Friday, February 19, 2010

Steve z"l - The hesped

Since Shabbos-timing constraints prevented me from attending the levayah (funeral) of my great friend, Steve Weiner, here is the hesped (eulogy) I wrote. I am grateful to Rabbi David Wilensky for reading it at the levayah this morning. May this publication also count as a way to eulogize Steve and encourage others to mourn this אדם כשר.

Steve Weiner, Zev ben Michoel and Zlata Freyda, was the best of us.

Of course, Steve would be the first to declare that he was no saint. He said that to me outright a couple of weeks ago; commenting on his own suffering, he shocked me by insisting that it was fair, saying, “Oh, I haven’t always done the right thing.”

I admit, Steve, that you may not have been perfect, and we are not allowed to exaggerate in a eulogy, but you were still the best of us in so many ways. You displayed what Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, and his rebbe, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, exalted in Pirkei Avos as a Lev Tov, a good heart. This term sounds so benign, so nice, as to be almost meaningless – but far from it, Lev Tov means everything.

Lev tov is a glowing description of an ever-renewing spring. Lev tov is testimony to a resource that can create אהבה ואחוה, that can glue people and communities together, that can convert יחיד into ציבור. Lev tov is dramatic tribute to a heart and soul that can love its Creator even when the Creator appears to have betrayed the Creation. Lev Tov is no pareve compliment – it is the inspiration of the Jew, the Jewish People, and Judaism.

Steve, your Lev Tov meant that you had a tremendous love of friends and friendship and chevra. From chevra at shiurim, to chevra at shul social events and Super Bowl parties, to chevra devoting Thursdays to preparing the shul kiddush, to chevra at the shabbos table and hosting get-togethers in your home, to chevra in your concern and love for your parents, your brother Robert and his family, your heart was always with people.

Your Lev Tov meant that you were inspired by a driving compassion for people in need, for people being bullied and mistreated. You had a fiery sense of justice and righteousness. You couldn’t stand people who picked on others, and you wouldn’t tolerate falseness and arrogance and insincerity. On boards and committees you stood up for what you felt was right, no matter who opposed you. I was often the beneficiary of your kindness; you saw all sides of issues, but you were quick to my defense when you agreed with me. Thank you.

Your Lev Tov meant that you volunteered, volunteered, volunteered. Member of numerous committees, chair of various events. Gabbai extraordinaire and chief signaler for Krias haTorah. Head of Adult Ed for years. Don Isaac Abarbanel in Costume that memorable Shabbos morning in shul. You would have been shul president one of these days, if not for this accursed illness. We could always tell when you were feeling better, because you would show up in the shul kitchen on Thursday afternoons to help out. When we needed someone for a job, we knew we could call you.

And your Lev Tov meant that you had a great love of Judaism. You loved to lein; one of the highlights of my life was seeing you lein a haftorah a couple of years ago, mere weeks after lying at death’s door. On a day to day basis, you helped out with minyan at shul, for a while you came to daf yomi, and you attended many other shiurim. We learned our way through one masechta b’chavrusa, and almost completed another. And your zemiros brought our shabbos table to life; I don’t know how we’ll make it through your Menuchah v’Simchah this Shabbos. And all through these last, terrible years, through the ups and downs and the deepest of depths, you somehow kept that love of Judaism and that faith in Gd. I saw it firsthand, down to the end, every time we said viduy together; if I hadn’t seen it, I would never have believed it possible.

I believe that this is what Rabbi Elazar ben Arach meant, when he said the Lev Tov is the trait a person should choose above all. It’s what Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai meant when he concurred with his student.

Lev Tov is Avraham and Sarah creating the Jewish people by giving to every passerby. Lev Tov is Moshe qualifying to lead the Jewish people because he would carry them like a nurse carrying a nurseling. Lev Tov is Iyyov defiantly adhering to his faith, clutching the very foot that is crushing him and declaring, לו יקטלני לו איחל, Even if You kill me, I will yet long for You.

Lev Tov is the heart that loves chevra, the heart that feels compassion and righteousness, the heart that volunteers, the heart that loves its Creator. It is, as Rav Ovadia of Bartenura wrote, the heart that drives everything else.

Funny – just before I came to see you a couple of weeks ago, ______ emailed me a status report. He said that time was short, but the nurse said you could still go on for quite some time, because your heart was strong. She didn’t even know how strong, Steve.

And your heart did remain strong, and visible. One of your frustrations, as you told me just recently, was the idea that people would remember you from these past few years. But Steve, although the illness certainly affected you, limited you, pained you and tried to drag you down, you were still Steve through it all, and we could see it. We knew you before, we knew you during, and we continue to know you.

With that heart, you were the best of us - and so much more.
There’s a reason why ___ and I drove down to see you in Philadelphia that Motzaei Shabbos Bereishis a few years ago, when you collapsed in the airport.
There’s a reason why so many people stayed close these past few years, to help out daily in any way they could.
There’s a reason why our mood rose when your health rose, and our spirits sank when you were in trouble.
There’s a reason why we embraced your mother of blessed memory, your father yibadel l’chaim, and your brother, on their visits to town.
There’s a reason why our community rallied around you, with meals and visits and get-togethers and tehillim.
Yes, part of it is because Allentown is wonderful. But it’s also because of you, Steve.

In professional sports, when an athlete admitted to the Hall of Fame has played on multiple teams, they ask him which jersey and hat he wants to wear. We do the same thing with our memories of our Hall of Famers, in our own minds, putting people in the uniforms in which we want to remember them best.

For me, Steve, your uniform is your smile; it’s what captured your Lev Tov most of all. I see you joking with me at the bimah between aliyos. I see you playing keyboard in the band and in your home. I see you talking to my kids, laughing with _______, hanging out with the guys. I see you at the shul Gala, at an Adult Education brunch at your house, at a shiur. And all through it, your Hall of Fame smile announcing the Lev Tov inside.

Finally, Steve, I ask you forgiveness for myself, and for all of us in the community and beyond who tried to help you. We weren’t always perfect; sometimes you needed things we didn’t provide, and sometimes we did things you didn’t need. You endured a lot of emotional turbulence, and although we tried to be supportive, I know that sometimes we didn’t achieve the right balance. And I apologize for the insufficiency of my own words today, and for being unable to make it in person for your levayah. Please forgive all of us.

תהיה נשמתך צרורה בצרור החיים, May your soul be bound up in the bond of life, Steve, in the bond of all of our lives and in the bond of the universal life HaShem created. You were, are and always will be, the best of us.


  1. I have never been to Allentown, and never had a chance to meet Steve (or heard of him for that matter, until your post yesterday), but I just cried more than I ever have from reading a blog post. What a loss to lose such an incredible person.

    תנצב"ה, and המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Steve is truly an inspiration to return to again and again.

    His life is his true monument.

    You did well writing and posting this.

  3. Beautiful. Truly represents the essence of who he was.

  4. A moving tribute to someone who sounds as if he were a truly beautiful person. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion, and may you, too, be comforted at your loss.

  5. Thank you, everyone; I appreciate your comments.