I write these words of eulogy in New York, being unable to be with you in Seattle for the funeral of Elazar Behar. [The funeral took place on Monday, August 29, 2016.] I write with a heavy heart. Lazar was a lifelong friend and I—along with all of you—feel a profound sense of loss.
For most of us, Lazar WAS Ezra Bessaroth. His devotion to the community knew no bounds. His love of the traditions, inherited from his revered father Rev. David Behar, was the bedrock of his religious life.
I extend sincere condolences to the entire family. May the Almighty comfort you with your many wonderful memories of Lazar’s life.
The name Elazar means God helps. Indeed, God helped our Elazar to live a long and blessed life, with a beautiful, devoted and loving family.
The first Elazar in our tradition was Elazar the son of Aaron the High Priest in the days of Moses. Elazar became the High Priest upon the death of his father. He was known for his meticulous attention to the rituals of the sanctuary. He carried himself with great dignity, and he fulfilled his service to God with love and a sense of responsibility for all Israel.
Our Elazar Behar, in his own way, followed the model of that first Elazar. Who of us can even imagine Ezra Bessaroth without Lazar? Who was always there for us, not only as Gabbai but as a genuine friend? Who cared about the synagogue ritual with the same love and sensitivity as our Lazar?
There is a phrase in the Jewish tradition, describing how we feel when we have lost a pillar of our community: dor yatom, an orphaned generation. With the passing of Lazar, we of the Ezra Bessaroth community and the Jewish community at large, have become orphaned. We have lost someone who is impossible to replace.
Jewish tradition tells of another great Elazar, Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah. He was a kind, wise and beloved leader. At a young age, his colleagues appointed him as head of the Rabbinic Academy in Yavneh, and he immediately attracted hundreds of new students. His philosophy was: open the doors, encourage participation, be welcoming. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah praised those who performed good deeds, and whose deeds were even greater than their wisdom. He taught that a person of meritorious action was a strong person. Even should all the winds of heaven rage against him, they could not move him from his place.
And wasn’t our Elazar Behar a kind, wise and beloved leader? He was respected by all. He wanted as many people as possible to benefit from the synagogue and its services. He served not only with diligence, but with enthusiasm. Who of us can forget his beautiful tenor voice, wafting above all other voices as the congregation sang its prayers? Who can forget the energy of Lazar’s blowing of the shofar? He was a strong, determined man…but also a kind and gentle man. During the course of his lifetime, he met many storms in life…but he was strong; all the winds of heaven could not move him from his place. He strove, he overcame difficulties, he had inner strength reserved for very few outstanding individuals.
Let me cite one other famous Elazar from our tradition: Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh. His teacher was Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. Rabban Yohanan asked his students to come up with the most important quality a person should have. Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh provided the answer that found favor in his teacher’s eyes: lev tov, a good heart.
Our Elazar Behar had a lev tov. He was generous, he was thoughtful. His heart overflowed with love for his beloved family. He was loved and revered by them…because he truly and genuinely loved and revered them.
Somehow, Lazar seemed to be a person who just couldn’t die. He was a fixture in our lives, a source of stability, continuity, permanence. We have depended on him and learned from him going back so many years; we can scarcely imagine life without his guiding presence.
Lazar set the standard for us, and he showed us the way. His greatest hope would be for his family and his community to grow and prosper. He would want us all to gain inspiration from his life…and take this inspiration to help us live better, happier and stronger lives.
Like Elazar the High Priest, he would want us to be highly devoted to the beautiful and historic traditions of the synagogue. Like Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, he would want us not just to say nice words but to perform wonderful deeds, to be strong, very strong individuals. Like Rabbi Elazar ben Arakh, he would want us to live generously and kindly, marked by a lev tov, good hearts and compassionate spirits.
The Hebrew word Elazar means God helps, and indeed God blessed Elazar Behar in so many ways. But in a sense, we should also understand the name Elazar to mean that Elazar was God’s helper. He worked to make the world a better place. He strove to raise and inspire an honorable and honored family. He made the synagogue the center of his spiritual life, and he made a vast, incalculable difference in the lives of so many people.
Lazar, Lazar, we will miss you. We are now a dor yatom, an orphaned generation. Without you, we begin a new era. Let me assure you: in this new era, your voice and your spirit will always be there to guide us. Rest in peace, Lazar.