Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Simple Jew

An anonymous commentator calling himself "The Pachad Yitzchak" wrote the following in response to my last post:
I don't know what simply a Jew is, except a guy in a brown fedora at the back of a Young Israel at 11:00 on Shabbes. Apart from that, simple Judaism is only for the most engaged and ideologically complicated people.
This Pachad Yitzchak (I don't think he would mind your knowing) was Isaac Meyers, a Harvard doctoral student who was killed by a grocery truck last monday on his way to an early morning shiva minyan. The line about the guy in the brown fedora (which I didn't pick up on at the time) was a reference to a song called "A Simple Jew" that Isaac wrote for his band, the Rothchilds ("the plutocrats of pop").*

Isaac wasn't the kind of "simple Jew" described in his song. His understanding of Judaism was broad and deep and sophisticated, and, as you can tell from his songs, he also had a sense of humor about it. In other ways, though, Isaac was as simple and straightforward as they come. He never hesitated to do what he thought was right, and he always did it in the most understated way. There's no way to even begin to describe what we lost with his passing.

At Isaac's funeral, the presiding rabbi, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, read a poem by Chaim Nachman Bialik that I thought captured the situation as well as any human words possibly could. Afterward, I searched for it on the Internet and found it here. You really must read it in Hebrew if you can; the translation doesn't measure up. Isaac could have written a better one — he had a great sensitivity for these things. But he's not here.

*You can hear "A Simple Jew" and other Rothchilds recordings here.