We had been friends for almost half a century. It is hard to believe that the lifeline that flooded his veins with strength and determination, robust good health and boundless joy, has stopped. At age 94, few would call his death tragic but, nonetheless, for those, like me, who adored and respected him, it is a palpable and profound loss. He was someone unlike anyone I’ve ever known.
My friend died peacefully, leaving a legacy of talented and wise children and grandchildren and a wife of 66 years who was a part of his essence One wouldn’t speak of one without speaking of the other. Their lives were as a unit. Yet he forged a path doing his own thing, and she hers. They complemented and complimented each other, as people in love often do.
Certain fundamentals of their life together: they never owned a television set. They never owned a computer or smart phone. They filled their days with acts of kindness, particularly with many years of service to their nearby shul, devotion to good reading with books all over the house, and with decades of playing Scrabble. She generally won. They led simple lives but they were anything but simple.
He, and she, were highly educated, sharp and witty and their values and reputations were intact, always.
He served in the US Army Infantry during the Second World War and was awarded a Bronze Star for accomplishing an act of ferocious bravery that had already killed his two comrades. Yet, after the war, he became a conscientious objector, writing letters about the folly of war. He was a man of peace, not war. But when life demanded that he fight for peace he did so. His tour of Europe was no “grand tour” but was a battle for every foothold. And then he returned home to New Jersey. To live his peaceful and happy life. His name was Asher which means happy. He was a happy man!
My friend Asher was a man with spirit. He was never shy about sharing his opinions. He was just about always right!
My friend Asher was a devoted family man. He never sought great wealth and when offered the chance to climb the corporate ladder he made the decision to decline the offer because the price of the added prestige and money would be to spend less time with his wife and three children. To hear his children talk about their childhoods is to know that he made a wonderful and wise decision. His children talk about their camping trips and learning from him how to climb mountains, euphemistically, philosophically, spiritually, and actually.
In one of life’s ironies, two of his three children, the sons, both became media people. Growing up without a tv one became an Emmy award winning writer for tv. Really. The other is on the masthead in an editorial position for America’s most important newspaper. I know you’ve heard of it. Their real-life experiences prepared them for creativity in their careers like no childhood with cartoons. Both of these men, and their talented wives, have raised two sons each.
Their daughter is a mother of four and, to this day, does not own a tv. Her children are thriving. Two of them are permanent residents of Jerusalem. She, herself, is a committed social worker.
All the children and grandchildren are exceptionally devoted to their grandparents. They will miss Asher and long for his loving chats with them, his pet nicknames for each and every one and his guidance throughout their lives.
Asher was an athlete. He swam often and walked often. He pursued his many interests with passion and sensitivity. He was a poet at heart and in deed. He wrote poetry his entire life.
Following is an excerpt from a poem he wrote to commemorate the birth of his first grandson.
Being sixty-four years, eight months and sixteen days older than you
Let me take you by the hand
And walk with me a little where I have walked
I will show you some of the wonder,
Some of the beautiful –
I will show you the small in the great and the great in the small –
Of this life we are,
So you can love it with me
And for yourself
And know you are of this life and belong here….
And I, your grandfather, and you, my grandson,
Will be friends
Even as you walk beyond me.
And now Asher’s grandchildren and his children and his beloved wife, will walk beyond him, knowing that they belong here and that it was his wish that they see the beautiful and the small in the great, and the great in the small
May his teaching inspire us as well and may he rest in peace.