In Loving Memory of My Uncle Bernie

This week marks the end of the Shloshim, the 30 day period of intense mourning for my dear Uncle Bernie, Mr. Bernard Pittinsky, ברוך בן שמואל ומרים. Below is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral which I am sharing publicly since I believe that we all can learn from this great individual. May his memory be a blessed.

Bernie’s Hebrew name is בָּרוּךְ which means blessed.

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא.

Blessed is the Omnipresent One, blessed be He! Blessed is He who gave the Torah to His people Israel, blessed be He! Corresponding to four sons did the Torah speak… (Passover Haggadah)

One of my fondest memories growing up of Uncle Bernie ברוך בן שמואל ומרים was when we all gathered together for the Passover seder every year. At first we did this at my grandparent’s apartment and later continued this tradition at my parents’ house.

The Passover seder personifies Bernie’s devotion to education.

Our rabbis teach us that the reason the famous description in the seder of the 4 sons begins with the word בָּרוּךְ, blessed, so that it is said 4 times is to impress upon on the value that each and every child – no matter his or her level of intellect or nature — deserves a Jewish education. This was Bernie’s entire life work.

Uncle Bernie served as the Director of Finance at Yeshiva University for 27 years, helping an entire generation of students receive a first-class university and Jewish education. He proudly used to describe how, together with Rabbi Norman Lamm and Mr. Sheldon Socol, he saved Yeshiva from a financial crisis in the 1970s and early 80s in a historic loan restructuring and steered Yeshiva into the 21st century, up through his retirement in 2002.

Bernie’s devotion to education and community extended beyond his professional duties to the personal sphere as well, and beyond the Jewish world because he so deeply believed in education for all people. He served as the President of his local Baldwin Board of Education for many years, and he volunteered for the police athletic association by helping them organize and master their finances for many, many years. Whatever he touched, he did completely with all of his heart. His kids mention that Bernie could never get out of the supermarket since he was so loved in the community. Everyone had something to say to him. He was active in his shul, the South Baldwin Jewish Center, always helping with whatever need arose of the minyan.

Bernie’s devotion to education, with his wife started in the home.

He was very devoted to family, raising great kids and instilling in them wonderful values. My mother commented once to me how all the brothers were so close-knit with each other and their parents yet so unique and each so accomplished in different fields like law, music, academics, educational entrepreneurship. This is a testimony to my aunt but also to Uncle Bernie as well.

Bernie’s devotion was not only to wisdom but to deeds.

ז בָּרוּךְ הַגֶּבֶר, אֲשֶׁר יִבְטַח בַּיהוָה; וְהָיָה יְהוָה, מִבְטַחוֹ. ח וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל-מַיִם, וְעַל-יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו, וְלֹא ירא (יִרְאֶה) כִּי-יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן; וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי.

7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord; the Lord shall be his trust. 8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the water, and by a rivulet spreads its roots, and will not see when heat comes, and its leaves shall be green, and in the year of drought will not be anxious, neither shall it cease from bearing fruit. (Jeremiah Chapter 17)

Our rabbis teach us that one whose deeds exceed his wisdom is like a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are many; since even if all the winds of the world come and blow upon it, they do not move it from its place, as it is said; “He shall be like a tree planted by the waters, and spreads out its roots by the river, and shall not perceive when heat comes, but its leaf shall remain fresh; and it will not be troubled in the year of drought, nor will it cease to bear fruit.” [Jeremiah 17:8].

Uncle Bernie was a man of deeds.

My father remembers how Bernie bought him a custom-made suit from Barney’s for his high school graduation for $100. This was a very large sum at the time but Bernie wanted his kid brother to look his best on his special day.

When we were in YU, my brother and I visited Bernie all the time. His door was always open, not only for us, his family, but for anyone who needed his help. Speaking of doors, Bernie’s name opened doors for me at YU because everyone loved him. They called him a mensch. This is not such a common thing if you think about it. Administrators at universities, especially ones in charge of finance, are usually not held in such esteem, but everyone loved Bernie.

Bernie had a great sense of humor at Yeshiva as well. I remember at his retirement party how he described his discussion at lunch about the Manhattan Eruv. Does an island need an eruv? Maybe all of North America should be an eruv because it’s an island!

Bernie was especially devoted to family. Bernie helped use his connections in Yeshiva to get my Grandma into the best nursing home in NY. He then visited her often, making sure to eat dinner with her at least once a week. I remember when Grandma passed the week of Larry’s wedding and Bernie asked Rabbi Blau from Yeshiva about mourning for his mother. He was told to go and celebrate with his son and daughter-in-law but, nevertheless, after the chuppah, Bernie chose to sit outside the hall out of respect for his mother.

Bernie used to talk to me about his belief that as children grew older and started their own families, it was the job of the parents to visit the children since they were busy with their own lives and kids and sometimes would not have a chance to visit. This is a testimony to Bernie’s devotion to family and his menschlichkeit, his feeling to never stand on ceremony but always go out of his way to give to others. In my own life, Bernie helped me on countless occasions some I do not even feel I can describe in public.

All I can say is thank you. Thank you Uncle Bernie, ברוך בן שמואל ומרים, for being such a blessing to all of us, to your family, to the Jewish community, and to the world. Your warmth, selfless devotion, and menschlichkeit will be sorely missed.

About the Author
Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky as the Director of Educational Technology at The Frisch School works closely with the faculty to integrate technology into every aspect of teaching and learning at Frisch. He is also a professor for MOFET's International Online Academy, an active blogger on topics related to the intersection of technology and Jewish education, and an avid user of social media. He has conducted workshops in educational technology throughout North America as well as in Israel and South Africa. Recent speaking engagements include a session at the International Society for Technology in Education’s 2015 conference on Crowdsourcing ISTE: A Dynamic Model for Collaboration Inside and Outside the Classroom and a presentation for TurnItIn’s 2015 Student Success Week Virtual Conference on Crowdsourcing in the Classroom to Enhance Reading, Writing, and Presenting presentation.