I am so sorry that we’re here today. Hanukkah should be a time of happiness and family. Instead, Al’s family, both his biological family and his synagogue family and his community family, have to deal with this terrible sadness. Meri has been there for every second and she has been explaining things to me along the way, and I have to tell you that I still don’t understand part of what happened and why. You could say it doesn’t matter, but Al mattered very much in our lives.
I do this kind of thing for a living, and I’m having trouble grasping that he’s really gone.
I read in the obituary that Al was born on November 28,1937. I did the quick math and this means he was 82. It occurred to me that in all the years I knew him, I had never once thought about how old he was, one way or the other. It was irrelevant, He was Al.
He was the son of the David and Fortunee and the brother of Grace and Nina. He was proud of his Sephardic Jewish heritage.
He went to City College and then got his MBA.
He worked at UI starting in 1972 and was there over twenty years, becoming Vice President of Managing Services. Later he was Director of the Southern Connecticut Chapter of the Alzheimer Association. At UI, he was the point person in the community and again he built many strong lasting personal relationships with many important people.
When I came here 37 years ago, my connection with Al was so strong immediately that we started a lunch and learn class at UI on Mondays at 12. Imagine: a Jewish class at United Illuminating. As if I ever illuminated anything. But Al had the imagination and the resources to make that happen. That class, now at the JCC, is still going strong. Al built things to last.
For our shul, Al has been the Dean of our Adult Education program for thirty something years. He was as fine a Membership Vice President as we ever had, and an excellent President, but he was something more: He was involved in so many programs and so many meeting and initiatives and strategic planning and the Men’s Club that I can’t even count them. Some people are involved in the shul for a few years and some are involved for a generation or more. Al was consistent in his intense involvement, year after year after year. And he gave us a lot of continuity and institutional memory.
Al and Chaya were married and then they weren’t, but they had a remarkable relationship, right to the end. I will never forget that in her last stage, he went to see her twice a day, once by himself and once with Meri.
I want to say something to the grandchildren, to Micah, Davi, Shoshana and Elana: He loved each of you so much. He knew what was going on with all of you at all times. Al may not have always been the most patient person in the world, but for you, he not only had patience but he was your supporter and your biggest cheerleader. You have no idea how much he bragged about you, how proud he was of you. There are things that he did for you that you’ll never know or won’t remember, but I will.
Wayne: thank you for the constant and respectful relationship you had with Al. He appreciated it more than you know.
And Meri, Meri you’ve gone through so much, with the sickness and passing of your beloved mother and now the sickness and passing of your beloved father. But you did everything right. You were his person. You were the person in the world that his life revolved around. Sometimes, a parent and child are close when the child is young but it devolves over the years. In your case, you and your father only got closer with every year. He was on your side and he loved you to the moon and back. In your sadness, you also know, better than anyone here, what he was going through. He went through so much, and things kept getting worse. Today is sad, but I keep thinking about the fact that this guy had a miraculous transplant that kept him alive for so many extra years. We have to keep that perspective in mind. And going back to what happened, my conclusion is that his body just couldn’t take it any more and just gave out. Al had the strongest will of anyone you’ll ever meet, but it was too much even for him.
As the rabbi of this shul, he was the Dean and he held all those positions, but he was something more. He gave me excellent feedback, which means he was gentle and respectful with me when he disagreed. And when I turned out to be right, he was happy to admit it, and when he turned out to be right, I was just as happy to admit it. Because we knew that our differences were only on principle, and never, ever personal.
But he was something more than even all that. I am blessed with a lot of good friends, and he was way up there. But he was also an easy phone call. I could pick up the phone and up until recently he would always answer: “This is Al!” Only lately has he been saying “Hi,” knowing that it was me. By an easy phone call, I mean that I could dial his number and talk about absolutely anything. And it could be business or it could be personal, and it didn’t matter what order I talked about things, and we could end the phone call without resolving the issue because we knew there would be another phone call and one after that. And for me, this will be the hardest part of my grief: Not just for the shul, that he was such a big part of; we will miss everything he brought us. But I won’t have that next phone call, the one that was always a click away. And right now, I don’t know how to deal with that. I’m going to miss that more than anything.
Hanukkah has become a time of gift giving. Al Harary had a lot of gifts, a lot of skills and a lot of experience and a lot of energy, and he gave them to us, to his family and this community. And he was the gift that will keep on giving.
To Meri and the kids and his family, our shul offers its most sincere condolences at this sad time. And we offer our condolences to ourselves, because this is really hard.
Al Harary was a righteous man. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen.