Jonty Blackman

כבר הלכה לה שנה – לא יאומן – ואנו עומדים שוב במקום הזה

When I think of Gerald, numerous thoughts come to mind.

First and foremost, I keep returning to an image from the time of my barmitzvah – almost 30 years ago. Gerald had come out to SA and timed it so that he could celebrate with us. Instead of only coming to the affair, he joined myself and my dad, who had taught me to lein, on the Thursday evening – as we went to the shul for a practice run of Kriyat haTorah.

My parsha is parshat Emor – it speaks of, amongst other things, the kohanim and their world. It speaks of the trumah that only kohanim are allowed to eat, and then there is a statement about who eats and when. The pasuk says:

ובת כהן כי תהיה אלמנה וגרושה וזרע אין לה ושבה אל בית אביה כנעוריה, מלחם אביה תאכל

I think I read this pasuk slower, because the trop allows for that, but I certainly didn’t take in the real meaning behind it. I remember Gerald stopping me and saying – you must read that slowly on the day of your barmitzvah – listen to the words – feel the pain of a young girl who no longer has her husband and has to return to her father’s house. and ever since then, every year, whether I read the parsha, or someone else does, whenever we get to that pasuk, I think of Gerald – I think of his words – and that lesson:

– slow down listen to the music read between the lines open your heart to feel the pain of others and help others to be aware of that pain too

Gerald was a man who was sensitive to the pain of others and he wanted others to be sensitive too.

Gerald was also a man of action. He took action. He wanted others to take action too. It is the period of ellul and as we come closer to the yamim noraim, there is a wave of people taking new year’s resolutions. For Gerald, resolutions were empty if they were not grounded in practical terms. Goals were essential in Geralds world. You need to set goals. you need to write them down. you need to stipulate them. but they have to be practical, achievable goals. He would say you need to have a plan and a vision, and create a step by step process of how to implement that vision.

So, in my memory, I see Gerald as a man of sensitivity and a man of action. A man of vision and a man of goals.

He also was a man of knowledge. Gerald knew things. He had seen the world and had studied the world. He was not one to keep this knowledge to himself. One needed only to ask and the teacher in him would spring into action sharing his knowledge with you.

When I think of Gerald I think of a man of honesty and integrity. A man who would not just sweep things under the carpet, or a man who would not keep quiet when he saw what he thought was unacceptable or unjust. He spoke his mind and spoke it with confidence.

Gerald was generous – of his time and of his heart. When Abi and I finally got engaged, he and Brenda were generous with their happiness for us – and showed it in many ways – particularly in the way both Gerald, and you Brenda, welcomed Abi into the family.

So when I think of Gerald, I reflect on a number of things:

I reflect on a man with heart, with sensitivity I reflect on a man of action I reflect on a man who set goals and set specific steps in order to achieve those goals I reflect on a man of knowledge with a strong desire to share that knowledge and I reflect on a man of generous spirit.

But I think that this past year, more than anything, I have thought about Gerald and the last face to face conversation that we had together. It was a conversation that I had opened – asking a question that many would not be prepared to ask. But knowing that I was sitting with Gerald – i knew i could ask it, because it would be a question that he would ask. Because I was sure he had already asked himself the same question and had dealt with it straight in the eye.

And so while we spoke of death and of having to face death, and while we spoke of life, and looking back at life; and while I was learning an incredible amount; perhaps the statement that has most stuck with me was the answer to this question: I asked Gerald if he had any regrets. And Gerald answered, I have no regrets, except one – I should have taken Brenda on more vacations.

And so even though I was very sad as I left the house that day – I was bouyed. I was bouyed because I saw strength in Gerald and in his way of dealing with life’s challenges. I saw honesty in the way Gerald dealt with his fate. He never gave up. He tried all he could to overcome his illness. But once he realised he could not defeat it, he did what he could so that it should not defeat him.

More than anything, during that conversation, I saw my uncle celebrating his life.

He had lived and he had lived fully. He had made choices and he was happy with the many choices he had made. He had achieved and he was fulfilled that he had achieved much. And there is no question – the lack of regret was in due part because of you, Brenda, and the world that the two of you created together.

In the words of Pirkei Avot – איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו Despite the circumstances – Gerald was a man who was שמח בחלקו.

What a statement to make – I have no regrets!

ג’רלד, יעקב אשר – יהי זכרך ברוך