Jeff Litto – ben Yehudah Lippa – 1988

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I feel like we’ve been hit by an atomic bomb.

I feel like we are precious glass in a box marked “Fragile – Don’t Breakn and somebody dropped us.

And now we are shattered glass,

and we have to pick up our shattered dreams.

Because, you see,

Jeff Litto was every parent’s dream,

and what happened to him is every parent’s nightmare

And to his many good friends, and he had so many,

he was the friend you could talk to

depend on

feel easy with.

 

This loss cannot be borne. This loss is unbearable.

So forgive me today my lack of strength, my inadequacy. There are no words that can change what happened.

There’s nobody to blame. There’s nobody to sue.

There’s only this one horrible fact.

A fact that shouldn’t be true.

And there are no words that can help. There are no words.

But you know,

– the re  just aren’t enough tears.

 

Many of us have been crying for three days,

and we’ve only scratched the surface of our pain.

There are no words, and there aren’t enough tears. If any seventeen year old died, we would be shaken. All of life was still ahead, there was so much ahead. The remarkable thing about Jeff’s life was that, yes,

there was limitless vistas ahead,

but also, and this is the amazing part, he had already done so much.

I feel today that I have no words to help, but at the same time,

that there’s a lot that has to be said about Jeff, and that I could go on forever.

Let me tell you why we’re here today, here at Beth Sholom, and not at the Funeral Home.

Usually, a Jewish funeral in a synagogue is reserved for former Synagogue Presidents and community dignitaries.

If you know Jeff, you know that he would have been a synagogue president, he would have been a community leader.

But the amazing part is that he already was a leader in this community.                            

I want to give you one concrete example.

Five years ago, in this sanctuary, we held a funeral service for one of our friends and leaders. At that point, we instituted a Bereavement Program, teaching about Judaism’s approach to death and mourning, and organizing the duties a community must perform for the bereaved. This was not a program that included teenagers in any aspect or duty. But Jeff and Mark Federman and their brothers in Exodus AZA decided that they not only understood what we were doing but that they wanted to help. So if we had a shiva minyan, which requires ten Jewish people past their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, they would organize insuring that we had that quorum.

I’ve never known teenagers with that kind of maturity, that kind of commitment. I remember Jeff coming to a minyan and helping me lead the service.

But I have to tell you, it never occurred to me that we would be having a minyan for Jeff.

That kind of idea, helping others in their grief, was the kind

of idea that Jeff would come up with. He knew how to take a ball and run with it.

It was that kind of idea which made Jeff a somebody, a person who cared about all the right things.

Five years ago, he stood on this bima at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. That was a day of joy and triumph. He was so great, and he did it all with such ease and pleasure.

 

Three years later, he was confirmed on this Bima, for he had a love of learning.

And now, on this day of tragedy, we stand here again, doing honor to him, for he belonged here.

He was a great student in public school, winning awards. He was a great photographer. He played guitar; in fact, just a few nights ago he played at the Student Union at Uconn. It was, as he put it, “awesome.”

But the truly awesome thing about Jeff was his personality. He was, as we say, all together. In Judaism we talk about finding your balance and the golden mean. We talk about being content with who you are while striving for the best. We talk about honoring your parents, loving you brother, being a dependable friend. We talk about being honest and trustworthy.

Jeff, without one bit of exaggeration, was all of the above. I know very few adults who are that together.

So it’s not only what he did, It’s also what he was.

And I honor him, for he attained the golden mean of life. If he would have been all those things by the age of 60, I would have honored him. That he did all of it while a teenager is to be honored beyond words.

The word that’s on my mind is Redemption.

 

When I watch movies with my kids, and I have to explain to them why a hero dies, I try to explain that there is something which transcends death, and that is redemption. Redemption means that through an action, or through a way of being, the hero’s life is redeemed, even in death.

I can’t explain Jeff’s death to you.

I can tell you that it is fitting, somehow, that he died while going to do a favor for a friend. He died the way he lived, doing things for others.

I can’t explain how God allowed such a thing. I join the prophets of the Bible, with Job, with Moses, with Jeremiah, in screaming at God for this world of sorrow.

But I can tell you that Jeff’s life redeems his soul from death. Many of us live full lives and never reach redemption.

I can tell you, without the slightest hesitation, that Jeff’s soul lives on.

It says in the Song of Songs:

Love is stronger than death.

Jeff comes from a family full of love. They are the closest of families.,

And Jeff wasn’t embarrassed by that love.

At 17, I wouldn’t have let my mother bring me chicken soup to college.

Jeff was proud of that kind of caring.

 

Jeff’s achievements and personality were no accident. His intelligence and ease with adults and comfortableness with himself and everything I’ve said, all came from Betty and Eddie.

He really was the model son, the kind of kid we all want our kids to be like.

And the best part of all was all the love that went back and forth.

We honor not only the child today, but the parents who given him such values and priorities.

 

In AZA, Aleph-Zed-Aleph, the youth group that meant the world to Jeff, that was a world in itself to him, there’s a custom of pledging life for one of your friends. You do this for one of your AZA brothers.

But Jeff , for all his close friends, picked Jason instead. And before he went away, the two of them went out, and Jeff explained it to him.

That’s a moment of redemption.

That’s a moment that most brothers never have, not if they live till ninety.

That’s a moment which transcends death. Jason, never forget what I told you yesterday. You don’t have to live Jeff’s life for him.

You don’t have to live two lives.

You’re under no pressure to be anything except for one thing –

The best Jason Litto there can be.

 

You’ve got no footsteps to follow. No shoes to fill.

You just be yourself. You walk your own path.

That’s what we want from you.

The period of mourning lasts seven days – Shiva means seven. I know that many of us will visit the Litto’s house.

I know that their amazing group of friends are going to be around forever.

But I want to tell all the people who want to do something, who need to do something.

That this grief is not a 7-day process. This is one that you never really get over.

So if you want to know what to do, just be there, not just this week, but whenever they need you.

The Littos have a wonderful supportive family –

Betty’s parents, the Zelcovitz’s, shouldn’t have ever seen this day,

Betty’s sister and her family,

Ed’s sister and hers, have rallies around.

But this loss,

This is the worst thing that ever happened.

It’s so terrible that after talking myself blue and crying myself sick,

I still can’t believe it’s even true.

 

Be there for them as they pick up the box of shattered glass, as they try to go on,

as they rummage in the ruins for their shattered dreams.

And just do what Jeff taught you to do, care about the bereaved,

not for a week,_

but for as long as it takes.

And pray that they get to the point that they can say

“Yes, we were robbed

But the time we had with him was perfect And our love was perfect

And that love is stronger than death

And his soul is now part of us, and part of God rr To all of Jeff’s good friends, young and old,

I want to remind you of that song, Fire and Rain:

  • talks about sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

And he says:

I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain.

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen lonely times that I could not find a friend. But I always thought that I’d see you again.

  • want-to say to each of you

I’m sorry that you can’t see him again. But there will be sunny days again.

 

And there will be lonely times too.

But in all those times, when you can’t see him,

when you can’t talk to him, remember what he gave you, and it will help a little.

And there is one other song on my mind, and this I offer to the Littos, to explain to you what I mean about the redemption which transcends death.

Take my hand, and lead me to salvation. Take my heart, for love is everlasting,

And remember the truth that once was spoken

To love another person is to see the Face of God.