July 17, 2020
This week we read the final double portion in the Book of Numbers – Matot -Masei (Numbers 30:2-36:13). During the later part of Numbers we read about a lot of deaths. We read about the death of rebels. We read about the death of Aaron. We read about the death of Miriam. And, as we conclude the Book of Numbers, we learn that Moses’ days are also numbered.
This week, I was wondering what I would do if I knew my number was about to come up; especially as we each struggle with the challenges of the current Covid-19 Pandemic. Some people have written letters or made recordings, for the families, friends and other loved ones. Many of these sacred texts include feelings of love and the possibility that they might not make it out alive. As I read about Moses finding out that he was not going to reach the Promised Land, I wondered if he thought about what his obituary might say. What would he want to be remembered for? Would those he left behind honor his memory and keep his hopes and dreams for the people alive?
Would he choose to do what some who know they are soon to die do and write his own eulogy? Would he have family write it for him? Moses was the star of his day. But if Moses were alive today, he wouldn’t have to worry about writing his own eulogy or having his family write it. He would be secure in the fact that his obit would appear in the New York Times and that it could have beene written by the exceptional writer of Obits, Margalit Fox, who retired in 2015.
Oddly enough, as we read that Moses’ days are numbered, Ms. Fox was preparing to retire, Josefin Dolsten wrote an article about some of Margalit’s best obituaries; more specifically, her obituaries of famous Members of The Tribe. Speaking of Tribes, one of those obits was about Judy Protas. Judy was a genius in the field of advertising who came up with a native American Indian wearing a hat and with his split pony tail looking almost like peyos, holding a sandwich on rye bread with the slogan, “You don’t have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s”. And that my friends is how the whole world stopped eating corned beef on white with mayo and started eating it with deli mustard on rye. Whether that would work today with our awareness of misappropriation of stereotypes of other cultures is questionable.
As Margalit was quite a wordsmith it was fitting that she wrote the obituary for Rabbi Sol Steinmetz who was not only an ordained Rabbi but also a linguistics expert. In fact, he served as the executive editor of Random House’s Dictionary Division. Rabbi Steinmetz was the go to guy not only on matters Rabbinic, but on matters grammatical and semantical and if you had a question on anything etymological you would go ask him; unless, of course you were “anti-semantic”.
Margolit wrote the obituary for famed Jewish Songleader, Debbie Friedman, noting that while Friedman was a supporter of all disenfranchised groups, her lyrics were a creation of strength and comfort for all. Even when going through the worst of her debilitating illness, Debbie continued doing whatever she could to help empower others.
And I’d like to close with one last obit that Margolit penned; the one for Irving Cohen. Many of you might not know the name, he is not one of the better known celebrities on her obit list. It seems that if you ever frequented the Catskill Mountains of Borscht Belt Fame and if you ever stayed at the Concord, and, if you happened to meet your bashert, your soul mate there; chances are it was Irving who fixed you up. He was the maitre d’hotel. Cohen had an almost magical way of sizing up Jewish Singles who were looking for the man or woman of their dreams. It wound up that it wasn’t really magic at all, Irving kept all kinds of notes and charts. He would ask all kinds of questions to learn everything he could about each guest and he would use that information to help make him the Matchmaker of the Mountains. I learned that Irving was not a believer in long distance romance. He felt that if you hit it off up in the mountains during vacation and then you headed far away from where your summer love lived, you would just forget about each other. So he made sure that he kept his potential matches to those who lived in geographically close proximity to one another. And you know what, it worked for thousands of guests at the Concord.
As we finish the Book of Numbers this week, please remember that your number is not up yet; the story of your life is not finished and it is up to you to make it a great ending, an ending in which you make a difference and fulfill the call from God to add to the love, to add to the goodness, and to add to the light.
May You Grow From Strength To Strength.