The true measure of a man is not, as some folks misguidedly think, the state of his finances. And it is not measured by how many mourners attend his funeral.
What matters most is how many people loved and valued him at the time of his death, because of what he had done before it.
I have no idea about Bruce Feldman’s finances. But I do know that the mourners at his recent memorial service came in a huge number, and all of them were people who had loved and valued him during his life, and who will miss him sorely now that he is gone.
The sanctuary of Anshai Torah — both downstairs and upper level — was fairly bursting for the service that preceded Bruce being laid to rest. The congregation’s two rabbis sat on the bimah, rising to do their parts: the younger, newer one offering a psalm at the start; the one who is older — in both senses of the word — spoke words of his own that revealed how long he had known Bruce, and how much he respected and appreciated him.
It’s impossible to count the number of young students whom Bruce readied for bar and bat mitzvahs. One father told me it was Bruce’s incomparable teaching touch that helped lead a recalcitrant teen into solid adulthood. I wondered, looking at the crowd, how many parents sitting there had similar memories. And I wondered how many of the youngsters sprinkled through that crowd, now preparing for their own entrances into adult Judaism, were wondering, too: Who will be their tutor now? A tough act to follow …
I knew Bruce because my misfortune of breaking enough bones to go into rehab three separate times was my good fortune: I recuperated and had physical therapy at the Legacy Preston Hollow when it was under the aegis of our Jewish Federation. Now I’m healed, and L-PH has been sold. But I was there for High Holy Days when Bruce conducted services for full-time residents and short-timers like me and when he led Seders of amazing beauty and meaning. I was honored because he called upon me to read long passages from the Haggadah, and chant the blessings over the Rosh Hashanah candles.
Yes, chant. I can no longer sing as I used to. But Bruce’s voice never lost its resonance, and was always a soothing, integral part of Jewish holidays in that place. In his honor and memory, Kol Rina — the men’s choir of Anshai Torah — sang at the service. I know how much they missed him at his usual spot in their midst; their music was beautifully muted for the occasion.
Bruce gave to many not only his voice, but also the very special gift of his presence; on occasions when rabbis had to be with their congregations or with their own families, he was the surrogate whose time and talent was ever available. That was a gift also from Bruce’s family, who understood why he was not always with them on those occasions, so gladly lent him to those in greater need than they. And of course, some of those family members also spoke their overflowing love at the service, with eloquent goodbyes.
We were under threat of a storm that day, but rain fell for only a few moments while we were inside, barely leaving traces as we left the synagogue. As I stood waiting to join the crowd of exiting cars, I looked up into the still cloud-filled sky and saw a flock of birds, winging in changing formation high overhead, then disappearing into the thick, grayish-white distance. Were they singing as they flew? Bruce Feldman’s earthly heart had given out; perhaps these messengers were on the way to welcome him to his new heavenly home.
A sad postscript: Herschel Feldman passed away soon after his brother; that funeral was last Monday morning. May the family be doubly comforted.