On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank all of you for your compassion and for being present here today. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mauri-Lynne, and I’m Lionel’s daughter. Dad was devoted to every one of you. We all hope that you’ll share your memories of him with us, if not today then in the weeks and months to come.
My father was committed to the practice and preservation of Jewish life. His religious beliefs informed everything he did. Particularly fond of traditional music, he and I spent many hours listening to the treasured recordings he’d collected over the years. We spoke regularly about our spiritual and communal responsibility as Jews, particularly our responsibilities to G-d.
Jewish mystics explain that before manifest creation, everything that ever would be was contained within the Creator as pure potentiality. This field without end created vessels through which its divine energy could pass and differentiate, each representing a specific attribute, such as wisdom, compassion, kindness and strength. The energy being transmitted was so powerful that the vessels shattered. It is said that some of these shattered pieces of divine energy fell to earth as sparks where they have remained all these eons.
He and I believe that one of our primary responsibilities to G-d is to repair the world. In Hebrew, we call this process tikkun olam. We accomplish this by performing prescribed mitzvot or good works. We believe that every mitzvah or honorable act, raises those divine sparks. Traditional teachings state that when the repair is complete, we usher in the Messianic Age.
Of the many mitzvot, performing acts of loving-kindness, or chesed, is considered one of the most important. No one understood this religious obligation more clearly than my father; it was one of his primary life directives. Each of you is here today because you’ve experienced my father’s kindness, concern and generosity in some way.
Several months ago, when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on late-night TV and watched the songwriter/singer, Billy Joel, entertaining a college audience. Someone asked about a particular song, and he answered it was written in response to a question his young daughter had asked death. She wanted to know where people went when they died. He answered that they go into the hearts of the people who loved them. Just look into the eyes of the people sitting all around you. See my father’s loving kindness radiate outward from every face. My father knew that we repair the world one person at a time.
It wasn’t always easy to be his only daughter, though. Like many men of the Greatest Generation, personal accountability and responsibility superceded the personal pursuit of happiness. A Depression-era childhood followed by WWII offered little opportunity for introspection. Afterward, he put those experiences behind him, particularly the premature death of his father, and moved on. He finished college at Syracuse University, married my mother and became the wonderful man you all knew and loved, the man of language, the community advocate, the father and friend. He rarely spoke of these early years, unless specifically questioned, and even then never directly. He would relay bits and pieces, a funny story, a fragment, a shadow of an earlier life.
However, for all this linguistic skill, he found it almost impossible to tell me just how much he loved me. He tried to do just his two days after receiving his diagnosis and its bleak prognosis. We went for brunch, just he and I, at Five Crowns, our favorite old haunt in Corona del Mar, a relic of the days when it was the only show in town for a decent meal. He spoke about his father, who died prematurely when Dad was 9, and the anguish he felt; about his reverence for traditional Jewish music; about the dog he loved; about how difficult life was in those early days, about how he’d hardened himself to survive. Of course I already knew these things. I remained quiet, letting him till the hard-packed soil of his youth. Struggling with his vulnerability, he continued on. As he reviewed his life, I realized he was leaving me his emotional and psychological legacy. This was his gift to me, the personal meanings of those sublime experiences that had shaped his personality and life.
We groped around newly imposed language deficiencies, this malignant mountain, to reach each other. Like a game of life-and-death charades, I filled in his blank spaces. Yes, Yes, I understand, I said. The other diners grew vague, and I saw a little girl riding a two-wheeler, her father close behind to catch her if she fell. Catch me Daddy. Don’t let me fall. I swallowed tears with my champagne. Could I receive this final offering and relieve his suffering? Could I contain that love without bursting like one of the vessels of creation?
I prayed that my skills as a therapist would guide me and pushed salmon around the plate. Behind the words, I saw love in his eyes, his eyes that are also my eyes. I wanted him to know that I had always seen his authentic self; that he was my first hero; that I would always honor him.
In the end, our feelings proved too much for words alone. His presence had communicated everything I’d really needed to know: that he tried to be like the father he lost too soon; that he’d survived and done the best he could. I think his love was so profound that it simply defied words. We sat together side by side for a while, he and I, drinking coffee, saying we’d come back to the restaurant soon, though I knew we never would. I memorized everything about this final outing. I was Daddy’s girl once more.
At that moment, I was sitting with the little boy who dreamed of life in a warm climate where oranges grew on trees, the young man making his way in the world and the aging patriarch in decline. I was the little girl on daddy’s shoulders, the awkward, insecure adolescent and the inconsolable, mature woman facing her father’s death.
Speech is just one tiny part of communication. Just as we find G-d in the silent spaces of prayer and meditation, love is revealed the same way. In silence my father and I found the true essence of devotion, joined together in spirit for always. If every you want to see my father, look into my eyes, and there he’ll be.
My fairy godmother, Grace Gold, recently told me that when viewed retrospectively, life seems like a sublime dream. I now dream about what it will be like when we’re all together again. My father will lift me in his arms and swing me around and around. The sun will shine brightly, and the tree branches will be heavy with fruit. Everyone we’ve ever loved will be there, too. And we’ll celebrate and laugh and tell stories and never again have to number our days.