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.


fleurdelis28 said...

I remember being impressed by the concise thoughtfulness of that entire comment; I hadn't realized it was him.

fleurdelis28 said...

The translation quoted in the account of his funeral on the Facebook memorial page is a little better:

"After my death, thus shall you mourn me
"There was a man --and see: he is no more!
Before his time did this man depart
And the song of his life in its midst was stilled
And alas! One more tune did he have
And now that tune is forever lost
Forever lost!"

elf said...

Thanks, fleurdelis. I found a few translations, and I still haven't decided which I dislike least, so I'm sticking with the one with the parallel Hebrew.

fleurdelis28 said...

Makes sense. And thanks muchly for providing the Hebrew.

(After posting, I realized you were obviously already aware of the Facebook translation, but I decided against posting a third comment in row unless I had something more substantive to say.)

JS said...

I had guessed who the commentator was, because I used to be a big Rothschild's groupie.

Rabbi Lars Shalom said...
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