have to admit that I am the poorer for not having got to know JJ better, but feel enriched for having been in his company, leaving memories of a very warm and generous soul.

May JJ's sweet and great Neshama have the Aliya which he thoroughly deserves...

David Hersham - Jerusalem


October 14, 2002

In December 2000, we, Michal and me, prepared a trip to New York, which was actually based on JJ hospitality.

We were serving at the Israeli Embassy in Belgium and had the opportunity to know JJ via our friendship with the Weil family, (Eric, Goody and the kids).

So upon landing in NY we went straight to JJ apartment. It was late at night and we meet JJ there.

It was very late and time to go to bed, we just turned to the right, toward the study were there was also a bed, but JJ stands at the door and said youll sleep in my room, Michi was pregnant and he wouldnt consider letting her sleep in the study, we had a short debate, and I am well known to be stubborn, but it was lost from the first word, JJ decided that it should be so, and it was so. The truth is that somehow we didnt feel embarrassed (just a little because of some social obligation and habit which JJ was so much above).

We stayed there all the week, every morning JJ wouldnt leave to work before he was sure that we knew what we were about to do this day, had the right entrance pass to the museums, knew exactly what new exhibition was on. (Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, we must apologize that this week he probably arrived late to work because of us)

JJs flat was also something amazing, stepping in I get the impression of a flat that cannot fit all the items which were there, but with time you can feel that every single object has his exact place, story and meaning, from the small paper on the mirror of the bathroom, with the thanks of Tamar and Tsahi, until the last disk on the infinite shelves. There was room for every one, and once you have been there, you are there forever.

And so will he be with us forever.

P.S.- A small confession, although my hearing is quite bad, I am very sensitive to noise, and cant sleep even with the ticking of a hand watch.

So in JJs room there is this Elvis Presley watch, dancing and making such noise

Every night before getting to bed I used to take out the batteries and in the morning I would put them back and hang it up again. Although I fixed the time in reference to my watch I have no doubt that he noticed it

Michi and Manu Abitbol



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