From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
I do not like funerals; I imagine no one does. But I especially do not like them when they are being held for a young person who was truly a good, honest, hardworking, loving individual. And I am especially wounded when the deceased is someone I know and even more shaken when the deceased is a childhood friend of mine.
All of us have been shaken by the tragic sudden passing of Reb Dovid Winiarz: Not just a father of ten, but a wonderful father of ten. Not just a son, but a wonderful son to his father, Kehas, ob’m, and to his mother, Claire. Not just a father-in-law and not just a grandfather, but an excellent father-in-law and grandfather. Not just a husband, but a wonderful husband and life partner.
And not just a friend, but a wonderful friend and a wonderful Jew who made it his life’s mission not only to bring Jews closer to their heritage, but to do so with endless joy and charisma. Oh, there are many who fancy themselves G‑d’s agents on earth in bringing Jews closer, but few have done so with the humility of Reb Dovid.
If he could not prevail upon his subject to embrace a life of Torah observance, he nevertheless spread a message of warm humanity to Jew and non-Jew alike. Reb Dovid was a human smile machine, and with that infectious smile of his, he created in the mind of the not-yet-observant, as he termed them, and in the minds of the non-Jew, that we are a special class of people with a special charge to make this world a happier place to live.
Many of you knew him as the “Facebuker Rav,” as he wisely used social media to spread his message of inclusiveness, all the while using social media in a “kosher” way under the watchful eye of the leading rabbis of our generation. The number of people he affected and the extent to which he affected them might not be known for generations. One Swiss pilot he connected to on Facebook wound up in a yeshiva in Israel after Reb Dovid convinced him that just like one cannot fly a plane without years of study, so too one cannot navigate through our religion and through life without years of intensive study of our flight manual, the Torah.
To me, he was the youngest of the Winiarz boys from Columbus, Ohio, the city where I was born and raised. Their house was just a few blocks from ours, and each one of the Winiarz boys was a classmate of one of my siblings.
Reb Dovid’s father was a teacher in the Hebrew day school in Columbus, and my parents and his parents were close friends. We were always in each other’s homes and all significant life events were shared together by our families.
The highlight, however, was the Pesach Seder, which our families celebrated together for over 20 years. The Seders lasted till two or three in the morning as the discussions of the issues of the night intensified in depth and length with each passing year.
Even back in the 1970s when Reb Dovid was still “David,” the first thing you noticed about him was his smile. But that was only until he began to speak. Once he opened his mouth, the smile was simply a tool he used to convey his deep thoughts.
The street my family lived on in Columbus all those years we broke matzah together was Ardmore Road. The street on Staten Island where his lovely wife and children and mother and brothers are sitting shivah is also named Ardmore. His existence until his last moments was simply a reaffirmation and a continuance of his youth, because until his last moments he was living with that same youthful exuberance he displayed on the streets of Columbus.
I attended his funeral the other day and listened to one rabbi after another extol the virtues of this man whom I knew as a little child, and, if one measures life by the amount of years one is alive, was still a child.
He was a child in the sense that children dream and dream and dream more without the thought of reality emerging and dampening their spirits. Nothing dampened Reb Dovid’s spirit.
At the funeral, in something I have never seen in person before, his mother, Claire, delivered words of hesped for her son. She was erudite as much as she was pained.
But her message was clearly deciphered through her tears. It is only worthwhile for people to act in an exemplary fashion if other people look to them as examples. No, not all of us are cut out to engage in conversations and behavior that bring distanced Jews closer. But every one of us, no matter what we do in life, can bring a smile to someone else’s face. And one cannot bring a smile to someone else’s face unless he himself is cloaked with a smile; this was Reb Dovid Winiarz’s legacy.
There is yet another lesson from this unbelievable tragedy.
Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Jewish people go into the desert for a period of three days to worship their G‑d. The plan was to remain there for much more than three days and never to return to Egypt. The reason for the three-day request is discussed by all the major commentaries. I offer the following thought.
Moses wanted the Jews released for eternity. But for the highly motivated, three days is an eternity. Two days is an eternity. One day is an eternity, because the good you can accomplish in one day, with one conversation, with one Facebook post, with one smile, is everlasting.
May his memory be blessed. May his work yield produce. May memories of his smile inspire all of us to smile just a little bit more.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.