Amir’s First Yahrzeit


Extract from a talk given at Shabbat Dinner at the Chabad House of Stanford,
April 15, 2005

By Rabbi Dov Greenberg

This past week we marked the first Yahrzeit of our dear friend, Amir Lopatin, who was tragically and suddenly taken from us on the third of Nissan, 5764. On Amir’s first Yartzeit the hakamat matzevah (unveiling) took place at the Ahavath Torah Cemetery in New Jersey.

Tonight, I would like to reflect upon the language of the Torah and our tradition, which employs three distinct and paradoxical names for a cemetery:

1) Beit Hakvarot: a home for burial
2) Bait Olam: a home of eternity
3) Beit Hachaim: a home for the living

What is the significance behind the strikingly different names conferred by Jewish tradition on a cemetery?

The answer is profound.

These three titles – a home for burial, for eternity and for the living — represent three ways in which we can understand death. These three interpretations are expressions of three ways in which we can understand life. The way we define life, is the way we define death.

If we define life as an exclusively physical experience, an opportunity to maintain, nurture and gratify our material selves; if life is merely about tending to the appetites of our bodies and hearts, then death – that unfathomable moment when the body turns lifeless – constitutes the tragic cessation of life. The cemetery, then, is a home for burial. A life has, sadly, reached its final chapter.

“It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” Yogi Berra taught us. But in the cemetery, “it’s over.”

But there is another perspective on the meaning of life: Seeing life as a spiritual experience, in addition to a physical one. If life is also about nurturing and nourishing our souls, our spiritual identity, our inner spark of G-d, then death, as irrevocable as it is, is not the interruption of life.

Tragic and horrendously painful? Absolutely yes. The end of one’s life? Absolutely not. Because a soul never dies. It continues to live, love and feel in another dimension, on a spiritual plane, one that cannot be grasped through our senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting. Yet, the soul, which is an aspect of G-d, a fragment of the divine, is not subjected to death, only to travel from one realm of experience to another.

In this perception of life and death, a cemetery is a home of eternity. The body is interred, but the soul remains eternal.

Yet there is something even greater we can achieve. If we, those left behind, use the passion and the values of our loved ones who are not here with us, to inspire and affect our daily lives and behavior, then the cemetery becomes a “home for the living.” By inspiring and touching the daily lives of their loved ones, fellow students, friends and community members, they are in some very real sense still alive. Their own dreams and ideals continue to exist, in a very tangible way, in the earthly lives of the people touched by their love and goodness.

This is true of our dear friend Amir Lopatin, who was loved by his family and his many friends. In Congregation Emek Beracha and here, The Chabad House at Stanford, he shared his warmth with others and lit the fire of compassion in many hearts.

Over the past year, I have often thought of those moving words, “Tzadikim be-mitatam nikraim chayim,” the righteous, even in their death, are called living, because a trace of them remains. The good they do lives after them; their influence leaves a mark on many lives. For Rachel, myself and many of you, that is true of Amir Lopatin. May his memory be an inspiration and a blessing…

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Dov Greenberg Remembers Amir

The following was delivered by Rabbi Dov Greenberg, Chabad Rabbi at Stanford, as part of a memorial service held for Amir on March 29, 2004, at the Greenberg’s home in Palo Alto, CA.

This is an informal gathering – it’s not about speeches, it’s about friends coming together to mourn. I want to encourage everyone to be open and honest so we can honor the soul of Amir.

I first met Amir a few hours after he came to Stanford. Sunday morning, he knocked on my door. I knew about Amir because [his sister] Shoshana had emailed me, and Daniel Silverberg had let me know he would be here. I knew he just lost his father. So he told me about his background; how he used to be somewhat of a rebel. He was saying Kaddish for his Dad; that first day, he asked many questions–he wanted to know where the shul was, wanted to say Kaddish for his father…

One of our last times together was Purim – we were in the Treehouse, dancing, making l’chaims; Amir was there on the side smiling – he didn’t dance – he didn’t seem to want to. I was wondering why. Then on the way home, I realized he was right: Jewish law says that no dancing is allowed for a year when one has lost a close relative; Amir knew the law and that I had forgotten, and he didn’t say anything. He knew if he had said “I can’t,” maybe I would have been embarrassed; or it would have dampened others’ happiness. It was so classic Amir. He just smiled with a certain love and sensitivity.

We say the Kaddish when someone dies. Yitgadal v’yitkadash shimei rabah. The Kaddish glorifies and magnifies God’s name. Why do we say this now? In a sense, when someone is taken, its not like a few people are mourning. In a deeper sense, when a person is taken who reflects God’s image – when that person is taken, a certain love is taken; a certain piece of God – Kaddish tries to put back a piece of that part of God.

…Another story–We were building a large Sukkah – having a tough time!
Amir rides by. “Rabbi let me help.” He was behind in his studies. He was trying to help! I said, “you should go”…He said, “Rabbi I’m not leaving until the Sukkah’s standing.” I remember thinking, if only his mom and dad could see him now – they raised a real mensch.

To conclude, I want to thank Amir for something I never got to thank him for. We got involved with a project at Stanford called “Linking Hearts” to help kids with special needs. He started objecting to the project based on funding and analysis – he didn’t like the unprofessional approach we were taking. A few weeks ago, he sent a significant contribution to “Linking Hearts.” We sent a thank you note to him; a week and a half ago it came back – we got the address wrong. Rachel called Amir and we got the address and sent it to him. I doubt he ever opened it. And so I want to thank him now for being part of that process. We are now calling the project “Linking Hearts for Amir Lopatin” and there will be a plaque in his memory.

When the Torah talks about Aaron’s passing, it says that the whole House of Israel wept; when Moshe died it says that the House of Israel wept. It doesn’t say “whole.” Why? Aaron represented love and peace – and peace only has friends. Moshe brought truth – truth has friends and enemies – Amir in Hebrew is a combination of Moshe and Aaron – and he had both a tremendous knack for truth and honesty, and an incredible ability to love and bring peace…

One of the times Amir stopped by, he took out his palm pilot – it had many different melodies recorded on it… Mendel, my two-and-a-half-year-old son came in and played with it. I told Amir he probably shouldn’t give it to Mendel. When Amir left, [Mendel] wasn’t happy that his new toy had departed.

The next day, there was knock at the door, and there was Amir with a box all wrapped up… It was a tape recorder that you could record and sing into – and it was exactly what Mendel loved about the palm pilot. Amir was someone who truly wanted to change the world – and he somehow understood what a child wanted.

Announcement from “Chabad at Stanford” (3-27-04)

It is with great sadness and deep sorrow that I inform you of the tragic passing of a dear friend and fellow Stanford student, Amir Lopatin, who was killed in a car accident this Friday.

A gathering of friends and memorial service will take place this Monday, March 29th at 8:00pm at the Chabad House at Stanford – 679 Stanford Avenue. Feel free to bring poems or any materials.

Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the bereaved, so suddenly and unexpectedly parted from one near and dear to them.

-Rabbi Dov Greenberg