I received a call this afternoon. My receptionist buzzed that a gentleman by the name of Marshall Stoltz was on the other end of the line. He identified himself as a former student of my father, and asked if I was available to chat.
I knew the name well. My father had shared with me that many years ago Marshall was a student of his in Hebrew school, and they had kept in touch through the years. He would call my father, without fail, before every Jewish holiday to inquire of his welfare. My father in turn would ask about the family, but I never knew the details. Only that there was this lingering bond that, as I suspected, was special with many of the individuals for whom he was a mentor or role model through the years.
On the eve of this Sukkos past, nearly a month ago, Marshall sensed that there was something wrong. He could hear it in my father’s voice which was normally strong, reflecting his clarity of mind. On this occasion both his voice and mind were muddled. He made a note to follow up with a call, but wasn’t able to reach Dad. Through an internet search he found me and I had to share with him the news of my father’s passing, just two days after he last spoke with him. I’m not sure who was more choked up, Marshall or me.
As we chatted, Marshall told me of his tenure as curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Philadelphia. My father and I shared an affinity for Rockwell and his works, and the way he captured the flavor of Americana that seems so much a bygone era. But I don’t recall him mentioning that Marshall was curator of the Museum, though probably for good reason. Marshall said he may have not told my father about that, their conversations always focusing more on the spiritual domain, rather than on the secular.
That was part of my father’s gift, the ability to relate to each individual in ways that resonated with the person. It was often about how the family was doing, and as he got older very heartfelt reminiscing about those early connections that never die. Ironically, only a few minutes after Marshall and I spoke, another phone message came through. It was another protégé of my father, Allen Rothenberg, calling to express condolences. He learned of Dad’s passing through an In Memorium piece in The Jewish Press. We agreed that after Dad moved to Queens he took on a role that was distinctly different and Patriarchal and that even though he lived a long life, its being extinguished is a loss felt over great distances and through multiple dimensions.
Why is there a void? After all, the man lived to the ripe old age of 95, with a generally good quality of life until his last year. Knowing that he is unburdened of the infirmities and indignities of these past few months should bring more a sense of celebrating a life well lived than of mourning. Allen related a message that he heard Rabbi Schoenfeld deliver at a funeral, explaining that when someone loses a parent at a very young age, take for example my paternal grandfather who died when my father was seven years old, there is a sense of loss – but not of the loss of a deep and abiding relationship that builds over the course of many years and is seasoned with time.
After hanging up the phone, my first inclination was to call my father and share with him the good tidings I heard from Marshall and Allen. It was another sign that my father is gone, but far from forgotten. I have a feeling that will be the case for a long time.