We’re here today, in the sanctuary that meant so much to him, to mourn the passing but also to honor and cherish the life of Alexander Weiss, beloved husband, father, brother, grandfather, great-grandfather, businessman, past president of this synagogue, and just a wonderful man.
He was born at home in Newark; the doctor said he weighed 16 pounds and while he was a big baby, this was a slight exaggeration. Still, they paid the doctor 2 dollars for the good job he did. He was raised with his siblings Jacob, Sidney Irving, whom we remember with respect today, and mourn with his sister Leona.
He went to Newark College of Engineering and got a BA in Mechanical Engineering. A proud American, he entered the Military when he was 19 after his sophomore year and served for three years from 43 to 46. He was with the Army Corps of Engineers who left their symbol of the Seahorse as a legacy. He was a Second lieutenant who landed in France and wound up in Berlin in 45. He had experiences that would help form his attitudes and beliefs for the rest of his life. He served his country with honor, but he could not wait to get home and get married to Elane.
They had met because Elane was taking a history course and Leona was practice teaching and asked if someone wanted to meet a nice young man. But the first date could have been a disaster. He came to her house with two different color socks and a bow tie. But as Malcolm puts it, that mismatch led to a perfect match for 72 years of marriage. They lived with her parents for two years. Elane was a trained medical technician who worked at several jobs including Beth Israel in Newark. She eventually was paid 50 dollars. He worked at Carrier Engineering, which became Carrier Air Conditioner Corporation in Newark and then New York City. George Ellis recruited this bright young engineer and they moved up here. At first he was the inside engineer and then the sales engineer and eventually became Vice President and General Engineer of Connecticut Air Conditioning. They worked hard and they did very well. His license plate said: Mr. Cool.
He retired in 1990.
A wonderful dimension of their success was that Alex was a real someone in this community and friendships and business and travel all intertwined seamlessly. They had Sandy and then Amy and then David. So here he is, a young man with three kids and huge responsibilities and a successful career, and as busy as he was, he and Elane were even busier building this synagogue. He was President in 1959-1960 and then again in 67-68. They were always here. Amy talks about needing to find her parents in an emergency and knowing that they would be at the shul. As David emphasizes, any of us who have gone through that stage of life can only find it quite remarkable that he was able to do so much at the same time and to do everything so well. When there was no rabbi, Al was the rabbi. He was the Rabbi at David’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony and Amy’s confirmation. He led services and chanted countless Haftorahs.
And there were great friends, just to name a few, like the Baers, the Eldriches, the Rosenfelds and the Inslers. Very few of us ever have such a close group of friends who shared their lives with each other.
He really was an all around guy who did everything. He was a good photographer who developed black and white photographs in the basement. It is very symbolic to note that he would take lots of pictures on big trips and there would be no pictures of him. Why not? Because he was behind the camera. But I think of this in another way: He was a man of dignity and pride, but he was also humble and self-effacing. He didn’t need pictures of himself. He just wanted pictures of the people he loved.
He played a lot of tennis and he was quite a golfer. There were endless rounds of golf with friends and David and some of the grandchildren.
He was a real dad in every way. He never got mad. In general, he never criticized anyone. He was very much the patriarch but he was also a fun dad. There are memories like sledding with the kids; they would ride on his back. Again, to me, this is symbolic: Everyone could ride on him; depend on him, to get them down the hill.
He did like to tease people. The kids remember Passovers. They remember this custom of kissing their heads called, if I have this right, Bonna bonna butz. He was a good hugger.
He was always a supportive father in every way. He was always there when the kids were growing up at their games and track meets. He would be the math tutor even if he had to take a math course to do it. He mentored Dave in his career because he had learned so much from his own parallel experiences. They even had a real estate company called Davalex.
He was proud of his children and their spouses Sandy and Jeffrey, Amy and Malcolm, and David and Lee. They were all a close family.
He was very close to his grandchildren: Bethany and David, Jay and Michelle, Brittany and Michael, Shaina and Brian, Austin, Jamie and Meryl.
And he was the proud great-grandfather of Lindsay, Mark and our new happy addition Maribelle.
I want to come back to Al and Elane, because this is the most important dimension of his life. We can’t summarize what these two people meant to each other in a few words, but anyone who knows them knows that they truly shared everything and thought the same way and truly loved each other for every day of all those years. Al just adored her, to the very end. And Elane has truly been superhuman in the way she cared for him and fought for him and advocated for him especially during this last tough stage. Al never complained. Just about a week ago, he told me about three or four things that were wrong with him, that he couldn’t breathe or walk or even think straight, and then he said, “But other than that, I’m fine.” Al went through a lot, but Elane went through every single thing with him. During the worst moments of his life, he would always say to his kids, “Take care of your mom.”
If you will indulge me, I would like to mention a few of the memories that come rushing through my mind.
Al and Elane came to my Wednesday night Bible class for many years. And since we have been known to get off topic once in a while, different members of the class would feel free to contribute their feelings and experiences. And of all the things that Al told us about, what I remember best is his stories about the Jewish gangsters in Newark who would come to his shul on Yom Kippur and buy the aliyot, the honors. They felt that this redeemed them from all their sins. And as only Al could have put it, sure, they were hoodlums and murderers, but they helped finance the shul for the rest of the year.
I’ve officiated at hundreds of weddings, but I don’t remember another grandfather who was a groomsman as Al was at Jay’s wedding. I remember standing there, so proud of a family that nurtures relationships between the generations, a family that is so close that a grandfather is also a treasured friend.
I’ve talked about Al’s proficiency in davening and synagogue skills. As I mentioned, he would often chant the Haftorah, the reading from the prophets. And in his day, he could just do it at sight. But then as he got older, it all got tougher; not so much the reading but the breathing, having the wind to chant the long text. So at one point, when I kept begging him to do one more Haftorah, and he said he couldn’t do it, we worked it out, because Alex was the kind of person you could always work it out with. And we agreed that I would stand next to him, at this lectern, and when he ran out of breath, I would take over and chant until he got his second wind. And so we did the Haftorah together. And I remember how warm and wonderful that was for me; he thought I was there to help him, but actually, he gave me something I will never forget. And what I remember very keenly is that when he ran out of breath, he was so out of breath that he couldn’t even say, “Your turn”; he’d just give a little flick of his hand. But he didn’t let me take it away from there. Before I knew it, just when I was getting into it, he’d point to himself, to say, “I got this.” He wouldn’t give up. He was going to do every single verse he could do. I’m standing here at this lectern, and not the lectern I’ve always stood at for the last 36 years, because I feel Al standing here with me now, just as he was that day.
And again, the way he did that Haftorah was the way he has lived these last years, and with Elane’s constant help and attention and patience, he got every bit of life he could get, every verse of life’s haftorah, every breath, every day. And then, after all the ups and downs, a few days ago, it was just too much. And he passed away. But he knew that he was loved, and honored, and loved some more.
To Elane and Sandy and Amy and David and their families, we wish you G-d’s comfort at this sad time. He was a righteous man. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen.