On Friday Miriam and I went to the funeral of my cousin Mark. Mark was my father's first cousins husband. It so happens that he lived around the corner from Miriam's parents in Baltimore so over the last couple of years I have had a number of opportunities to visit him.
He was a young man in his early fifties and he is survived by my cousin Esti and her five young children, the oldest a senior in high school and the youngest is just 12 years old.
There were hundreds and hundreds of people at the funeral on Friday and this entire week hundreds more have been through their house to pay a shiva visit and to daven in the morning and evening.
Mark was a pediatric anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins medical center, and he taught at the medical school. He was known particularly for his dedication to his patients and students.
His mother was sitting shiva and told us about how Mark decided to go to Yeshiva. Mark grew up in the Bronx to a traditional but not completely observant religious family. When he was in fourth grade he decided he wanted something more Jewishly so, on his own, he boarded and went to a Yeshiva in Washington Heights in Manhattan. He walked into the school and set up an interview with the principle. He was excepted, on the condition that he had his parents approval. So this fourth grade boy went home to his parents and told them what he had done, that he had made all the arrangements to transfer to Yeshiva for fifth grade. They were supportive, and the following year Mark began in Yeshiva. He had a lot of catching up to do in Judaic studies but by the time he graduated eighth grade he was the salutatorian of his class. Mark had been accepted to Yeshiva University's high school, however his father had open heart surgery that year and he did not want to be an extra financial burden so instead he applied to and was accepted to the very prestigious Bronx Science school.
But he always continued to learn Torah, even through his very intensive training at Mount Sinai medical school and then Columbia University. He was also a strong activist for Israel and the Jewish People. He was a leader in the Betar Movement, and a staunch adherent of the movements ideology set out by its founder, Zev Jabotinsky.
I had the privilege of getting to know Mark better of the last few years because I wold visit him on my trips to Baltimore. I spent a great deal of time with his family this week, and with my great Aunt Marilyn, his mother-in-law who was here for the week of Shiva.
On Shabbat I attended a program that was founded and run by a very close friend of Miriam's father. The program is called, Call of the Shofar. Call of the Shofar is an organization of Jewish men and women who experience Judaism as a vital and alive path for personal and relational transformation. The program consisted of sessions and exercises that introduce different techniques of meditation, breathing, and discussions that focus around building better relationships with others, ourselves, and with God. I really enjoyed the program and, although it is not for everyone, I would encourage others to look into it.
On the program I met a young man, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins University, from Little Rock Arkansas. I must admit, I felt like a hypocrite because when I met him the first thing that i thought to say was, "there are Jews in Arkansas?" It turns out there is a Jewish community of about 1000, and they are only two hours form Memphis which has a considerably large Orthodox community.
Monday morning I gave my usual Torah teleconference class. Every Monday i give a class by telephone, and the best thing about it is that I don't have to cancel when i am on vacation. Every Monday at 10:30 central time we learn about 10-15 minutes form the parshah. Anyone can join in by dialing 712-451-6000 and then access code 477412.
Today I got to go shopping at Shabsy's, the largest seller of Jewish books in Baltimore. The store is absolutely immense and has Jewish books on every topic you could imagine, in Hebrew and in English. In the store, I ran into my good friend Rabbi Ian Bailey. Rabbi Bailey has written a book of his own called The Seven Ways. It is a Kabbalistic self help book. One of these days Ian said he will come out to Omaha and talk to us about it.
Now Miriam and I are just packing up. Tomorrow morning I will daven Shacharit at my cousins house and then it is back to New Jersey until our return flight on Thursday morning.