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

October 20, 2002 - October 26, 2002

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




October 25, 2002

Dear J.J.'s Family,

I had the pleasure of getting to know J.J. through my involvement with Makor. I never really knew what his position was, just that he was often there and seemed to quietly love it as much as I did. J.J. treated me so familiarly, without formality, from the moment we met. He would proudly tell people about my Makor enthusiasm, right in front of me. When he met someone who wasn't familiar with Makor, he'd call me over to tell them about it. He made me feel important. If I went to Makor by myself, and saw him there, I knew I wasn't alone. Just his presence made me feel connected and safe. When I organized some History of Israel presentations for secular Jews and non-Jews in May, he responded to the general emails with accolades and suggestions. And he signed each email ‘xoj’. I wish I had saved them.

My last bout of laughter with him was in March, at a Makor Shabbat dessert. He was late, and trying to eat some cookies quickly, when he was called into a roomful of people to speak. When I ran into a back room to get him, he thought I was kidding, and then dashed into the crowded room with crumbs flying. I will always remember the twinkle in his eye when he would tease me, leaving me unsure if he understood the double meaning of his words, yet suspecting that he did. While I do not come from an observant background, I always felt accepted around JJ. There were no lines between us; he seamlessly moved through people, rather than around them. I feel so fortunate to have shared some time with him, and I will do my best to follow his example. What I valued the most was how unassuming and real he was-- a natural leader who mixed kindness, humor, and warmth, and positively affected so many lives.

My condolences to his family and all of those lucky people touched by him.


Debbie Margolius

(the photo is of Lisa Danziger, Randi Feinberg, J.J. and me at Makor's Roaring Twenties Benefit in 2001)


October 23, 2002

It is difficult to try to put into words ones impressions of a person, let alone a close friend. How do you describe your emotions properly? His smile? His spirit of goodness and generosity? His warmth? His hugs? Basically, how do you describe JJ Greenberg? In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have thought that I would write something like this but life has a way of bringing the unexpected and the unreal so I feel that in order to keep JJ alive, his memory needs to be honored by stories about him…

I first met JJ in Israel on Succot over 10 years ago. There was something that automatically drew one to him…was it his smile or his flasher trench coat look that made you spot him from the back but take a walk around to see what was actually going on? Regardless it was JJ. He was the guy who walked into a dance club and saw me sitting alone and approached me and convinced me that it would be a great loss if I wouldn’t dance with him. We were definitely an odd couple on the dance floor but so began our friendship. JJ made a point of keeping in touch with me even when we came back to NY and so he let me into his world of early retirement. After years of working in kiruv, JJ came back from Russia and took advantage of his parent’s sabbatical in Israel to spend time in Riverdale, cataloging his comic books and records. He drew me into the social network of the Upper West Side and got me involved with Camp Simcha. That was JJ, not only doing chessed on his own but drawing others to join him.

JJ was original, not only recognized by his phoneless cord, inside out t-shirts, size 54 shorts, sash-watch, inkless pen, toothbrush, and wrist band but also in behavior. Once on a trip to Puerto Rico, we were four friends in the airport, two had cell phones while two did not - not to feel the odd man out, JJ removed his shoes and handed one to me and both of us started talking into the shoes… Maxwell Smart style. Suffice it to say, we got some interesting stares and a good picture out of it.

At my wedding the seating was separate, but that didn’t deter JJ - he took a basket of rolls and tucked a napkin in his pants to play the part of a waiter and came to “serve” on the women’s side. Fortunately the photographer caught this act on film for me to cherish.

JJ was proud to be Jewish and made others proud as well. In Puerto Rico, JJ proudly davened shacharit on the porch facing the pool showing off his teffilin to all and wearing his tzizit proudly at the pool or on the tennis court. He would roller blade in Central Park wearing his tzizit proudly on the outside. And who can forget .. “Yo Yo be Jewish”.

Another of JJ’s outstanding features was his devotion to his family from his grandparents to his nieces and nephews. Once on a drive from Jerusalem to Ra'anana we stopped off to buy lottery tickets. As we continued driving we started to spend the lottery money that we already “won”. I told JJ that if I won, I would buy him $10,000 worth of CDs and he said if he won he would buy me $10,000 in shoes. But what he real reason he wanted to win the money was so he could get a permanent car and driver for his grandparents. Not for himself. He often was his grandparent’s driver and on one occasion, when he took them to a shiva call, he met a woman and started dating her. When he was in Eilat with his family he made of point of being there solely for his family and not going out at night with friends. He took the kids to the novelty store in the hotel and let each one pick one gift of their choice. JJ was so proud of his family and wanted to share them with everyone. He had no qualms about inviting his friends to his sibling’s home - knowing that there was always room at their table and a friendly smile. His family was unique too. Most 30 year olds don’t have their mother throw a party for them however, Blu Greenberg did just that. A wonderful surprise party was thrown in JJ’s honor and he was truly surprised.

JJ’s generosity was not only for his family - it extended to his friends. On one of my last correspondences with him via e-mail he wanted to check that he had bought me a wedding gift. That was what was important to him - always doing the right thing and giving gifts to others.

JJ taught me the “30 second rule” - if we met someone and he didn’t introduce them to me within 30 seconds I had to introduce myself to them so that they would introduce themselves by name. He did this because he knew so many people and sometimes he didn’t remember their name - this way they wouldn’t feel awkward and everyone would come out feeling good.

Looking out at the hundreds of people who attended JJ’s funeral one couldn’t help but think, how did so many people know this guy and all felt so close to him. That was JJ, he made each person that he met feel special and close to him. Everyone that met him felt that they were immediately his friend and he would always remember them. As someone told my husband, there isn’t a sole on the Upper West Side between the age of 25 - 50 who didn’t know JJ.

JJ loved life, people, experiences - he loved living. They say that tzaddikim pass away on Shabbat. Perhaps conventional wisdom would not have given him that title and JJ surely would have not have accepted the title willingly but alas God granted it upon him for the world to know. In his 36 years, JJ accomplished more that those who live twice as long. He touched so many throughout the world. JJ passed on during the time of year that is called the Yamim Hanoraim, the days of awe, and this year they were truly a difficult time. Yet his shiva mourning period was cut short by Succot, a holiday also called Zman Simchateinu, the period of our happiness, and his shloshim, the final mourning period for his family, was cut short by Simchat Torah, the day of the year that the Torah is honored. I think these holidays actually represent JJ, he was a person who embodied happiness and lived Torah.

JJ would not have wanted us to mourn his passing by being sad. I think that the best way to honor JJ is to emulate his good deeds - live life to the fullest, smile at others, not to speak Lashon hora, be proud to be Jewish, love Israel, be respectful of others, make everyone feel special, care for your family, and most of all - be true yourself.

Luv ya J. Forever.

Rena Krakowski Riger


October 23, 2002

Dear Rabbi & Blu, Moshe, DG, Deb & Goody and all of the hundreds if not thousands of people who have been honored to have JJ as your friend,

I am writing on October 23, 2002 because tomorrow would have been the day that I would have called JJ to wish him a happy birthday. You see My birthday is on the 28th of October so we each called each other every year. There were times when I would call him on the 26th and it was ok because it was in the middle of our birthdays. He wasn't just a friend I truly had the priviledge of having another brother.What is amazing about J was that there must be a countless number of people who feel exactly how I do.

I have known JJ since we were little kids growing up in Riverdale. I became close friends with JJ after the family came back from their year sabbatical in Israel (Deb was in 5th grade I believe so J was in Fourth). JJ's other long time best friend Richie Heisler was very lonely the year JJ was away and I had just started to come to shul so Richie took me in as a surrogate best friend while JJ was in Israel. I knew JJ's house better then he did as Richie and I spent an entire year exploring the building construction of their house. Little did the Greenbergs know that I would have something to do with the reconstruction of certain walls in the lining room/foyer. Let me explain JJ and I decided it was a good time to wrestle so we did.It was me and this kid Effie Bernstein versus JJ and Seth Farber. I ran at full steam at Seth putting his entire backside through the wall of the foyer! Later when we realized that the Greenbergs were eventually going to see our damage we decided to plea for mercy by righting a ridiculously silly song called "Please don't give me the chair I'm too young too die"..... Every year at least once we would sing it no matter what.

What is amazing about JJ is he didn't say when Richie brought him over who are you he welcomed me into the Greenberg home as if we had been best friends for years! I had the prividge of growing up in the Greenberg house some of my best Shabbat experience was the real kedusha of real Jewish people living a Torah life and it was fun! JJ made every moment I was with him fun. Even if he was sleeping or reading a comic or just playing backgammon or the 5 hour risk games which always ending with someone tipping the board over saying "you 're ganging up on me". This was just in Elementary school.

When we got to High School I would see JJ and wonder when did he go to High School. I went to Ramaz and there were sightings of J all over Manhattan and Riverdale! JJ knew how to have fun. When JJ was a senior in h.s. I convinced J that he should be the chapter president (we didn't have elections I appointed him!) after explaining how much fun we had and that he wouldn't have to do any work because I would do it and so would the chapter advisor JJ agreed because it was a good cause. JJ helped us build Riverdale NCSY into the coolest happening in NY Region only because he joined ! He was the magnet to everyone in Riverdale. All the guys and the girls admired and respected him. I respected him. I had so many memories that I want to write so I will come back again. I hope that perhaps my memories could be kept together. While we were both extremely busy we always had time to talk to each other and to keep in touch.

I will Miss JJ very much. My son Yori was devastated when he heard the news. JJ was to my kids Uncle JJ (my kids kept telling Eran and Itay at camp) because JJ was my brother.

I Mourn along with you.

Your brother and friend
Rabbi Brian Thau


October 23, 2002


The first time I remember seeing you
you were dancing to the theme song from Rocky
at someone's sweet 16
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....

You had an apartment in Kiryat Moshe once
when we were all in Israel
you used to make great vegetable soup
and gave anybody who came by
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....

College- endless Friday nights
hanging out in your kitchen in Riverdale
everyone was invited
making up dumb games
always telling "remember when" stories
and laughing so hard
we could never get the words out
while creating new memories at the same time
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....

You were a clown on roller skates
at our wedding
You made us an engagement party
and Sheva-brachot

We lived down the street from you in Queens
traded cars cause I couldn't drive manual
and then you taught me too
You always had kosher candy from Australia or England
or assorted places you visited for kiruv
and you never ate it
you had two pianos
and couldn't play
can't tell you why
it's just who you are....

But music was everything
words to every song
original artist,producer, and year
You were Elvis, a rap star, and J.J. The Kohen
it's how you reached them
it's who you are....

You would come to Israel
we never knew when
you'd appear
just like that
you let our kids dress you up
and count all your watches and toothbrushes
and check to see if the wristband is really still there
you watched them dance
and listened to countless songs
and always brought candy
and listened to every word
they all want to be around you
that's just who you are...

They thought you were really Elvis
and would ask when's J.J.coming
you'd call from the airport
to say goodbye
and say you'd be back
and we knew you would...

Being with J.J.
the laughter kept coming
now the tears keep coming

You love Israel
You love people
You love life
You love family

You are our good friend
You are everybody's good friend
How do you do that?
Did you know how loved you are?
You gave a piece of yourself to everyone you knew
made every person feel important
listening to every word
How did you do it?
It's just who you are....

You weren't supposed to die like that
there's something we can't explain
a time and space all your own
that made you you seem immortal
but maybe growing old like everybody else
is just too ordinary for you
G-d has bigger plans for you- I know I can't explain
It's just who you are....

So you're leaving us behind
never growing old
always J.J.
that's just who you are....

forever young
always J.J.
that's just who you are....

You're always in our hearts,
Karen, Judah, Sarina,Tali, Yardana, and Yaakov Richman


October 22, 2002

I was so sorry to hear the tragic news about JJ. Every time I think of JJ and his entire being I just smile and laugh. Upon reading one of the eulogies mentioning JJs love for music, 2 stories came to my mind.

I had been on the phone with Amy Barenholtz recalling a JJ moment. We were off to ski in Okemo on a Steve Budow and Elise Becker ski trip. JJ, Linda Honigswachs, Amy Barenholtz and I were in the car. We were blasting one of JJ's cassettes and we were singing Prince, "Raspberry Baret" on the top of our lungs and literally dancing in the car, the car was shaking like I have never seen a car shake (not!!) JJ then taught us the song the "Name Game (banana phanna phophana me my phophana)", we couldn't stop singing we were addicted, again, again we would say, we went through every name in the car and then in the ski house. It was a memorable ride never to be forgotten.

The other story was when I had to persuade JJ to eat with my family during Passover when he and Moshe were in Miami. I don't know how they got to this conversation, but JJ and my father started talking about chazanut. Boy did JJ impress my father with his knowledge, I don't think my father thought someone our age would enjoy the music and have the extensive knowledge JJ had. Anyway, my family fell in love with both your brothers, how they both got up from the table to clear and help out. A few days after Pesach my father received a package from JJ, it was a tape JJ made for my father with my fathers favorite chazzans. He was soooo touched. I wasn't surprised, that was JJ.

I feel privileged that I knew JJ and my family feels privileged that they got to know him even for a short time (The amount of time doesn't count, it is the quality and with JJ it was almost always quality time). JJ made a difference in this world and I hope that I can make even 1/100 of the difference he made!! It is now that I truely believe with all my heart in an olam habah.

With all my love,
Elise Becker Cohen


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