I was supposed to be named after my grandfather, Marvin. Right before my Brit Milah, my father was notified by the rabbi that it wasn’t in line with Jewish tradition to name a child after a living relative. Instead, I was named Michael, which means “who is like God”. It was only upon my grandfather’s recent passing that I realised how appropriate my name was as a substitute for my grandfather’s.
The name Michael can be read as a statement, or as a question. As I reflected on my grandfather’s life, I realised how obvious the answer to that question was. Marv Starr manifested all the greatest aspects of God. I feel duty bound to explain to the world the answer to my namesake question as best as I can, so that others can share in Marvin Starr’s memory. What follows was my eulogy to him, a tribute as best as my abilities allowed. I can’t live up to his strength and wisdom alone, but if others follow his example, the world will be a better place for it.
Family and Friends, mourners all, today we remember Marv Starr. However, in communal remembrance there is challenge. We are bound by our perspectives, and we each saw him in different gradients of a character. Marvin was my grandfather. He was also a great-grandfather, husband, father, and much more. Each of these roles he met with the same love, patience, and honesty, yet there is one role that Marvin exemplified, that defined all these other relationships and responsibilities: Marvin was a man. Marvin was a rock.
In Perkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers, it’s said that “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” Some might not know how to be a man. But I know. I grew up at the feet of a mountain, Marvin Starr. Man was made in God’s image. And God, he is the “Rock of Israel”. God is called a rock because he is a constant and reliable source of strength, orientation, and hope in the history of the Jewish people. We can always rely on the guidance that he etched in stone tablets and gifted to us, to show us how to conduct ourselves. We can have faith that he will provide grain for us to grind into flour, or offer a font of water when we are parched in the desert. Even when we don’t respect our fellows, and quarrel, and fracture, God has remained loyal to the covenant he made with Abraham on a simple altar made of unwrought rocks. And still, even when fractured and divided, there was a pillar of commonality, a shared experience, under which the house of Israel would always unite. God is a rock, man in his image. And Marvin, he was a real man. He was a rock.
As a husband, he was loyal, indulgent, and a friend. Roslyn, his wife, knew he was hewn from a different material than most. They loved each other since they were teenagers. They were married for over half a century. If he was rock, then she was water. One couldn’t mention an edifice like the Grand Canyon without the devoted river that helped define it, and their love was truly a wonder to behold. She polished and refined him, curtailing his prodigious appetite for food, ensuring him a long life. He met such efforts with patience. Mostly because he knew she couldn’t watch him every second, and he would eventually have the opportunity to sneak something like a loaf of bread to wolf down. In their home, the current of their lives may have set them down different streams of household duties, but they worked in unison to create a family. She was his reservoir of strength, and the heartbreak of her loss was profound.
For his family, he was a provider. Marvin didn’t really like his job. He was shy and reserved, but he excelled at a career that demanded he cold call to sell an intangible product that most people would rather not think about. He would rather not bother anyone, and be left alone, but he toiled for 30 years to feed, cloth, educate, and sustain a family. Because that’s what a man does. He provides for his family. An outcrop doesn’t complain about rainfall when shielding others from the elements. His kids always knew that they could rely on him for protection. He was always there. Even if there was often a recliner in front of a television and baseball game. Marvin loved his children, Barbara, David, Steven and Risa, and loved to be there for them, to be the cornerstone on which they would build their futures. Seeing my family, my aunts’ and uncle’s, I know he was proud of the house he built.
There are some men that have hearts of stone, and there are some stones with the hearts of men. He was the latter. He was a man of character, like a smooth rock outcrop in the Negev desert. In the sweltering day the stones are cool and calming. In the cold night they retain the warm embrace of the sun. In the same way he was quiet, understated, and modest, yet affectionate, welcoming, and tender. He could have been tempted by those close to him to a life of gambling and vice, but rejected this for a life of stability, hard work, and sobriety. A rock doesn’t gamble and doesn’t leave the future to chance. Roulette balls are as fickle as fate, but a stone can be bet on to stand fast with its roots in the ground.
I think it was his love of hard work, in addition to his chivalrous temperament, that drew him to be such an astute sports fan. He wasn’t just a team booster. He could appreciate sports from an unusually objective stance. He was pleased when the better team won. When he was a boy, his father would ask him which team he was rooting for, and then bet on the other side. But he would quietly watch, and learn, and as an adult, watching games with him entailed hearing the commentators echo insights and analyses that Grandpa had offered five minutes earlier. He was a superb bowler, and revealed his natural leadership as perennial team captain and league president. He also enjoyed golfing, and always got his money’s worth on the course in terms of strokes per green fee. He liked playing cribbage, but seemed to enjoy solitaire just as much, which always baffled everyone.
Another mystery was his strength. When I was a kid, no one could hug harder, or squeeze your hand tighter. It was superhuman. Even when I had grown, he was strong. Even when he was sick. He was still strong.
But it’s no mystery now. He was strong because he had to be. For us. But our strength was his. How can our family be strong now? Now our rock is gone. What is our constant? What do we have to unite us?
Individually, we can emulate him. But that’s a tall order. As part of Jewish tradition we will be placing pebbles at his resting place to pay our respects. Trying to be just like him, it’d be paying respect to him, it might give us some small measure of strength. But a pebble is a pebble. And Marvin Starr was a monolith. The only way we can properly pay respect, that we can live up to his legacy and continue to build upon the foundations of family that he laid down, is to pay respect together. Each of us molded in the memory of his character, his manliness, his reliability, his steadfastness, we can become bricks, and bound together by the mortar of our shared love for him, we can build ourselves an enduring monument to him.
Marvin Starr is at rest. We are in a place where there are no men. Let’s be men, and women. Let us now be each other’s rocks.
I hope that others will recognise a life well-lived, and will emulate Marvin Starr to enrich their own. Learn how to be a rock in each other’s lives, pillars of strength for your families, and the world will have no places without men.