We are losing a generation of giving people

My last uncle, Irwin, has died. His seven sisters — my mother and my aunts — are long gone, as are his four brothers.
It is sad, frightening and humbling to lose the last survivor of a whole generation, the generation of those rocks upon which I have built a whole life.
Today, people worry about the Millennials and, now, the so-called Z Generation already following them — the “Z” signifying the last. Maybe our society has run out of names for those who will be born later. But for me, my uncle’s generation was the true last generation of Americans who were willing to put their lives on the line, quite literally, to save the world.
And my uncle was one of them.
As you read this, I am in Pittsburgh. Uncle Irwin’s funeral was yesterday. I now know the answer to the question I asked myself, but no other: “Who will wear the black ribbon for him?” I wrote his obituary for the local daily and the Jewish weekly, and, in doing so, compiled two long lists: first, all those who preceded him in death; second, all of us who have followed him in the family.
The first list was long; the second was much longer. I named only direct descendants of his own first-degree relatives, for all of whom are dead. But their progeny totaled more than 40, and, with him, numbered five generations. To lose him, our only link with a whole part of our past, is to say goodbye to an irreplaceable part of our history.
I love Dallas, my adopted city. But Pittsburgh, my birth city, is forever the home of my heart. If you can look past last year’s Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, because something like that could have happened anywhere, you will agree with me that it’s an excellent place for Jews to live.
There are many synagogues and places to buy and eat kosher. There is a Jewish Federation, a community center, a Holocaust Memorial and Jewish schools. While Pittsburgh doesn’t have many Jewish schools, I’d argue that less is more.
Because Pittsburgh’s Jewish community is smaller, those who are part of it recognize how important such Jewish institutions are. People who do not keep kosher at home support the kosher businesses, because they know that without them, their city would not be somewhere that all Jews could live comfortably.
It’s even a good place to die: There is only one full-service Jewish funeral home, where everyone Jewish is memorialized and buried from. It’s consistent in its services and provides comfort in closeness with its community.
My uncle, age 96, was a product of this community. A self-made wealthy man, he gave generously to charities and to his own family. He anticipated needs and met them without being asked. Until his death, he was putting others before himself.
We will always laugh through tears at the experience one of my cousins had when visiting Uncle “Srol,” a nickname derived from his Hebrew name, “Yisroel.”)
Just two days before his death, David, just wanted to hold his hands and talk to him, no expectations, nothing more.
And the response he got was, “Why are you here? Don’t you have some errands to run?” How many who are literally on their deathbeds could make a comment like that?
So, as I write this, looking back and moving forward, I am full of tears, but not crying. Not yet.
Because I’m sure that, by the time you are reading this, many would already have cried with me yesterday.

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