We’re here today to mourn the loss but also to honor the life of Dr. Martin Ira Glassner. When I sat with the family at the hospital just a week and a half ago and the doctor told us the horrible news, it was clear that Marty had a terminal illness, but I never even feared that he would be gone this soon.
There is very little to say about the end of his life, except that he faced it with courage and even humor, and that his family rallied around him and was just beautiful in their devotion.
After I saw him Friday afternoon, I knew that he would pass away on Shabbos. The righteous are taken by G-d on Shabbos.
Martin was born on July 7, 1932 in Plainfield New Jersey and was raised in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. He was the oldest child, followed by Cecile, whom we just lost a few months ago, and Shirley, who is here with us today and has many wonderful memories of her brother. He was called Skinny” and ran a game called “The Defective Detectives” which had the other players following clues around town. He was so capable that he could run his parents’ store when only a teenager. He worked for 5 cents a week and saved it all. He never learned how to ride a bike but he did learn how to hitchhike, which was the precursor of his traveling around the world.
When you read the obituary of a person like this, you skim through the details about his degrees and you have no sense of the adventure involved, not only intellectually but in terms of life’s logistics, how Marty and Renee found a way to make a living and support three children while making the sacrifices Marty could have had a successful career in the family business and pursued his goal, and he had become involved in a career in the foreign service as American Vice Consul in Jamaica and Chile. A trip to Bolivia when he was working in Chile led to a life-long interest in the special problems of landlocked states.
You read that he received his doctorate at the Claremont Graduate School but how can you know that this intellect really received the degree integrating five different disciplines. As someone with a doctorate, I have to admit that I cannot even imagine knowing that much in five different specialties.
Without Renee with him at every step of the way, encouraging him to become who he was supposed to become, it never would have happened. Marty knew that: when he got the doctorate, he brought Renee a bouquet of red flowers.
The Glassner family moved to Connecticut in 1968 when he joined the Geography Department at Southern Connecticut State University, retiring in 1995 after teaching a variety of courses, sitting on committees and chairing the Department. He was the recipient of the Faculty Scholar Award, and was installed as a Connecticut State University Professor (there are only two at any one time at the university). As a teacher, he was serious and he expected his students to be serious about their work.
I am obviously not an expert on geography or political geography, but I spent enough time talking to Marty about the subject over the years, and he gave me enough of his books, that I can tell you what I concluded: Marty’s big mind found its big subject, which was really everything. By this I mean that Marty had a voracious mind that really took in the whole world.
Marty knew about everything, all the way to Antarctica. His mind was tightly packed with facts, ideas, suggestions, anecdotes and illustrations.
Martin Glassner went far beyond what my picture of a geographer was. No one else knew so much about so many different topics.
And the bottom line is that he really cared about people, the people in all of those nations in all of those places on the map.
He worked for the United Nations in both Asia and Africa, relating to landlocked states, transit to the sea, boundaries and international law.
Marty found a subject that was not just theoretical but practical.
His writing is readable, as those of us who have read any of his work can tell you. He worked very hard to make it so. He could talk the academic jargon talk as well as anyone but he didn’t have to show off by using it.
His book Global Resources: Challenges of Interdependence is a fascinating subject but also a metaphor for all of us. We are all so interdependent, if only we knew it. But I am so happy about this family, how you have been loyal and good to each other. For you, interdependence is not a challenge; it’s life itself.
How can we possibly sum up Marty’s 55 years of marriage to Renee? We all know that Renee is a great storyteller, but when she talks about how they met, it’s like you’re watching a romantic movie before your eyes. Mary standing up at an IZFA meeting, a meeting of the presidents of the chapters of the International Zionist Federation of America, waving folk music and asking: “Who likes music?” And Renee raises her hand. And Marty asks: “Who can sing?” And Renee raises her hand. Marty couldn’t sing and he couldn’t dance regular dancing but he sure could do folk dances. And why did Marty like folk music? Because it also had history involved.
Marty wasn’t always super-smooth during the courtship. He wrote Renee’s brother and said that he would make Renee a good husband. He eventually told Renee that he wanted her to marry him but that he didn’t any money, he didn’t have a graduate degree and he was facing service in the Army. And Renee said, “Yes, yes, yes!”
Marty wrote and edited many books, but a recent one that included a chapter by Rene was very special. I am very happy about that book. It is called And Life Is Changed Forever: Holocaust Childhoods Remembered. It is a book concerning child survivors of the Holocaust. It was a project that really interrelated the two of them and I was grateful that they were able to complete it.
When Renee has given speeches about her experiences, it was interesting to watch Marty’s face: He looked at her with such pride, with such wonder, with such love. How many times he had heard these stories, and it was as if he were hearing them for the first time.
As a father myself, I want to tell you one important thing about Marty as a father: He had three very different loving relationships with his three wonderful children. Each of his daughters was his favorite; he loved each of them, Karen, Aleta and Cindy, as they deserved and needed to be loved. He treasured and cherished each of them. I wish other parents would understand what Marty understood about being a parent. We would like to thank his three daughters for everything they have been to him. During this last stage, we thank Cindy for rushing and coming from Israel with three of her children to be here; that meant the world to her parents. Alita has been calm and strong during this terrible crisis and we thank her for that and so much else. And I don’t know what any of us would have one without Karen, who has the ability to be a rock and a wonderful human being at the same time.
He adored all ten of his grandchildren and his four great grandchildren. There was a twinkle in his eye when he talked about them. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing his descendants, knowing that he was the patriarch, that he could see his future.
It would be easy to talk about Marty for hours. He was larger than life and he will always be with us. We have lost a wonderful husband, father, brother, grandfather, great-grandfather, colleague and friend. We cannot replace him. But we can remember him, and live by his example, by loving life and knowledge and family.
To Renee, to Shirley, to Karen, Alita and Cindy, to the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren and the whole family, and to his colleagues who will miss his active mind and his friends who will miss his wit and charm, we wish you G-d’s comfort.
A couple of years ago on Yom Kippur, I had Marty speak to our congregation before Mincha on Yom Kippur. And he told one story after another about how he, whom he called a wandering Jew, had had exciting adventures all over the world.
And I remember thinking: That’s quite a life. To travel to so many places not just as a tourist but with purpose. To know so much of the world, to give so much to the world. A great life.
He was a righteous man. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen.