Living and loving to the fullest

I attended a funeral this afternoon, and I came to very deep, insightful (in my humble opinion) conclusion. Funerals suck. Always. It’s nobody’s fault, but the simple nature of funerals is to suck.

Of course, some funerals are harder than others. A person who has lived 80, 90 or more years will be missed, and the mourners will be sad and feel the loss (hence the word “mourners”). But they (usually) also have the comfort of knowing that the deceased lived a long, and hopefully full life.

On the other hand, when a person is killed in a terror attack, whether young or old, the mourners feel a combination of loss and outrage, and they will (naturally) often turn those emotions towards changing the reality in which we live in order to avenge the blood of the victim, as well as to prevent future attacks from happening.  The difficulty that I personally have with these funerals is that they generally deteriorate into political rallies, and the mourners lose sight of the individual being laid to rest for their view of the larger geopolitical picture.

But when person dies young and of “natural causes,” it’s different. Even when that person lived life to its fullest. Here, we have no one to blame, no avenue to vent our fury and frustration. All we have is the loss.

Keith Berman was 48-years-young, about a year and a half younger than me, which made attending his funeral all the more poignant. On Friday morning he suffered a heart attack, and on Sunday afternoon he passed away. Less than 24 hours later, hundreds of people – perhaps even a thousand (I’m not so good at judging numbers) – came out on a rainy, windy day to bid Keith a final farewell. Fortunately, the rain took a break for the funeral itself, but as the multitudes converged on the Yarkon cemetery, we had no idea that we would be so lucky.

Keith and I have been friends for 30+ years ago since our days at Camp Judaea in North Carolina. He was a tireless Jewish educator who later directed Young Judaea’s Year Course for many years before co-founding and directing Aardvark Israel, which brings high school grads and college students to Israel for their gap year.

This is not a eulogy, so I won’t go into Keith’s life, attributes, personal struggles and accomplishments. In any case, the fact that so many people showed up this afternoon exemplifies most of what I would say.

But what really hit me today was the bizarre feeling of a “reunion” with many friends who I have not seen for years, yet coming together to mourn a friend. Keith would have certainly liked that.

One recurring theme in the eulogies that we heard today (without exception, every one of them was absolutely beautiful) was that Keith often spoke of his hope that his funeral (albeit expecting it not to be quite so soon) would be a celebration, a party of sorts – not a tear-fest.

He only got part of his wish. His life, and his impact on thousands of people was celebrated, but there was no shortage of tears shed this afternoon.

I have no doubt that Keith would have loved being the impetus for bringing friends together. He was the embodiment of love, joy, Jewish unity and mutual respect. I heard two women planning a “death party” for Keith to be held sometime soon. This will apparently include equal amounts of drinking and laughing. Keith’s only objection to the idea would probably have been that he will be unable to attend.

So yes, the funeral was a sad one. How could it be otherwise when one so young and with so much energy who continues to change people’s lives on a daily basis is suddenly no longer with us?

Yet it was also uplifting. It reminded us to live our lives as Keith lived his: with an undying love of Israel and of people, a tremendous sense of humor, and the courage to chase our dreams and to be true to ourselves.

For me, as one who last saw Keith about 4 years ago, it was also a reminder to work harder at keeping people who mean so much to me close, and to let them know how important they are in my life.

I put these lessons into play. Immediately. I came home and had special time with my younger daughter (silly child – she actually asked me to tickle her for five minutes). She also sang for me the songs that she did in choir practice today, and she played a couple of songs for which she has made up her own dance routine. Then I called my older daughter just to hear how her day was and to tell her how much I love her.

This is my tribute to Keith Berman, and the lesson that his untimely passing and his emotional funeral put into perspective for me today.

May the reminder stay fresh with us forever, and may Keith’s memory always be a blessing and a comfort. He will be sorely missed, but his effect on thousands of people will be passed on to future generations.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).