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John L. Rosove

When death comes

I frequently read obituaries because I am fascinated by real-life stories, be they of the well-known or unknown. That’s the positive side of the matter. On the other side and as a rabbi who has eulogized hundreds of family, friends, and congregants over more than 40 years, I feel viscerally that each death is “like an iceberg between the shoulder blades.” (1)

In recent days, a friend and a leader in our synagogue community died at the young age of 61 following three excruciating months in the ICU from complications of pancreatitis. He was perfectly healthy before he entered the hospital. Not a few people asked me this past week after he died why such wonderful people like him die so young. I’m not new to loss, but I confess to having no answers. In my eulogy, I said (in part) the following in an attempt to make sense of the nonsensical:

“Sometimes I think the best thing any of us can hope for when we’re eulogized – after all the words and recitations and resumes are read – is just to say that someone was an ish tov, a good human being.

Our vows to the memory of the deceased ought to be that they will not have worked and dreamed and lived and loved in vain, that we can take their example and live our lives as they lived theirs, in the spirit of kindness, compassion, generosity, and righteousness.

Most of us yearn for a long life. After all, the eye never has its fill of seeing. The only antidote to the pain of loss of those we love at whatever age is to keep them before our eyes in the fullness of health as we wish to remember them.

The Psalmist wrote: “At evening one beds down weeping, and in the morning, glad song.” (2) During our throes of despair as we contemplate our lives without those we love, may we hold onto the faith that one morning there will be joy again in our lives. When we see a person doing good deeds, may our dear ones come back to us as fresh as the morning air. When we observe a kind gesture or witness a compassionate act, may we recall the departed and allow our memory of them to bring us joy, for those deeds sustain the world.

As the years unfold and we look back upon our saddest days, let our tears turn to smiles of warmth and memory so that the distress we feel today will remind us that we had the great fortune, even if for a little while, to have share our lives with this kind and good human being.

Yehi zichro baruch – May our friend’s memory be blessed.”

  1. Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes,” New and Selected Poems
  2. Psalm 30:6 – Robert Alter translation
About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at Amazon.com. John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has two grandchildren.
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