Loving Henry; Losing Henry

He always said, “Come visit me when my eyes are open, not after they are closed.” And I did. Over the years, Henry and I did a lot of visiting. I take comfort from the knowledge that he and I had quite a friendship, and that I followed his advice to visit him when I could. Still, despite his admonition, it was difficult to miss the funeral of one of the greats who helped to lay the foundation of today’s OJC.
Like so many of you, I have many memories of Henry. There were lunches at the diner, a shared mission to Israel, wisecracks on Shabbat, and heart-to-heart talks that went on much too long. Like so many of you, I thought that I was the one who was most special to him. Henry made us feel like that.
One snapshot out of time will stay with me as a cherished memory. Henry shared a chapter of his life story with me one afternoon after his Yiddish club met.  He showed me photographs of himself and his brothers as young boys, arriving in the United States, to be reunited eventually with their father after being raised by their mother all alone.

Henry one IMG_2320

As he told me his story, between the lines, I heard the midrash of a boy who had felt abandoned and lost in a new country. Because of his childhood experiences, in his unique way, Henry dedicated his life to make sure that everyone around him felt included.
Rabbi Scheff told me about the broad spectrum of OJC congregants who came to pay respects to Henry at his funeral. It is not surprising to know that cronies from the Wednesday night poker game and from the kiddush club were there. It is not surprising that presidents and board members of the synagogue were there to pay honor to the man who always had plentiful suggestions. It is not surprising that Rabbi Scheff acknowledged that he was officiating at a funeral of someone who felt to him like a grandfather. Rabbi Scheff credits Henry with bringing him to OJC in the first place, and for giving him a vision of what a synagogue community could be. What might be surprising to someone who did not know Henry well, is the large number of young people who came to say goodbye to the man who had acted as a surrogate grandfather. His granddaughter Mara shared with mixed emotions that she always knew she had to share her grandfather with all the kids at the OJC.
In our synagogue community, there was no one who made him prouder than Mara. When she read Torah, led Shabbat morning services, or sang in the high holiday choir, Henry would beam. (Often he’d find me to whisper conspiratorially, “Did you know that they let girls lead services here?!”)

2013-12-25 19.45.21

Many of us cry every year on the first night of Rosh HaShana when Mara sings She-hechiyanu. Part of the reason is the simple beauty of her voice. Part of it is the profundity of the words. But I am sure that much of it has always been anticipatory grief. We have known all along that we would not have Henry forever to be listening to his granddaughter praising God’s kindness for allowing us to reach another season. When we reach the next season, we’ll remember Henry and who he was to each one of us. We will thank God for another season and we will honor Henry’s memory as we listen to Mara chant She-hechiyanu.

May his memory be for a blessing.   Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

10 responses to “Loving Henry; Losing Henry”

  1. Cheryl Slavin says :

    Funny, I’ve known Mara since she and my daughter attended middle school together, but I never knew Henry. My condolences to Mara, the rest of the family and all who loved him.

  2. Thru Jewish Eyes says :

    So beautifully said. May his memory be for a blessing.

  3. Gary S. Schreibman says :

    I agree, he was a good person. The OJC and his kitchen were his life. He will always be remembered for his drive. May he rest in peace! Gary S. Schreibman

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Ruth Hess says :

    You write so beautifully, and your words captured the essence of Henry. ❤️❤️

  5. jewruscott18 says :

    It is a great loss to lose a honorable man like Henry. He was a kind and respectable member who will never be forgotten. May his memory be blessed by HaShem forever.

  6. Faye says :

    You expressed it beautifully. Henry was a wonderful person wit a great sense of humor. May his memory be a blessing.

  7. Deanne Boris says :

    This will be remembered as a “beautiful” funeral. Henry was “Mr. OJC”.

  8. Hotmail says :

    Remembering an old friend from ojc.

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. Penny Grossman says :

    Remembering Henry with much love and respect. Because of the distance, Phil and I could not attend what Deanne referred to as “a beautiful funeral”, but our thoughts and prayers were with dear Henry’s family, friends and the OJC congregation.

    Thank you, Rabbi Drill for your memories and photos!

  10. Helene says :

    When I started doing Shiva Meals for the OJC, I went to the kitchen to prepare them. Henry, ever protective of “his” kitchen, asked what I was doing there. I told him, and he said, “okay”. After that, any time I was preparing a package to bring to a Shiva home, he would ask, “who passed now?”

    On the lighter side, there was one occasion (not a Bar or Bat Mitzvah) when I helped him make Lila’s world famous Noodle Pudding. He let me write down the recipe, with the admonition not to let anyone else know what was in it.

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