My father, Sidney Black, passed away on November 8, 2011 after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease. His funeral was at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, IL. Sidney was a pillar of Beth Emet. His love and laughter helped make it a very special place. These are a few words I spoke at his funeral.
Sidney Black – November 10, 2011
Beth Emet Synagogue – Evanston, IL
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Standing on this pulpit and looking at all of you – many who have been a part of my life and that of my family for so many decades, I’m thinking about the word Yerusha – which means, legacy or inheritance. In many ways, this week’s parasha, Vayera, which contains the powerful text of the Akedah – the binding of Isaac, is all about Yerusha. Abraham and Sarah are promised a son. Isaac is born, then almost taken away. God then reaffirms the promise made to Abraham - guaranteeing that his descendants shall inherit God’s blessing throughout the generations.
My father, Sidney Black, bequeathed a sacred yerusha to all of us who knew and loved him. And there were so many who knew and loved him. As I think about all that he gave to us, so many images come to mind. But I want to focus on three things: Family, Faith and Rhythm.
Family was everything to my dad. He grew up in the midst of a huge family - it was so big that he sometimes got lost in the shuffle. But he taught us all, through his words, his laughter, his tears and his example how to love and be loved and for that we are grateful and blessed. When he met my Mother and they fell in love – they knew that creating a loving family was one of the most important acts that they could perform. But my parents’ family went beyond blood. So many of you here today – and too many who have died – but whose memories fill this sanctuary – understood that they were part of my father’s family: whether here at Beth Emet, or at the seder table, at the minyan, or any of the myriad ways that he shared his love and joy.
Faith – My father loved being Jewish. He passed that love on to my sister, Nina and to me. And we, have passed it on to our children. He loved the sound of Hebrew and prayer. He loved chanting torah. He loved leading the Minyan here at Beth Emet. He loved studying torah with Herbert Hubert and his shabbat afternoon coffee clatch. He loved going to services and singing along at the top of his lungs. He lived for the opportunity to perform Mitzvot and help others. Acts of G’milut Chasadim – lovingkindess – were part and parcel of everything he did. As far as I’m concerned, he embodied all that was good and holy in our tradition.
Rhythm. My dad always had a song running through his head. This is a trait that he bequeathed to me and my sister Nina and for that I am eternally grateful as well. Until the very end, he was always singing, or whistling, or jangling the change and keys in his pocket to some song. Even towards the end – when his illness had progressed to the point that he hardly recognized any of us – he still responded to and remembered music – especially prayers. Any musical gifts that I have been given are part of this holy yerusha. The rhythm of my father’s life was not only felt through music, however. We felt it in his kindness, in his laughter, in his tears, his caring and his love.
I conclude with a poem I wrote last year after a particularly difficult visit to see my dad as the Alzheimer’s that stole his awareness was taking its toll.
My Father Has Hazel Eyes
My Father has hazel eyes.
I’d like to think when he was younger
He could see a world of wonders
With an emerald sheen
The hardship and the hope
The need to fight or cope
With a panoply of lies.
My father’s skin is smooth
Though easily bruised.
He stares into a distant
Seeing. Not seeing.
Being . Not being.
Perhaps recalling for an instant
When legs and lips and loins competing
Jingling pocket sounds completing
A trajectory of mine.
My father, always singing
(Telling me that he was there).
With ancient rhythms mingling
Through our home and in the air.
His laughter pierced the sadness
His anger deep below
His love was filled with gladness
And his heart did overflow
His hopes lay in his offspring
And his dreams were locked up tight
With every day an offering
Whistling praises in the night.
My father’s voice is gone now
Like a winter’s lawn now
Or a debt repaid
Or a bed unmade
Waiting to be stripped
A hand that’s lost its grip
On the world that spins around him
Or the people that surround him
Preparing their goodbyes.
My son has hazel eyes.
He sees with intuition,
A clarity of vision
Searching hard for things that matter
Amidst the riffraff and the chatter
In the greenish hues of spring
In the songs he loves to sing