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Sidney Goldfarb - Eulogy
Passed Away in April 2006 - Eulogy by Rabbi Allen
During the month of Nissan, it is traditional to not deliver a eulogy, for in the month of our liberation, our communal joy seems to take precedence over our individual loss. And yet, though the greatest loss is truly felt by Sid’s children and grandchildren and by Shirley, his ezer knegdo of 63 years, his brother George and his other family members, in a very palpable way, our entire community finds itself in mourning. Today we have gathered so that we may find comfort. And our rabbis anticipating such a situation declared that it is always fitting to teach Torah in memory of a person, and in so doing bring understanding to their life, purpose to their sojourn, and comfort to their mourners.
Sid was truly an ohev briot a lover of humanity. So let me frame Sidney’s life, the life of Yeshia ben azriel v’hana rifka by sharing with you a midrash about the moment when God chose to create humanity in God’s own image. The Midrash relates that when the malache hasharet, the ministering angels heard that God was going to create humanity btzalmo in God’s image they were terribly upset. They were certain that this would spell their doom that they would no longer enjoy the special relationship to God that they had been enjoying and that god would cease the consultation with the angels that had been the practice up until that point. And so they conspired to frustrate God’s plan by hiding God’s image in some obscure place so that God would be unable to find it and partner with humanity. But where might they hide the image of god so that God would be unable to find it?
One angel proposed the highest mountaintop and suggested hiding it in the crags of the tallest peaks. A second suggested that they look for the deepest ocean and hide god’s image there. Feeling that these two suggestions were not the best hiding places a third angel suggested that they hide God’s image in the heart of every man and woman—for no one would ever seek it out there. And the Midrash concludes that for everyone worthy of being called man or woman, that is where God’s image is hidden until this day.”
Fortunate is the one who has learned how to free the image of God from its hiding place so it can enjoy the light of day. Fortunate is the one who can convert divinity into reality, and we know how this is accomplished. Just as God is merciful so too should we be merciful, and just as God is benevolent so too should we be benevolent. \
Sid Goldfarb intuitively understood this Midrash better than most of us. He fortunately understood where the divine image dwelled in him and in others, and spent his life converting that divinity into reality. He understood that being good and kind and gracious and fair and honest and compassionate and caring of the needs of his fellow human beings were the essence of godliness and to compromise and to capitulate those values, to diminish these standards was to destroy the image of God.
I have been privileged to have my life touched by many wonderful people over these past 20 years. Earlier this week we gathered to honor the life of one such figure, Maury rischall whose memory will continue to be for a blessing, and sitting in shul that day and gathered here again today are many others whose vision for what might be a new experiment in shul making continues to resonate for so many of us. In December of 1985 I only read the following: This merger has proceeded with an extraordinary feeling of warmth and respect for the values of each individual member, regardless of the congregation of origin, and we believe that the reason for the success of the merger has been that our values are indeed shared. The letter goes on to say we have many older members in their 60’s and 70’s and they are among the most committed and most learned. What I encountered upon visiting the shul in February and again in April of 1986 was something that not even the embryonic congregation truly understood. That perhaps the most precious asset of the son’s of Jacob was the wisdom of a generation that loved its shul so much it was not willing to see it end. And what the Son’s Of Jacob brought to the merger were those special people all, and the merger brought to this new congregation the essence of what we were all about--- the gabbai par excel lance Sidney Goldfarb. Every shul should be blessed with a gabbai who understands the Midrash that I shared with you, and who undertakes his or her job with a sense of unlocking the divine in each and every one of us. For most people who walk in through the sanctuary doors whether they were a Shabbat regular or happening into shul for the very first time, Sidney Goldfarb was quite likely the person they first encountered. He would amble over to them, and sit down and just start shmoozing. The he would come up to me and say rabbi, this guy is from New York and he heard about our shul. You think we can give him an honor today? Of course it was too late to answer for Sid had already convinced him to take an aliyah or if he failed in that pursuit that rarely happened had already assigned them the task of opening the ark doors. And if he discovered that you had synagogue skills but were hiding that fact from him—watch out. Rabbi I assigned the haphtarah to David I. today—he didn’t want to do it but I told him there was no one else to take it this Shabbas. He said he needed to practice, but I didn’t believe him. I just told him we were going to call him up. That’s ok isn’t it? I can not tell you how many people have told me over the years, but for Sid I wouldn’t have stayed after the first half hour and but for Sid I certainly wouldn’t have come back the following week. How he exuded a genuine love of the other, of real interest in learning about who you were and what brought you here. I will tell you one story that embodies the best of who Sid Goldfarb was and which will continue to set a standard for how we treat those who feel themselves on the margins and who desire to find themselves being able to enter unto the core. In 1992 at yontiff time, two women walked into shul unsure of themselves and uncomfortable with the surroundings. It was Rosh Hashanah early in shaharit day 2 and a piyyut was about to be chanted. Sid saw these two new faces and raced up to them and asked them to open the ark doors. From that moment forward whatever the halachic issues were that were necessary to work through as it relates to gays and lesbians, our shul through the agency of Sid Goldfarb announced that religious opportunity was open to each and every Jew. Details he would leave to me, broad strokes he took care of himself.
After each and every Shabbat morning, Sid would come up to me and say—we did well today. I got five kids up here to carry crowns, a couple of them I had to tell their parents to just tell them to go up. We got some new people having aliyot, and of course some of the people who really needed an honor got it too. Then he would say did you see that person over there. First time here, they really liked it, and I think they will be coming back. But don’t just listen to me, listen to the words of Les fishman who wrote and said: When I was president and was in shul on Shabbat Sid would come up to me frequently and ask me who should get an aliyah that week. For Sid it clearly wasn't about him or his ego, which for someone in his position it certainly could have devolved to that. For Sid it was making sure that everyone who needed to be honored was honored and anyone who needed to be recognized was recognized. He invariably made me feel better, not about myself, but about how important it was for him, and as an extension Beth Jacob, to make sure that everyone who went to the bema went there with the careful consideration of what it would mean to that person.
When I think about Sid that is the memory I hold onto.
In truth, had we really been on the ball, we would have demonstrated that the real recipe for synagogue transformation would have been marketing Sid Goldfarb.
We think of Sid as our own, but in truth he was a devoted father, a caring grandfather and loving husband of 63 years. In shul we tend to forget that Sid had a life beyond these walls, probably few of you knew or can even imagine that Sid Goldfarb had a motorcycle license and during the early 70’s actually cycled here and there. Somehow Sturgis Sid just doesn’t jive however with our image of this beloved fatherly figure. While even his family would admit that being in shul for Sid was truly a weekly priority, he graced the life of others in ways he graced our own. Sid grew up in Duluth with parents who came from Russia. He was but a youngster when the depression hit and though he was truly a kid, somehow managed to get a spot selling newspapers during those dark years. He was always proud that he was able to keep his job during those years, sometimes being the only one who brought in the weekly budget money. And yet even though he worked from an early age, he also had a certain joy for life-particularly during winter. He once told me that every time it snowed it reminded him of his days in Duluth, and his joy of growing up there. . He and his brother George shared the contour of their childhood, even if in later years their lives took different paths. George told me yesterday that one of his most special memories of his life is sliding down 6th street to Superior street a total of 7 or 8 blocks downhill with Sid on a “sled” as it were. Sid may have left Duluth, but Duluth never left Sid. He would share with me stories of the old shuls in Duluth, of 9th street and of 3rd street, but more than the shuls it was the people of Duluth and more than the people of Duluth it was his extended family in Duluth. Sid was a devoted son, caring for both his mother and father and his in laws during their long lives, all of them living into their 90’s. Rabbi wolf ahs already shared this with you. But when the boys were younger, Steve and ken both remember that on the trips up to Duluth, once a month they would leave on Friday afternoon early enough to get there before Shabbas. Sid used his vacation days for yontiff and early departures on Fridays in order to make it to Duluth on time. His love of children was always evident and while our safety rules have changed dramatically, one powerful memory that Ken has would be sitting on his father’s lap pretending to be the driver to Duluth. Almost all of his vacations were to Duluth, often times overlapping with Shirley’s brother Mickey and family from California. As Sid usually said, even after he returned from a weekend in the pearl stein village at Chi, he loved sleeping in his own bed and didn’t see the reason to travel very far. But one trip he made with pleasure was to Chicago when Steve and Esther married. He was so happy just as he was happy seeing ken and his children on a regular basis.
When Sid do travel to Duluth in those early days they would not only stop at their grandparents homes, they would stop at many other relatives as well—modeling that care and concern for family needs are to be at he heart of one’s life. I can’t tell you how many times Sid would say to me—see that person over there he is my cousin but he doesn’t seem to remember that fact or I have to give so and do an aliyah today you know his mother was my mothers fathers second cousin. I just smiled and said sure family needs come first. And in truth it surely did. Listen to the words of a cousin:
Sid left Duluth briefly to work in Ashland Wisconsin, but when the war came calling in the early 1940’s Sid entered into he service. You want to know something that brings Sid’s story full circle. His job during the war was as the boys told me, guarding ft. snelling. He had a desk job, but for one reason. His feet were very large and they could not find army boots to fit him. It was always tough to fill his shoes, during the war and after he became gabbai emeritus. But there is something wonderful in my minds eye that each and every Shabbat as Sid came to shul he passed the fort that he served during the war as he prepared to enter the shul he served for years with love and devotion.
Sid and Shirley moved to 1900 grand ave. in 1950or 51 or some even say 52, but until last year they never left it. The fourplex was their home for over 50 years. They raised the boys there, they cared for family there, and Sid’s mom spent her final years in that home. They had long-term tenants and some shorter-term tenants. Through it all, Sid dabbled around the building changing the windows in spring, fixing the small things here and there, and most of all sharing his life with Shirley in a place they truly knew as home. Both ken and Steve spoke about the fact that during the week Sid was gone early in the morning and returned only around dinner. But on Shabbas Sid was al=round all day. How they loved the 20 minute walk to sons of Jacob, in morning and then later in the day for mincha and maariv. It was on those walks that father son bonding took place that transmission of a shared story occurred. Sid worked for 30 plus years for Immigration and naturalization services. He wore the uniform of the INS with pride and with reverence for the country he served. Just as he might have been the first person someone met on coming into shul, so too was he likely to be the first person that you met upon entering the INS offices. He loved to help people become part of the American tapestry, since they could walk there between shul in the morning and the afternoon; Sid even took the boys on Shabbas on occasion to St. Thomas to see a swearing in ceremony of new American Citizens. Clearly the issues today are different, but for Sid the possibility that America could serve as a hospitable place for those seeking help, seeped into the very consciousness of his being. Moving an individual from the outside into the core whether in American society or in the building of this shul community was a constant source of meaning for Sid. And indeed that belief was returned to him in these final difficult months. . His devoted children, his caregivers, his grandchildren the eckstein family and many others made sure that at each turn of this final part of his journey he was hardly ever alone. Just as he gave in life, so too did he receive in life. In his IN closing, let me conclude with a teaching as well, so to respect the rules of Nissan.
I am reminded of a Mishnah from the 7th chapter of Yoma which teaches the following: that upon leaving the Kodesh kedoshim, the holy of holies on Yom Kippur in Jerusalem having offered prayers on behalf of the peole he served, the koehn gadol would read a brief portion from the Torah. He would then conclude with the statement: far more than I have read to you is contained therein.”
I share that text with you this morning, for in truth far more than (Mark) or rabbi wolf or I can tell you in a few brief moments, or in a lifetime of memories which many of us share, is contained in the life of Sidney Goldfarb, Yeshia ben azriel v hana rifka. His life was truly a testament to the Jewish people, to his family and to God, The second reason I tell you that is that Perhaps my most pronounced memory of Sid Goldfarb will always be the scene as Yom Kippur itself is coming to a conclusion. Sid was not a kohen and certainly not a kohen gadol, but he was a gadol who understood the power of the day. To watch Sid work the kehilla, to work the congregation during Neila as the ark remained opened and the day began to turn to night, was to truly watch a man who through his actions demonstrated his love of the Jewish people, his love of God and his love of family cohesion. Each year Sid would get more and more people onto the bema for Neila, allowing them to take a turn standing before the aron Kodesh and enabling each and every one of them to feel the holiness of the moment. And after David rischall would sound the shofar for that final blast, Sid would come on up to me and say, rabbi, I think we did ok, the people are leaving satisfeid88.” And so it can be said of Sid, I think he did ok for the tears we shed today are not demeot shel ashan, tears of smoke which are momentary and vanish as smoke filters into the air. They are truly demeot she peirot, tears which bear fruit, tears which enrich our lives and bear lasting fruit. Sid’s memory will have lasting meaning for us all, because in his life he taught us what truly lasts-- being good and kind and gracious and fair and honest and compassionate and caring of the needs of his fellow human beings. These are the essence of godliness and to compromise and to capitulate those values, to diminish these standards is to destroy the image of God. Sid opened up his family his community and the larger world to the hidden divinity within us all, and for that reason alone his memory will endure as a blessing.