Judean Memorial Gardens, October 3, 2020 – It is difficult to capture in a brief eulogy the essence of a person or a person’s life when that individual had such a significant impact and such a varied, rich, multi-faceted meaningful life and career. I do not need to stand before you, his family, to recount his life and his numerous accomplishments -- for surely you are aware of the principled way he lived his life, of the pinnacles he reached, as well as the principles that were so important to him. Allow me to share with you some personal reflections and memories that I will cherish.
I must start by saying that I found it remarkable that he came to this country by himself, sent here by his parents when he was 15 years old, and graduated number 1 in his high school class, and then first in his class at college.
Most of you were at B’nai Tzedek when we dedicated the memorial for his parents, Paul and Balbina Schifter. When he came to discuss with me having a place where he could mourn them, he told me it always bothered him that his beloved parents did not have a proper burial and that there was no place which he could associate with mourning them. And so, he commissioned the sculpture which is in our lobby. The first design was somewhat grotesque – I don’t think I even showed it to him, kind of a skeleton or skull. Instead, we came up with the design that is there now. He told me he loved it, and that every time he came to the synagogue he would pause there to honor and remember his parents. I sensed there was always a pain in his heart over their tragic death and loss, and not seeing them again after they sent him to America. Despite the physical distance and the passage of time, he remained a loyal son, tremendously devoted to them – as evidenced by the correspondence he had with them in the letters which you still have and which were translated into English, and the way he spoke about them and how he lived his life.
He clearly loved this country which gave him refuge and the values which are the ideals upon which the republic is founded. I think that is one of the reasons he was so involved in politics and public service, and sought ways to serve it throughout his life. It was a way he felt he could give back to the United States, the country which had given him so much. He would frequently tell me his firm belief in the connection between the ideas of the Torah and America’s political culture. When he would read an article agreeing with his thesis, he would send it to me, and he gave divrei torah over the years at our Shabbat services where he posited his contention of the close connection between the Hebrew Bible, especially the book of Deuteronomy and the ideas and system set up in the Constitution.
He would share fascinating stories about his work at the UN, and the anti-Semitism he encountered there, on the Human Rights Commission, with President Clinton, and other fascinating glimpses of his extraordinary career. He never did it to impress or boast. That was not his way, for he was modest and humble. Over the years, if I happened to be meeting with someone – such as Shimon Peres, or PM Netanyahu, or other prominent individuals, or when he attended a class I recently taught about Israeli Prime Ministers, he often knew them personally. He often shared fascinating anecdotes and insights about their lives and his interactions with them. In a city that has its share of people with considerable egos, he stood out for his modesty and humility.
He was a mentor to many. As Dan Mariaschin of B’nai B’rith told me he was more than a mentor to him, he was like a beloved uncle.
He never stopped learning, growing or doing. Here he was, in his late-90’s reading, writing articles, making calls, setting up meetings, to work on changing the course of history, and still learning -- taking a class about Israel’s Prime Ministers.
Dick was the consummate gentleman. Last summer we had a meeting, and he asked me before coming to see me if it was ok if he came without a tie and jacket, since it was the summer. A number of years ago, sometime after he joined our synagogue he asked in an email to me, he very courteously and respectfully asked if I would mind if he called me Stuart, and that I in turn would address him by his first name, so that we would be less formal in our relationship. I said yes on both accounts.
He believed in the importance of Israel and the justness of its cause and frequently shared his insights, especially about the work he was doing in these last decades of his life which was dedicated to changing the attitude towards Israel at the United Nations and single-handedly trying to eradicate its anti-Israel attitude and activities.
I invited him to speak at our synagogue and to various groups of rabbis on a number of occasions. Each and every time he spoke, people were enamored by his command of history, facts and details; his extraordinary memory made an impression, as did his perceptive analysis of realpolitik and how to bring about change. I often felt his tenacity was so strong, he was determined to change the UN, almost singlehandedly, even if it meant the tedious process of trying to influence one nation at a time.
He was one of the most appreciative people I have ever met. In his last email to me, sent about 5 weeks ago, he told me about the merger between AJIRI and B’nai B’rith and said how much he liked an article I had written about the UAE agreement and Palestinian opposition to it. He wrote that he was glad because he had planned to write a similar piece, but now that I did it, he was
able to cross it off of his to-do list, concluding, “I hope you do not consider this boasting. It is simply a matter of a common outlook.”
And then he added,
“I am so glad I joined B'nai Tzedek!”
I was the one who felt so honored to have a relationship, a friendship with this man who I so deeply admired and greatly respected.
Indeed, we were the ones who were fortunate to have him as a member. All of our members took an immediate liking to him and accorded him tremendous respect. When we switched to zoom, he quickly adapted and frequently attended our services and classes. With Rick’s support and help, he established a fund at our synagogue to honor Barbara and her work with children with special needs and took special interest in it.
At Rosh Hashana services a couple weeks ago, he honored us by reciting the prayer for our country.
He was one of the most respected people I have ever met. I am sure that if I had this experience, you must have had it even more – mention of his name always resulted in nothing but respect, admiration and appreciation.
In Masechet Pirke Avot in the Talmud the question is asked, Eizhu mechubad? “Who is honored, or respected? It answers: HaMechabed et habriyoot: One who respects and honors others.”
Rahmiel ben Pinhas