“We live for seventy years, or eighty, if we are strong. Teach us how short our time is; let us know it in the depths of our souls.”
I first met Eugene 32 years ago, when David and I were dating and I had completed 2 years of rabbinical school. I still remember him telling me that he wasn’t “religious.” Yet he was always respectful of my Jewish learning and personal observance. In those early years of our engagement and marriage, both before and after my ordination, he expressed a keen interest in my study of Jewish Law and Talmud. I recall discussing torts and personal injury law with him, and I remember fondly a phone call prior to his heart surgery, when he asked me if he’d still be kosher once he had a pig valve.
Eugene had a kind of sly sense of humor, and while he was respectful, he would also joke about the length of the Passover seder I was leading or the services he attended with our family—especially Shira’s Shabbat Hanukkah Bat Mitzvah service—which detained him for many hours before we could enjoy the lunch. We were definitely kindred spirits regarding our favorite part of every meal: dessert.
I’m grateful for the many trips he and Mom took to visit us in Atlanta when it was difficult for us to travel to Michigan. He was a loving grandpa to our now-grown children. They remember his countless, seamless recitations of “Casey at the Bat,” his questions about what they were studying, what sports they played and which teams they followed. Maital told me how much she cherishes her memories from her visit to Michigan in 2018, when Saba Gene told her stories about when he was a magistrate, and they talked for hours about opera and Shakespeare—I’m pretty sure he recited “To Be or Not to Be” from memory—they watched game shows together, and went to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Maital wanted to visit again last summer, before leaving for Scotland, but instead stayed at our house and took care of our dogs so that David and I could spend Rosh Hashanah in Michigan. I hadn’t seen Mom and Eugene in person since before COVID, and hadn’t even seen him on screen since our Zoom Seder in 2020. It was a gift to spend a long weekend together. While Esther, Mom and David attended services in person, Avery, Marlene and I Zoomed in from the living room. Eugene came to sit with us and listened to the music of the prayers. We ate meals with Gil, Elaine and Mark, and we ate too many desserts at every meal.
What I remember most was how happy he was to have family there. The morning we left, all he wanted to know was when we’d be back.
“Show us that all things are transient, as insubstantial as dreams. Show us how precious each day is; teach us to be fully here. And let the work of our hands prosper, for our little while.”
Y’hi Zikhro Barukh: May his memory always be a blessing.
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Visit The Dorfman Chapel website to view the funeral and to send e-condolences to the family.