Funerals and shivas are coming fast now. I stand at attention and salute them, those kids raised in hardship in the Great Depression. Immigrant kids and kids of immigrants. Nothing guaranteed. No “entitlement” in the dictionary. No easy path.
Struggle, hardship, war, jitterbug, swing and the GI Bill. Out of all that they created the most prosperous and cohesive Jewish America ever.
Applaud them as they take their bow, applaud them. Keep them on stage to bask in our cheers as long as possible. May they smile with pride. May their eyes twinkle in our praise.
“A generation goes and a generation comes” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). “The great conveyor belt,” my mother, of blessed memory, called it.
Soon I will be called to take the place of those who came before me, as my children step down the line to occupy the place I held when I started my career and family.
With each passing of a member of the greatest generation, I grow ever more conscious of time's bewildering expanse, as well as of its sleight of hand, and of its treachery. Such a small slice is ours to experience; such a vast realm is ours to contemplate.
Erev Yom Kippur, at Kol Nidre, we learned of the death of Julia Fishelson, a “grande dame” (as her daughter-in-law called her) who figured prominently in my wife's family as a friend and even a role mode. Julia was a major philanthropist to liberal, women's and Jewish causes; to her hometown of Wooster, Ohio; and to the arts, especially in her beloved second home of New Orleans, where we were fortunate to spend time with her.
“If she didn't have a great time, I don't know who the hell would,” her son Nick said in her eulogy.
We were lucky to be in Wooster for Julia's funeral, and to attend it with my father-in-law, Albert, now 89. “I'm now the oldest member of this congregation,” he noted wryly at Ne'ila the previous day.
“Adonai gives, and Adonai takes away” (Job 1:21). How laden with meaning and portent it was to stand in the Jewish section of the cemetery with the elders of that small-town Jewish community; to contemplate the going and the coming, the giving and the taking; to consider my own movement on that great, unidirectional conveyor belt.
My parents and their peers were scrappy fighters and survivors, men and women who mastered their own destiny at great effort and sacrifice, who gave to my generation every privilege and opportunity, and who, thank God, in the main, have enjoyed unprecedented longevity.
Each one of them who passes takes a piece of my heart, and fills me with desire to pass on their tales. I will leave that for another time.