Friday, October 28, 2016

Eulogy for Irv Pomeranz

I rarely post eulogies online, but then again, Irv was a one of a kind guy.  


Blessed is the man who reveres Adonai, who delights in God’s commandments. His descendants will be honored in the land, a generation of the upright, they will be blessed. Prosperity fills his household, his righteousness is enduring. Even in the darkness, light shines for the upright, for the one who is gracious, compassionate, and just. All goes well with the man who is generous, whose dealings are marked by integrity. He shall never be shaken, his kindness will always be remembered. Evil tidings do not frighten him; his mind is firm, trusting in Adonai. His heart is steady, he will notbe fearful, for his enemies are destined to be overcome. He has given freely to the poor; his goodness is an inspiration to others; his life is exalted in honor. – Psalms 112:1-12

Eulogy for Irv Pomeranz by Rabbi David Baum
Yisrael Hanokh ben Harav Tz'vi Aryeh u-Miryam

I walked into my home just a half hour after seeing Irv for the last time alive, holding his hand as his soul returned to Hashem.  She looked at me and said, “sometimes, your job stinks.”  It’s hard – we lost a true gadol this week, Irv, Israel Hanoch. 

Our rabbis were cognizant of when someone died – if they die on erev Shabbat, it is a good sign.  It shows that their soul will be at rest in the world to come. 

But Irv left this world on Isru Chag Simchat Torah, the day after Simchat Torah; and I think, if I were one of the rabbis writing midrash, I would say that there it might be even a greater honor to leave this world after Simchat Torah was completed.  A day when we dance and rejoice with the Torah, when we complete the Torah and then start it again immediately. 

As you all know, Irv loved Torah – he loved learning, but more than learning, he loved teaching. 

It was hard to say goodbye to Irv so suddenly, and yes, as Alissa said, it stinks – but, to have known Irv, even for a short time, was one of the greatest gifts I could have received.  Today, I want to tell you about three lessons that he taught me in the three short years that I knew him, and how he made a difference in the lives of so many. 

1.    Raise up many students and bring them into your home.

2.    Give more than you receive – you’ll be happier and live longer.

3.    There’s always time to make a difference and live life. 

When I met Irv about three and a half years ago at Shaarei Kodesh, a refugee from another congregation, I knew there was something special about him.  People followed him – he had a fire within him that attracted others.  I honestly do not recall our first conversation, but I know that it might have been our first or second congregation where he introduced himself to my sons, and there was something special about it.  He invited us to his home at the beach, literally whenever we wanted – and taking him up on his offer was one of the best things I had ever done – not just for the great food and company, but because my kids got to know a great man.

Later, I found out why he took to my kids – I think he saw himself in them.  He was the son of a Rabbi, his father, Harry Pomeranz, who was the rabbi of Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn.  He was just 13 when he lost his father, and he always blamed ‘the life’ on his loss.  He had a rough childhood – the youngest of six children, he bounced around a lot after his father passed.  He always looked out for my children, and for me, to make sure that they had a better life as Preacher’s Kids than he did.  Irv did not want to walk in his father’s footsteps exactly, but he did want to teach.  After college, Irv went to the Jewish Theological Seminary to become a Hebrew teacher.  He taught Hebrew and math, but you know, Irv was a friendly and talkative guy, and a friend begged him to leave teaching to join him in selling text books for schools.  He agreed because he really did want to see more of the world– and it let to a lot of traveling and meeting a lot more people, and he made more money, but he never lost his love for teaching. 

The concept of raising up many students and bringing them into your home is actually written about in the Talmud.  Irv didn’t tell me much about selling books – but he did tell me about his students from all parts of his life.  He never stopped teaching – once a teacher, always a teacher.  He told me that his former students from all years of his life would still contact him. 

I think he saw something in everyone that even people themselves don’t see – potential.  He turned people into students with just one conversation.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I brought Harrison to visit Irv and Elle, and I invited one of his friends with his mother.  We were supposed to park by his home and walk to Gumbo Limbo, but I got caught in traffic.  I told the woman to wait in the Chicki Bar, and to look out for Irv.  She said, “Will I know who he is?”  I told her, “Don’t worry, he’ll find you.”  When I got there, they were deep into conversation – it took him about 5 minutes to convince her, “Rabbi, we’ve got a new student for our beginner’s Hebrew class!”  And this happened literally all the time.  This woman never received a Jewish education – did not know an alef from a bet, and it was this moment that she decided to finally learn.  And all it took was 5 minutes alone with Irv and Elle.  Not only did he raise students, but after he got sick and could not drive at night to Shaarei Kodesh, his students came to him.  He filled up his home with Torah and students. 

The first teaching in the famous book, the Ethics of Our Fathers, raise up many disciples – He’emidu Talmidim Harbei –
Irv realized that when he created students, he saw that he could raise them.  How many people in this room were one of Irv’s students?  And how many people did something you never thought you could do because of Irv?  That’s what it means to be raised up. 
The second lesson I learned from Irv:

1.    Give more than you receive – you’ll be happier and live longer.

Every successive year since Irv started teaching his beginner’s Hebrew class, he asked me for a raise in pay.  The first year, it was double, next, triple, this year, he had the audacity to ask for quadruple the pay.  It’s a good thing that anything multiplied by 0 always equals 0.  Irv never wanted a dime for teaching, just an opportunity to teach others – to give to others.  For those who do not know, Irv had many health problems during these last years.  He had Leukimia which was held at bay through medication.  He would always tell me, it’s no big deal, really, but it was.  And rather than take, he constantly gave to others.  Whether it was through teaching, schmoozing, joking, or just giving a hug to a child he barely knew as Uncle Irv, he constantly gave. 

Elle thanked me yesterday for what Shaarei Kodesh did for him.  He was sicker than we all thought – but being with us, seeing the kids running around and giving to his students, gave him purpose, a spiritually richer life, and a longer life.  You cannot put a price on more time in this world – and so, he taught me that giving to others is actually a way to get more out of life. 

And finally:

1.    There’s always time to make a difference and live life. 

I told you, Irv was a refugee from another synagogue.  It would have been so easy not to go to another shul and start over.  He has a beautiful apartment, a beautiful beach and Chiki bar.  And yet, he drove 20 minutes west to spend his time in a store front shul across from a gas station.  But he almost never missed a Shabbat – almost never missed a weekday class.  He built a new home in a modest little place out West.  In three and a half years, he made a tremendous impact on many people.  It taught me, there’s always time, it’s never too late to make a difference; even after you’re heart is broken, you can start over and be better.  Irv was a betting man – he loved to wager on sports games – he always thought he could win – and this is how he lived his life. 

Irv left us the day after Simchat Torah.  It was almost as if he waited until after we celebrated the Torah, the teachings that gave him so much joy and purpose. 

Irv lived just days into the New Year, and he came into our congregations life just in the last three years, and yet, he made such a great impact.  There were fellow community members who had known him for a year, and some for weeks, and they were equally heart broken. 

There is a saying, that there will never be another prophet like Moses, and yet, we have had great teachers in our people named Moses – like Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides, and Moses Isserles, the Rema – and on our their graves it states, from Moses to Moses, there will never be another prophet like Moses.  Let me know, we aren’t saying goodbye to a prophet named Moses, but we are saying goodbye to a teacher, Morenu, our teacher, named Israel.  He called people by the names that they needed - You see, Irv always called his students by their Hebrew names – for many of his students who were still finding their Jewish voice, it was a revelation; for me it was easy, David is Hebrew, but he would call me Duvedelle, a Yiddish term.  I think he did this because he genuinely cared for me – maybe he saw his father in me – and he saw himself in his sons.  For whatever reason, I will always remember his kindness, his love, and most of all, his humor. 

Irv’s Hebrew name was Israel Hanoch – Israel – our father whom we are named after who wrestled with angels and had a vision of the world as it should be.  Hanoch, who is mentioned in this week’s parashah, was a man who the Torah tells us walked with God.  The Midrash tells us that Chanoch was the only other heavenly scribe along with Moses.  And so, Israel Hanoch lived out his name – a man who was on par with angels, who always looked at the good in others – the worlds that people could create, a man who walked with God and devoted his life to God’s word, the Torah.  

We are called Bnai Israel, the children of Israel, and I’m tempted to say, from Israel to Israel, there will be no other teacher like Israel.  But my prayer is that someone else will one day come along and be a tenth of the mensch that Irv was in this world.

Yehi Zichroh Baruch