We’re here today to mourn the passing but also to honor, and to cherish, the life of Manny Meltzer, beloved husband, father and grandfather, and really good friend.
From one perspective, this is all okay. Manny had had it with all of the physical suffering he had gone through, especially since last November, with a cycle of hospital, rehab center and home, only to be disappointed by having to go through the cycle all over again. So from the first standpoint, Manny was more than ready; Helene and the kids knew that it was time, it was just enough.
This is how I saw the end of Manny’s life. But then, just hours after I’d come back from vacation, I heard that he was gone, Of course he died on Shabbos, always considered a gift for the righteous. I called Helene, and she was doing ok, but all of a sudden, I was really bad, really sad, flat and down. And that’s where I am today, and I know that there are a lot of people here who are feeling what I’m feeling.
He was born in Brooklyn, NY, the beloved son of his immigrant parents Ida and Joe; Manny only spoke Yiddish until he went to school. He was raised with his siblings Artie and Beatrice and the late Ben and Sidney. Manny was a Korean War Veteran who loved his country.
I remember Manny telling me how he got into the lumber business, how at an earlier point, he did not like to commute which took time away from his family; he talked about what he enjoyed about the business, how he developed his skills. I was impressed with what he said, but he wasn’t. He said all this in a matter-of-fact tone. I was impressed how he worked so hard way beyond the usual retirement age. Manny loved to work and he did so until he was 82. He was a businessman who had wonderful relationships. If you went to a lumberman convention with him, you’d see how everyone knew him and respected him. There are local legends about how Manny used his business contacts and influence to respond to the needs of programs and charities. For example, Barbara Stein needed pieces of wood for an After-school program at the Ridge Hill School. A truck drives up to her driveway and puts down so many pieces of wood that Barbara was all set for a long time. Laurie is in Fiddler on the Roof at the high school and can’t understand why her father has shown up carrying the wheels for the peddler’s cart. And he could get great Yankee tickets almost on the field.
I sat on this bima a lot with Manny when he was Ritual Vice-President and he always had thoughtful comments about sermons and discussions. Or he would share interesting news about Camp Laurelwood, which he worked so hard for and for which he served as President. To be the Treasurer of the synagogue is a job that takes time and skill. Manny did the job in a way that was un-controversial and he made it seem effortless. Manny really did a lot for our community.
Manny and Helene were married for 61 years. I’ve known Manny for 33 years and over the years we had lots of times when we had conversations that were very memorable for me. For all of the wonderful things that he said over the years about Helene as a wife, mother and grandmother, the one conversation I keep thinking about was a few months ago at the nursing home. Manny had really had it; he was emotionally done with life because of so much physical suffering. But Helene, he said, wanted him to keep trying, and so he would. And then in only a few words, he expressed not only his love and respect for her, but also his admiration for her insight and judgment and her resourcefulness in times of crisis, like the one he was in. I wish I could play you a tape not so much of the words he used, but of his tone of voice. That was something I will never forget.
Together they raised their four wonderful children, Jeffrey, Laurie, William and Brian. Even though everybody thinks Helene was the disciplinarian, it was really Manny, who could just put a foot in your bedroom door, stare at you, and that was it. The children squared their shoulders and did what he said.
This is a real family, and a very unusual family in terms of how they get along with each other. Manny believed that they should work it out and they did. There has never been competition or fighting. I can tell you that this is a rarity, a rare rarity.
Manny was good with advice. He had incredible common sense. His children learned that they could talk to him about absolutely anything thing; he was absolutely non-judgmental. As they got older, he understood that one-on-one was the best for nurturing adult relationships. But he had his own sense of things. Once he said he was taking one of his kids to the Rainbow Room; it turned out to be McDonalds. I guess the golden arches constituted a rainbow.
He loved his family as it grew. Jeffrey and Dianne, Laurie and Scott, William, and Brian and Mira were all dear to him. We remember Wendy with love today.
He loved his cherished grandchildren, Alexandra, Joel, Taylor, Zachary, Sadie, Julia, & Benjamin. The grandchildren loved to talk to him. But no one could beat him at golf.
Manny did not have a lot of education, but he read a lot, and as Laurie said he “gleaned” a lot from all the books and newspapers he devoured. I want to give you a personal example of how smart his self-education made him.
Once, something like 30 years ago, I had some group or class and Manny was there. And I told them about an article I had submitted to a rabbinical journal. It was a pretty complicated article, even for rabbis, but Manny got it, and honed in on one point that he was very interested in, that he said was the best part of the piece. The Managing Editor of the journal, Rabbi Jules Harlow, whose name many of you know because he edited the Machzor we use on the High Holidays, wrote me a letter accepting the article and honed in on the same exact point, even using the very same words Manny had. When I told Manny this, he didn’t smile or say, “You see.” He just talked about the point some more. I’m telling you this anecdote to illustrate two things about Manny: he was smart, smarter than he might have let on, because he was humble and modest.
It’s going to be strange on Shabbos mornings that Manny won’t be in the seat that he’s been sitting in all these years, right over there, next to Helene. That’s going to be tough for a lot of us.
And this is going to be tough for Manny’s friends. Manny has friends who are real friends, and some of them go way back. We expect our parents to pass away, but we are often emotionally unprepared for the passing of our dear friends. I was sure I was prepared, but somehow, I just wasn’t. Manny was, is and will be part of us.
To Helene and the kids and the whole family, we offer our most sincere condolences. Manny was a good man, an honest man, a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, a leader of this community, a patriotic American, a Jewish person with true Jewish values, a thoughtful and intelligent person, and a wise and loyal friend. And he was a really good guy. Manny was somebody in our lives, and we already miss him. May he rest in peace. Let us say Amen.
Interment Services will follow at the Beth Sholom section of Walnut Grove Cemetery, 817 Old Colony Rd., Meriden. Shiva will be observed at the family home, 25 Hamden Hills Dr., Unit 66, Hamden on Monday, 6p.m.-8p.m., Tuesday-Thursday,1p.m.-3:30p.m. and 6p.m.-8p.m. Minyans at 6:45 PM