2001-03-31 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

By Susan Hartenstein

From The Artists Studio
Rockaway Artists Alliance

This was to be my third annual April Fools Day column. Upon this writing, however, it feels somehow inappropriate to be funny. This morning was Rabbi Weiss’ funeral. A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of Leon Locke. No, I don’t feel much like laughing today.

I have always refrained from using the pronoun "I" too much in this column. The column belongs, after all, to an organization and, even more, to a community. I am simply the person who writes it. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. But I hope you will allow me, this week, to make my words very personal.

The only home I’ve ever known is Rockaway. Though born in New Jersey, I was brought here by my parents at the age of one week and have lived in the same house for 51 years. I do not remember a time when I did not live here. I do not remember a time when Rabbi Weiss was not a part of my community. I do not remember a time when my mother did not speak of him in the highest terms – terms of respect and admiration. He truly was a "mensch." A man of God with a heightened sense of humanity who, by action and by example, was an essential fiber in the moral fabric of this community. Intelligent, unassuming, unpretentious, respectful of other’s beliefs, always approachable. Always there to help and to advise anyone who needed it. Whether that person was a member of his own congregation or of another, as my mother was. Whether Jewish or not, like a Catholic friend of mine who went to him for advice about her troubled marriage. And anyone who knew Rabbi Weiss or knew of him was aware of these things.

I sat today at the funeral, seeing faces I’d known since childhood, and thought of many things. Of Rabbi Weiss; of the community I love so dearly; of my mother; of Leon; of my roots in this place and with these people and of the connections among all these. I thought of how we had lost two pillars of this community within such a short span of time. I thought -- what makes someone a pillar of a community? It doesn’t have to be someone well known, who is written up in a newspaper. It can just be someone who sets a moral tone for those around him or her. My mother, for instance, was such a person. Loved and respected by all who knew her, she lived in Rockaway for over 40 years. She gave so much to others by action and by example. She lived her life with grace, courage and a moral conscience. My brother, too, was such a person. Each day of my life I strive to emulate the best in them. Like Rabbi Weiss and Leon Locke, Giuseppe ("Joe") Giambra died recently. Joe owned his own barbershop on 129 Street. For over 34 years, generations of men and boys went to this nice man for haircuts. You could see Joe’s work all over Rockaway, even if you didn’t know it. He was both a gentle man and a gentleman. Generations in his neighborhood were touched by his kindness as well as by his talents.

This morning in temple I thought of many things. I thought of how the strength of the fabric of a community lies in the strength of its individual fibers – not just well known ones. But in all of them – in people like my mother and brother; in your husband; your son; your best friend; in Joe Giambra. In this season of death and resurrection; of passage from one life into another, I also sat in temple this morning thinking of change and transition. Over my lifetime, change has come to my community -- to all of it, from Breezy Point to Far Rockaway. Some of it for the better, some for the worse. Change has come and will come to The Wave and to West End Temple. Change is part of life, and death is simply one of those changes. We cannot stop it, nor should we necessarily want to. But one thing must remain a constant – a sense of mutual respect and kindness, which must compose the conscience of the individual and of a community of individuals. A few years ago I went through a rather difficult period. I could not have gotten through it without my friends. Whenever I would thank my friend Susan, she’d say, "Don’t thank me, pass it on."

I thought of many things in temple this morning. Of friends; of my moral heroes; of the community I love so much; of my friend Susan who had been shown a kindness and passed it on to me. It is how we touch each other’s lives that echoes through time and space and makes each one of us truly immortal. It is our actions and our example. It is passing it on that keeps us always in the circle, together.

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