I can't express fully who my father was. Any description will not come close to what he meant to me. I can just share with you some of my thoughts.
As I was riding out to Brooklyn to visit my dad for the last time - my brother and I had gotten a call from the hospital an hour earlier telling us my father had passed away - I kept thinking "what a brave man." I had talked to him many times but he had never told me the extent of what he was going through. I asked him was this surgery rougher than surgeries he had had when he was younger? He told me it was about the same. And all along his illness he found positive ways of explaining his condition. Every downturn was turned by Dad into just a new way to treat the cancer, what I describe as bravery is also optimism or hope, a will to live, being positive.
He was so positive he would cheer up his nurses - instead of the reverse! He was so full of hope that for him his life was just beginning. He still had projects he wanted to start and friendships he wanted to make and friendships he wanted to deepen and Torah he wanted to study. And weddings he wanted to dance at. He was not done. This was a life torn in the middle. But still in his life he did so much. He maybe lived two or three lives. If I would ask you his friends what my Dad was, I would get many different answers. He was an architect, he was a writer, he was a single parent raising three boys, he was an artist. A muralist, a community artist - he has done community art and murals in NY and NJ and in Nicaragua and Cuba and South Africa. He would take me on tours of Manhattan or Essex County to see his works on walls. He was an internet blogger, a political missionary with Israel as his cause.
And I am sure to all of us he was a comedian of constant wit. I miss his wit; his unusual humor, his sometimes off the wall, some times annoying puns. They added a friendly mood to the travels he and I would make together in the last ten years of his life. I miss Dad's humor and companionship.
And in the past 15 years he has been a Jew in deed and action. He was active with Lubavich in Morristown, NJ - going to classes there and bringing his wit. He was a part of Shlomo Carlebache's synagogue in the Upper West Side. He has been close with Lubavich in Crown Heights. In the past five years he has been a part of the conservative Synagogue Town and Village. He has been a part of every kind of Jewish experience that he could find.
And to each of these he offered his time and wit and artistic abilities. He organized murals in synagogues in NJ and Brooklyn. He has touched many people's lives in many different ways. But of course to me he was my father. For me these other interests were a distraction from who he was. He was a father who was devoted to his children. When I was five years old my parents divorced. From then on my father raised me. And from when I was twelve and my brothers were out of the house, it was just he and I. We got very close. Sometimes we were living like two bachelors in one house. He had his girlfriends and I had mine. And we discussed every issue openly. Openness was the most defining quality in our relationship. And that made his reticence about his illness so strange. A reticence which I did not really detect until now.
His devotion to us continued even when two of us lived in Israel and one in Florida. When he would come to visit my brother and me in Israel he would go on missions to find things we needed or wanted. If I needed a phone battery or a box of raisins, an obscure book or some tea, he would find it and bring it on his trip. He would plan for months presents to bring to his grandkids; and we always knew to expect the unusual gift. Maybe we needed it, maybe not. But what impressed me was the great attention he paid to it and the careful thinking.
I became an observant Jew in high school and Dad was quite comfortable with this. He believed we the children should decide for ourselves what we did, as long as we were home by 2:00 a.m., and as long as it wasn't making us unhappy. He used to drive me to the local synagogue on Friday nights (I would walk back so as not to violate the Shabbat) and as time went on he became more interested himself. From the time I went to college our phone conversations would invariably turn to some religious questions and I was in the strange and uncomfortable position of answering. Sometimes I would have to reign in his religious fervor. It is a Jewish belief that everything that happens to you happens for a reason. This belief was a favorite of Dad's, and he tried to see events in his life as messages and guidance. A story Dad liked to tell is that one time he got a speeding ticket coming back from a Torah class in Morristown, NJ and he asked me how could he get a ticket when he was doing a Mitzvah, a good deed, by learning Torah? So I asked him, well, were you speeding? Yes! Was there a police car there? Yes. Did he see you? Yes. Well, that is why you got a ticket. Dad found this story very amusing.
Maybe because I was so "matter of fact" and logical when I was supposed to be the religious one. Maybe because he hoped for a more profound explanation maybe because it reminded him that he didn't have to find a message in everything. There is always a message G-d is telling us, but we can never be sure we know what it is. We must look for a purpose in our doings but we must be humble when thinking we have found what it is.
Dad would often call me his greatest teacher. But in truth he was my greatest teacher.
My father made lots of friends. He enjoyed everyone's company and was appreciated by so many people. There are so many of his dear friend here now. I think this is a great tribute to him and an honor. I want to thank you all for being here.
Nachum Danzig 28 October 2004