Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Rabbi Justin David
Congregation B'nai Israel
Remarks at Henry's Funeral
Friday, December 13, 2002
Laurie, Allen, Jack, Pat, Sy, Ted, Abby, Andrew, Andy, Tracy, Jennifer, Dan, what is there to say? So much has already been so eloquently expressed by you, Laurie and Allen, through your e-mails, through your editorials, through your boundless acts of strength and compassion, and, most of all, by the rich, courageous, vibrant life of Henry Strongin Goldberg. In a sense, what is incumbent upon all of us to convey to you is quite simple - that we love you, that you are not alone, that Henry’s life and your life is testament to a source of compassion and strength that exists outside of us and through us simultaneously.
After your loss, our loss of Henry, our task is to attend to those regions of the mind and heart where Henry continues to live. Our scriptures teach us, that the human soul is the candle of God. Just as divine energy, divine love, divine compassion reign eternal, symbolized for us in the eternal light in every synagogue, so that bit of love, compassion, that spark that animates us, lives on. Our task now, is to reflect on Henry’s remarkable life, and to sense Henry’s continuing presence, like a candle whose flame appears to be extinguished, but whose light continues to give off warmth and radiance.
Henry was a light to all of us - to those of us who were involved in the intimate details of his day to day care, to those of us who are his family, to those of us who are intimates of Laurie and Allen, to his teachers, friends, parents of friends, members of this community, of work community - anyone who was touched by the life of Henry Strongin Goldberg. Henry warmed us with his courage. He inspired us with his strength. He delighted us with his spirit. Henry imparted the life that comes with hope - in just his being a kid and partaking of the pleasures of childhood.
It was Shelley Remer who first told me about Henry. Fighting back the tears, Shelley told me about the little boy in Elaine Berman’s class who would most likely have to have a bone marrow transplant. Shelley told me that I could pick him out immediately, because he was always wearing a Batman costume. And she was right. There was Henry, the first time I met him, eagerly and purposefully putting away blocks, wearing his Batman costume. I introduced myself to the kids in the class, whereupon Henry looked me right in the eye, pointed at me, and said, “You’re Mr. Ratburn,” a character from Arthur. As a parent, you learn to see the world through your child’s eyes based on how he or she plays. And even from this first glimpse, without all of Laurie and Allen’s reminders of how much Henry loved Pokemon, and superheros, it was clear that Henry saw the world as a place to embrace and to explore.
There are two stories that Laurie and Allen shared with me last night that I feel particularly compelled to share with you as a rabbi, because they exemplify the love and compassion that was so present in Henry’s life, and that can imprint Henry’s lasting presence upon our hearts. Many of you know of the love Henry had for his Sunflower teacher, Liani, and in particular, for her daughter, Bella. This summer, Bella was in a ballet performance, and Henry had to be there. The day of Bella’s performance, Henry woke up, cast aside his usual kid clothes for a pair of khaki pants, a yellow button down shirt and a blue blazer, came downstairs, and sat, all dressed, for two hours, until it was time to go to the performance. At one point, Laurie said, “It’s time to go,” And Henry said, “Wait. I have to get her flowers.” And to hear Laurie tell it, Henry sat transfixed throughout her performance, as if Henry was watching the love of his life.
Many people remarked how Henry was a help to younger siblings. It was approximately a little over two years ago, at the time that Henry was about to return after his transplant, that a family at the Gan here at Adas Israel suffered a terrible tragedy, when a man died suddenly, leaving his wife and two small children. Simon, one of the children, had the blessing of being one of Henry’s closest friends. Henry said to Allen and Laurie, “I want to make him feel better. I want to talk to him about his daddy.” And so, at a time of fragile recovery, when the world had closed in on Henry and was slowly opening back up, Henry called his friend.
If only we could embrace each opportunity for living so completely, that we could express our love so simply and so spontaneously. To the extent that each of us strives to live with great er compassion and tenderness, we embrace Henry’s living presence in us.
Our tradition is wise in recognizing the profound degree to which we absorb the influences of parents and all who care for us. Henry’s love, his wisdom, his joy, his vitality were uniquely his, but they were also learned, and so in remembering Henry, we have to remind ourselves of the extraordinary accomplishment s of Laurie, Allen, Jack, family, Pat, whose constant presence and energy defy description. Laurie and Allen, you recalled to me last night, with great admiration, how Henry endured what he had to endure with steadfastness, never complaining, even though he had every right to moan until the end of time. I think I speak for everybody here when I reflect on how remarkable it is that, through disappointment, pain and great darkness, not once did you ever show any bitterness. We would love you all the same if you had, but the two of you must have made a remarkable internal decision that you were going to greet every challenge with a sense of purpose, with love and compassion, and with hope. For 7 years, you lived a life of no limits, because your love for Henry was boundless, and so your efforts to keep him alive were boundless.
Jack, I hope that you feel proud, that you loved and will always love your big brother, who loved and will always love you. Henry loved you, Jack, simply because you were his brother, his best friend given to him by your parents, because your kind and considerate toward him, because you played with him and watched TV with him. The greatest thing any of us could ask for is a best, best buddy. When we grow up, that best, best buddy might be our husband or wife, friend, but when we are kids, that best buddy should be our brother. And Jack, you were Henry’s best buddy, the greatest thing he could ask for.
In my synagogue in Northampton, MA, we have a pamphlet titled, “Do Jews believe in the soul’s survival?” For me, having been blessed to know Henry Strongin Goldberg, the answer is undeniably clear. In all the concentric circles of relationship, love, support, that existed and blossomed around Henry Strongin Goldberg for 7 years, Henry’s flame, God’s little candle of vibrant intensity, illumines our lives. Any child who benefits from new treatments to fight FA will do so because of the fight Henry made. Any physician or researcher motivated to explore the lastest therapy will do so because of Henry’s brave example. Already, Laurie and Allen can tell you about children who have benefitted from Henry’s example.
Henry will live on in the heart of every child who will be inspired by Henry’s life, directly or indirectly, to live more sweetly - with more vigor, compassion and imagination.
Henry will always be alive for we who regarded him with love and admiration.
And, Laurie, Allen, Jack, for 7 years your lives have been Henry’s life, so intricately intertwined. God’s candle that was given to you for too short a time has already ignited additional flames within you that nothing can extinguish.
It is our tradition to bestow these humble words upon mourners - Ha-Makom yinachem. Rabbi Harold Kushner struggles with what these words mean in the face of tragedies such as yours. Instead, he looks for comfort in the following questions: How do we respond? What do we intend to do? Are we capable of loving, in a world that has disappointed us? With all of its imperfections, are we capable of loving a world, because it does bestow its measure of beauty and goodness? And can we love ourselves and the people around us, even though none of us is as strong as we would like to be?
May these questions be the beginning of some solace and healing. Ha makom yinachem - may the love of all of us here, and those not here, of family, friends, teachers, doctors, children, admirerers, lifetime friends of Henry, give you a glimplse of the ultimate love, that brings true comfort.
Y’hi zichro baruch - may Henry’s memory be an eternal blessing for all of us.