Today I’m actually posting two separate entries because of the nature of today’s subject matter.
I knew that when I came to Pardes I would be learning about and participating in Jewish rituals that I may not have been familiar with. Little did I or anyone else at Pardes realize that we would be coming together to mourn the loss of a former Pardes student, Robert Dov HaEzrachi, who died in a scuba diving accident in Sinai.
Robert originally came from Poland and studied at Pardes in 2003. One of the Pardes teachers was instrumental in his conversion to Judaism. He made aliyah and took the name Dov HaEzrachi (haezrachi literally “the citizen”). According to students and faculty, not only was Dov an extremely skilled diving instructor, but he was talented in many ways. He spearheaded the building of the Pardes sukkah and was known to be able to fix anything. But most important, he embodied the quality of ‘chesed’ which is roughly translates as acts of lovingkindness. People knew him to be a softspoken and generous person who never bragged about his many talents.
While Dov’s family would have wanted him to be buried in Poland, they knew that he would have asked to be buried in Jerusalem. It took a lot of strength and generosity for them to come here. I wish that their first visit to Israel could have been a much happier occasion.
It fell to Pardes to take charge of the funeral. Even though Dov only studied at Pardes for a couple of years, Pardes was always like a home to him. The faculty made sure to work with Dov’s family and help them understand the rituals and navigate Israel, a place which must seem so surreal to them.
Students and faculty from Pardes and Machon Meir as well as other members of the Jewish community came to show their respects for Dov at his funeral on Wednesday afternoon. Teachers and family gave eulogies that brought tears to everybody. Most of us at Pardes didn’t know him, but we felt his loss and were heartbroken.
As my teacher Rabbi Schweiger noted in our class this week, this week’s Torah portion, which deals with Jacob’s death, is called Vayechi, which literally means “he lived.” Similarly, the parasha that deals with death of Sarah is called “Chayye Sarah” or the life of Sarah. In Judaism, a person’s death is an opportunity to focus on the life of that person–how he or she lived, what they did in their lifetime.
Schweiger told us of a midrash that Jacob prayed to G-d to become sick because he wanted to know when his time would be. He wanted to know so that he would have time to close up loose ends–which he did end up doing when he blessed all of his sons. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know when we’re going to go, which means we should behave in the most exemplary manner that we can everyday of our life. Live a life of good deeds and also live the life that you want to live. It is a challenge to live like that, but I guess our mortality makes us more cognizant of the fact that we cannot take life for granted.
The best way to immortalize people like Dov is for us to emulate his chesed, which is always easier said then done, but nonetheless we at least try to become better people. The memory of Dov lives on through the many people at Pardes and elsewhere that he has touched. I didn’t even know him, and I feel he has affected me too. I pray that we can all continue to find ways to change this world and extend to others acts of lovingkindness.