Eulogy for Uncle Dave: Thoughts for Aharei Mot—Kedoshim, April 20, 2013

Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The funeral of my Uncle Dave Romey was held in Seattle on Sunday April 7, 2013. For many years, he taught Spanish language and literature—at the University of Vermont, Temple University, and Portland State University.

Wise people have commented on the juxtaposition of the names of the two Torah portions we will be reading this Shabbat. Aharei Mot means “after the death”; Kedoshim means “holy”. My interpretation of the juxtaposition of these words is that we often don’t appreciate the greatness of a person until after he/she dies. After the death, we come to think more carefully about the person’s life, and we come to a deeper recognition of his/her unique qualities.

In the case of my Uncle Dave, I think those of us who knew and loved him did indeed recognize his special greatness. However, with his passing, a void has opened in our lives. We fill that void by remembering the many wonderful times we shared together, the many things we learned from him. And as we ponder his life, we do indeed deepen our appreciation of how really special he was.

Here are the words of eulogy I prepared for Uncle Dave’s funeral.

Vayhi David lekhol derakhav maskil

To his family, friends and many students, Uncle Dave Romey was
"maskil," a learned man in the best sense of the term. He was the
quintessential gentleman and scholar, a model of gentleness and
kindness, a man who spoke softly but carried great influence. As
we--his nephews and nieces--were growing up, he was our model of
excellence and courtesy. He was a devoted son to our Nona and Papoo,
loving and respecting them to the fullest. To his sisters and brother,
he was the "intellectual" par excellence. He always added wisdom and
humor to our family events. He was notoriously bad at taking movie
pictures, many of which were a series of blurs and flashes. We would
watch these films, and Uncle Dave would cheerily narrate: there we are
at a picnic in Birch Bay, there we are on the ferris wheel. We only
saw blurs and flashes--Uncle Dave saw the real images. He was
"maskil;" he saw things that the rest of us missed.

On our many trips to Birch Bay, he would invariably turn off the
road to every state park and other sight of interest. No matter that
the "side trip" would take us a few hours off the road! A trip to
Birch Bay might have taken others two or possibly three hours. For us,
with Uncle Dave as navigator, it might have taken seven or eight hours
to get there. He taught us: many of the best and happiest things in
life are off the main road. He fostered within us a spirit of
adventure, a willingness to open our eyes to new possibilities. This
spirit of intellectual curiosity is a sign of a "maskil," a wise man.

Uncle Dave was the bridge between our lives in Seattle and the "old
country". He not only was a master of Ladino literature and folklore,
he lived as an exemplar of the Sephardic civilization of the Jews of
Turkey. He often would say: "In the old country, we did such and
such," as though he himself had been born and raised in the old
country rather than in Seattle. Emotionally, he was indeed linked to that civilization in
the old country, and he imbued all of us with an intense love and
respect for our family traditions in the old world. He used to
translate Ladino proverbs into English, so that we all learned to say
"one b one d" when something tasted good; or to say "after Purim
plates," when someone was tardy in performing a task; or to say "from
whence is she a bride," when someone acted true to his or her
imperfect nature and we had no reason to expect any better. He was a
"maskil"--a perceptive man who was able to identify with the Ladino
civilization of the old country, and to make it live within those of
us born in the "new country."

Va-Ado-nai Imo

Uncle Dave was a pious man. God was with him. He loved tefillah, he
loved the synagogue, he loved cooking the most delicious delicacies
according to the laws of kashruth. He loved Shabbat and moadim. He was
a man of genuine and sincere love of Torah and mitzvoth, a staunch
traditionalist with a kind smile.

Ken Yihyeh Imanu

Just as the Almighty was with Uncle Dave, we pray that He will be
with us, that He will fill our hearts and souls with the many happy
memories we have of a wonderful man. Uncle Dave was a
bachelor. He was not blessed with wife and children and grandchildren.
Yet, those of us who knew and loved him are as his children would
have been. He loved us with a full love, and we reciprocated in full.
With Uncle Dave's death, our family has lost our final "Romey"
sibling, child of Marco and Sultana Romey. We are, in a new and
profound sense, an orphan generation.

Uncle Dave--you have been, and continue to be our "maskil", our
wise and perceptive guide in life. You continue to bring smiles to our
faces, joy to our hearts, satisfaction to our minds and spirits. As
you now go to your eternal rest, please know that your life has made
an immense difference in all of our lives. Please know that we will
carry our love for you all the days of our lives...until we too join
you in the eternal world beyond.

Vayhi David lekhol derakhav maskil, Va-Ado-nai Imo, Ken Yihyeh Imanu.