The following was delivered by Amir’s friend Lizzie as part of Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.
“On the occasion of celebrating the life of Amir Lopatin”
Dov called me last night at around 9pm, as I was finishing dinner at an Indian Restaurant in Palo Alto. “Shavua tov!” I said with characteristic ebullience. “I actually have some tragic news,” he said, deflating the red balloon of my new week.
Amir– I think I remember every conversation we ever had, for two reasons: One, there weren’t that many of them, as far as friendships go. That was not by choice or design, rather, because I mostly saw you on Shabbat and other special occasions. Two, they were all incredibly interesting, and I always felt both challenged and rewarded by sharing ideas with you and listening to your thoughts. I know many people felt the same way. You have a very memorable mind, my friend. A memorable mind, an adorable face, a kind, caring heart, and a pure, golden soul that has returned to God. It brought with it a life of your experiences and dreams, reunited with the One source that creates and sustains everything, and now we are here, our souls connected to yours, to remember you.
I met you for the first time in Dov’s sukkah. Fancying ourselves honorary grad students, Emily and Carla and I walked over to Chabad’s shabbat grad dinner. We squeezed in through the opening in the side and looked for empty seats. There were a few, one next to a grad student on the one side of the table, one next to you. I chose the one next to you. I think Aaron Master was sitting near by us, but you know how it is at these crowded Chabad meals: you can only really talk to the person sitting next to you if you want to get into more than superficial conversation. So you and I got to know one another, spoke easily and freely. I’m from Chicago, you from New York. I’m a senior, you’re a first year Education PhD student. What do I want to do with my life? Knowing you had gone to Orthodox school I hesitated… may as well just out myself: I want to be a rabbi. Okay, let me have it. Give me all the reasons why it’s wrong and I shouldn’t.
Instead you smiled. You were impressed. “I think it’s great,” you said. “But why Judaism?” I didn’t understand. “The texts are so dry,” you continued. “I mean, of all religious books the Torah is so boring, and horribly written in parts. Speaking from the vantage point of literature, there’s so much better stuff out there to read. I mean, all that genealogy and begat stuff at the beginning… it’s totally uninteresting!”
I would later learn that this was your irreverent, whimsical side coming out. And furthermore, your words came from a place of deep education, knowledge, and respect.
But at the time I was groping for a rope– there I was thinking that this, here, right now, is my only chance to save yet one more Jew from defecting because he doesn’t think Judaism is spiritual enough. And I was at the same time intrigued– what are you doing celebrating Shabbat, I wondered, if you think Judaism’s so boring? So before returning to Torah, we talked about observance.
“My dad died of cancer a few months ago,” you told me. “I’m saying kaddish. It’s what he would want me to do.”
“And you keep Shabbat still?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to find meaning in all of it,” you said.
I could relate to that. “You know,” I said, “Rashi gives a reason for all of the boring begats in Genesis. If the Torah is supposed to be a guidebook for Jewish living, then the question is, why begin at the beginning and go through all of that? Why not just lay down all the laws? It’s that God wants to show that the world was created for a purpose, to tie the story of the very creation of the world to our lives as Jews. All the begats are our primal ancestry, leading up to Avraham, leading into the Israelite lineage, and then of course, into Egypt, out of Egypt, and to the mitzvot.”
Amir, you should know at that moment, right after I was done talking, a few things were going through my head. 1. I am a huge poser. Who am I to be talking about Rashi? What do I know about Rashi, for God’s sake? I probably got whatever he said wrong and misquoted him completely. 2. I must look like such an idiot talking about Rashi to someone who went to Orthodox school and probably learnt that piece in seventh grade. 3. What is this sudden need I feel to save you?
And then you did the nicest thing, that I couldn’t tell at the time was totally sincere. You said, “Yashar koach! That was really nice.”
I don’t think anyone had ever said that to me in one-on-one conversation, but then, it’s not often I go off as if on a pulpit, in normal conversations. “Well, I didn’t think of that, of course,” I said, embarrassed, kicking myself mentally for trying to be some sort of chacham over dessert. “Yeah,” you said, “but that makes sense. I like that.”
You and I walked back in the direction of campus after dinner with a few people. You told me about the years you’d spent in Salt Lake City as we passed the Mormon Church. I looked forward to getting to know you. I wondered what you thought about me.
Rather than go over the details of my every interaction with you, let me try and remember out loud the qualities that characterized you in all those instances. You remembered things, were concerned about my life and what I was doing. You asked me about rabbinical school, what I was looking at and where, what all the considerations were. You would engage in conversation, that is, you listened well and responded to what was said– you didn’t assume things, you took in and turned over ideas. You were thoughtful. Needless to say, patience and thoughtfulness are qualities the world could benefit from more people having. You exemplified them.
You were funny. At first I didn’t realize it, but you were. Funny, irreverent, you poked subtle fun, but always in a nice way. You were straight up– that is, I think you had very clear vision about a lot of issues and could communicate it well and argue your viewpoints, like a good New Yorker. And man, what cemented a place for you in my heart: you complimented my jewelry. Every Shabbat you would comment on something new: Like the earrings, like the ring, what a great watch. I remember at the end of last quarter I must have been wearing all your favorite things because you said, “Wow, it’s like Lizzi’s greatest hits!” Amir, I would say, I love that you have such a good sense fashion when it comes to women’s jewelry, namely, taste for mine. And I love that you are secure enough in your masculinity to comment on it. Well, you said, it’s the next best thing to wearing jewelry myself.
Now that I think about it, you were great at giving compliments and bad at receiving them, like a person with a healthy sense of humility (perhaps so healthy it bordered on pathological). It’s been said that what one says about other people reflects their own qualities. If that’s the case, you should consider yourself an extraordinary person. Unique, deep, a ponderer, a doer, a question-asker, an action-taker. I don’t think you gave yourself enough credit for all your positive attributes.
The last time I saw you was Purim. I sat next to you for the megilla reading, we shared a book, you read through the Hebrew and I the English, that is, when we weren’t kibbitzing quietly. You looked across the room and leaned in and said, “Hey, that guy, he’s like the quintessential good-looking guy, isn’t he?”
“Guess what,” I whispered back. “When given the choice to sit next to you or him at dinner at Sukkot, remember? I sat next to you.”
You were shocked. Flattered, speechless. You blushed. I’m glad I got to tell you to your face something to make you feel good. The other part of that conversation I remember was you letting me know that you just had the best Shabbat day of your year: you skipped shul and lunch, and went for a long bike ride in the hills. I was so glad for you, to see you crafting your Jewish life, trying not to feel guilty about experiencing Shabbat in your own way. Good for you, I said. “Yeah,” you sort of nodded in self-affirmation, almost surprised at yourself. “It was really nice.”
Amir, I don’t know what happened in that car when your soul ascended, merged back into God like a wave back into the ocean. I am still in disbelief that I will not be seeing you at any more Shabbat dinners, randomly in Hillel, driving around in the new orange Element you only bought, in which we drove to Tahoe two months ago. The kosher co-op will be missing a crucial member in you– both a leader and a positive presence. Other people can speak to your involvement in the Education department, Jewish learning, Linking Hearts, and other social action projects around campus. I only know from your kindness and friendship, both of which came in abundance. I pray that some of your spirit has spilled over into those of us whose path you crossed. I feel blessed to have known you, even for these short months. I will miss you.
Baruch dayan emet, replies Jewish tradition in the face of an untimely deaths such as yours. Blessed is the true judge. There is some deeper meaning in your death that we do not and will not understand. I won’t presume to comprehend any part of that truth or meaning. But I will ask, What has your life taught me? What can your death teach us? It’s funny how it all comes down to cliches: Life is so precious and fragile. At its end we must ask what we will be remembered for? It will be our kindnesses, our moments of sweetness and compassion, our acts of chesed, our words of sincerity. Out the window go our possessions, our petty concerns, our trivial daily battles. We will wonder, How did we give love and respect? How much light and love did we let in, and how much did we give out?
Baruch dayan emet. In the honor of your life and memory, may I be a more patient listener and a better friend to those waves in the ocean still rolling. One day we will all join you.
I think of you with so much affection and friendship, my friend. May your soul light the way for others.
In peace, Lizzi.