by Rabbi Y. Y. Jacobson
The Strings of the Heart
At the funeral of my father, eleven years ago, in May 2005, Elie Wiesel spoke. Wiesel and my father, Gershon Jacobson, were old time friends. Their friendship began in the early 1960’s, when they both worked as young, ambitious Jewish and Yiddish journalists. They were both survivors, although in different ways: Wiesel survived Auschwitz; my father carried the wounds of the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union that deprived him of a normal childhood. They shared a common language and a soulful vocabulary. They were both wise, educated, cultured, intimately familiar with the past and present traumas of the Jewish nation, and committed to telling the story and embracing the vision of “Netzach Yisroel,” the eternity of Israel. They both understood pain, but never spoke of it.
Dr. Wiesel—who died two weeks ago, on July 2, 2016, was the only speaker at my father’s funeral and his eulogy lasted for three or four minutes.
Elie Wiesel said two things that stayed with me since. First, the famed holocaust survivor said that he knew my father for almost half-a-century, and yet never heard him gossip. For an ordinary man not to gossip is an extraordinary feat; for a journalist? It would seem impossible. My father spoke a lot about people; he made his living from analyzing and writing about people. But he never gossiped. He never spoke about the “people,” only about their ideas or behaviors. And he never got petty and personal.
Second, Dr. Wiesel asked, how does one mourn for a very close friend? Jewish law dictates the laws of mourning for parents, siblings, and other relatives. But there are no laws of how to grieve for a best friend.
Yet, “the heart possesses its own set of laws,” said Elie Wiesel.
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