From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz
In my Bellingham congregation there was a small number of members some of whom I didn’t even see on the High Holy Days. Maurice Schwartz, may he rest in peace, was one of them. A gentle but studious man, he struck me as curious as he had a deep affection for Chanukah, in particular menorahs. Were you one of the fortunate few who came to his home, you would see hundreds upon hundreds of menorahs situated in one room. It seemed to me that his affection for the holiday and their religious objects was in stark contrast to his non-observance. It did comport with his career as professor of geology. He dug deeply into the past be it the scientific past or in his own way the religious past. As a onetime digger up of dinosaur fossils I more than related to his curiosity. Even so, I could not fathom his agnosticism and lack of observance until one day when he told me he was married. He asked me to visit his wife whose Alzheimer’s had so progressed that she could not speak, let alone recognize her husband of decades. I cannot begin to describe the hurt he expressed hugging her and crying out “Oh God, why does she still suffer so?” His agnosticism became quite reasonable that day.
Maurice was not alone. He had developed a friendship with a nice lady. Was it platonic, I imagined so, in spite of the gossip? When his wife finally passed on, ever the gentleman he oddly asked me if it was ok for his lady friend come to the funeral. He was concerned about appearances and that some would be critical, wagging their tongue. I became quite angry for him and said something to the effect, “If anyone says anything hold me back I will knock their block off!” She came, I officiated, and all were respectful. In appreciation Maurice gave me a copy of Lyell’s geography, a prized gift. As I prepare to downsize my library (some books are now online when in my earlier rabbinate they were a great acquisition), I have come to see it as an archaeological endeavor. I hold a few books in my hand that I haven’t touched in years, and yet they are so difficult for me to part with. Among them is Maurice’s book which I just don’t know how to give away. It reminds me far too much of his gentle demeanor, his sensitivity, and his embrace of life. It’s only a book, I sometimes think, and then I remember Maurice, and I finally more fully understood his affection for his menorahs.
May the affection that you have for your loved ones and that which connects you to them touch you during this season of light!
Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D