On Wednesday evening, Steve Weiner, זאב בן מיכאל וזלאטע פריידע, passed away.
I’m struggling to say the magic words ברוך דיין האמת, Blessed is the Judge of Truth, without it coming out as parody or blasphemy.
Who is Steve? Steve is a great friend, a real mensch, a לב טוב, an uber-volunteer, a man who suffered incredibly over the past few years. Steve is a musician and a chemist and a lover of Torah and a lover of chevra. Steve is a builder of community.
Steve spent Shabbos and Yom Tov meals in our home. Steve and I learned b’chavrusa weekly for years, completing one masechta and almost completing another. Steve chaired our Adult Education committee and was creative and community-minded and energetic and devoted.
Steve sang Shabbos zemiros (songs) with energy and passion. Steve played poker and Risk and the keyboard. Steve loved his friends and was there for them. And Steve inspired reciprocity in us.
Steve stood for honesty and sincerity, and railed against artifice and arrogance. He was not always my defender, either; he could tell me when I was wrong. But he was דן לכף זכות, he judged me and others favorably.
I could go on. Actually, I have gone on; I’ve written a draft hesped, and it’s filled with descriptions like that. But it’s not adequate, none of it is adequate.
Please don’t give me advice or encouragement; I’m not in a frame of mind for it. In any case, I know how to write a eulogy; I’ve be around the block way too many times, I’ve written somewhere upward of 200, I know how they’re done, and none of the styles with which I am familiar are adequate.
I think it’s because this is so personal. (That’s not new to me; I’ve buried close friends before. But each death is unique and carries its own trauma and emotions, and this one is hitting me in this way.)
I prefer eulogies that focus more on the person who passed away than on the mourners, but so much of Steve is personal for me that I can’t get away from it, even though I want to stick to Steve and not to myself.
I remember one of my first funerals in Allentown, when a brother of the niftar wanted to open the casket and see his brother. That’s the way I feel. No, I wouldn’t do it, of course, but I feel that powerful pull to see him one more time.
I apologize for the diffuseness of my comments here. As the Rav said on Tishah b’Av, the mourner’s kinos jump around and lack proper structure; this is the nature of the grieving heart. Even though this was coming for a long time, I’m not ready to write this in a formal way. It is what it is.
One thing I can say: Relationships like my friendship with Steve made it easier for me to leave the pulpit, because being a shul rabbi meant that I came to know people this way, and to feel this kind of hurt. But relationships like these are also the magnet that draws me back, they make life so much more than a selfish string of narrow experiences.
I am torn to pieces by this pain, but I can’t imagine living a life without it.