Hi Amir

It is hard to believe that three years (more) have gone by. If you were here, you would be proud of how your friends remember you, in actions as well as words. NYCpul is continuing. People are giving to charities in your name, and charities named after you. Isn’t it amazing that sometimes you can continue to make the world a better place by leaving it, just as you could when you were here? We still miss the things you would have contributed, and the insights that you would have brought. And the empty space you left can only, and at best, resolve into an Amir shaped scar to remind us of what might have been… but those reminders are still prompting people to change the world. In small ways. In their ways. but little by little, and in the right directions (I hope).

That is something of which I think you might have been proud.



Like rivers, there are pains that are deep, and pains that are wide, and pains that are both. While I am sure that all brothers feel this way, I should tell you , Amir, that your presence in my life was both wide and deep. Likewise my love. And likewise my pain.
I still talk to you, and Dad, but I wish I could hear your answers better.
I miss you.
I Love You.

Thoughts from Amir’s Shloshim

It was very difficult for me to speak at my brothers funeral. I have not been able to post what I had wanted to say. That will remain largely between my brother and myself. Let it suffice, that they are some of the things I wanted to say to him when he got married. They were my ways of letting him know how proud I was of him. How I admired, and looked up to him, even as his big brother. How I loved and love amir. (I wonder if you can hear me, Amir? It seems appropriate in this electronic purgatory. Perhaps you visit as a ghost in the machine?). Below is what I was able to say at his shloshim. 30 days (THIRTY DAYS!) after we buried amir.

When I die
I don’t care what happens to my body
throw ashes in the air, scatter ’em in East River
bury an urn in Elizabeth New Jersey, B’nai Israel Cemetery
But l want a big funeral…
………[forgive me for the large amounts exerpted here. It was too long to include. The poem continues…]
Then Journalists, editors’s secretaries, agents, portraitists & photo-
graphy aficionados, rock critics, cultured laborors, cultural
historians come to witness the historic funeral
Super-fans, poetasters, aging Beatnicks & Deadheads, autograph-
hunters, distinguished paparazzi, intelligent gawkers
Everyone knew they were part of ‘History” except the deceased
who never knew exactly what was happening even when I was alive

From Allan Ginsberg’s “Death and Fame.” You may not know that Amir received a book of Ginsburg’s poetry from Ramaz for being such a damn good poet himself.

Thank you, all, for coming to the siyum mishnayot in honor of my brother and his shloshim. I hope you understand that it is still difficult for me to say now what I could not say at his levayah, (the things I wanted to say at his wedding…) so I will say other things.

For those of you who are wondering why it still hurts? It hurts in direct proportion to love. The more a part of your life amir was, the more his absence is felt, the deeper and more raw the wound. How long will it hurt? It will hurt as long, as deep, and as wide as the thread that was Amir has been bound into our lives

CS Lewis, the theologian and children’s author noted in his “A grief observed”

“Why do I make room in my mind for such filth and nonsense? Do I hope that if feeling disguises itself as thought I shall feel less? Aren’t all these notes the senseless writhings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it? Who still thinks there is some device (if only he could find it) which will make pain not to be pain. It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”

“Why do I make room?” The only answer I can give is that the act of questioning, for me, helps. It provides a framework within which I can set the wheels in my mind, else they keep churning in the air. This gives me some dirt to grip. I don’t yet know which way I am going, but at least this way I am moving.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of the irrepressible traits referenced over and over and over again by many of my brothers friends and colleagues, (and my own observations will second this,) was his questioning.

He also loved to ask questions, some more appropriate, some less, but always AMIR questions.

Since my brother died right before Pesach, I had some obvious fodder for new questions when the sedarim came: Thinking about Pesach, the four questions, and the four sons.
This was to have been our first pesach without my father, and was our first without my brother as well.

We had expected my brother to read the four questions, which, with his own languorous style, he could always be counted on to do every year.
This year they were read by a friend, (which was very sweet, but not the same).

I was hoping to share with you what has been brewing in my head in one permutation or another ever since we read about the four sons…

First, it is important to note that the Seder itself revolves around questions, not answers. It is structured in a way to generate them, and has them as its central themes. Why?
The amazing thing about questions is that the act of questioning CREATES engagement with the material at hand. Answers are dismissals. They allow the material to be put away. Tucked under a rug. Conveniently ignored. That is why questions are so much more uncomfortable, and so much more wonderful. They force you to grapple. With a person. With an idea.

And, perhaps this is why my brother touched so many people, so deeply. I am still happily amazed by the numbers of people… He asked them questions. All the time.

Granted, there are different ways to ask questions.

I am not sure if the brothers in the haggadah of Pesach are 4 different types of people reflected in questions. I wonder if they are—rather—four different types of questions reflected in people…

How so?
There are wise questions:
What does the wise son say? “What are the testimonials, statutes and laws Hashem our G-d commanded you?” You should tell him about the laws of Pesach, that one may eat no dessert after eating the Pesach offering.

To put it in terms I am comfortable with, he asks: What is the data. My brother was very good at asking these questions. “What do you believe? Why do you believe/do/think as you do.” He focused on the substance of beliefs. He was happy to challenge the establishment, but was usually respectful of it. He asked questions of the material.

Who is wise? He who learns from every person… and if asking questions of every person was a way of learning, he qualifies.

This stands in contrast to the Rasha, the wicked son, the wicked questions:
What does the wicked son say? “What does this work mean to you?” To you and not to him

These questions are not directed at the “chomer,” the substance, but rather at the people carrying out the actions. They attempt to undermine by targeting the most vulnerable links in the chain, the people comprising it. They are not about interest in the facts, nor the data, but rather strive to create emotional preturbrances. My brother, to his credit did not do this. You did not feel like he was attacking you. Just engaging your thoughts. This is musar for the rest of us to think about: What are we questioning, the message or the messengers.
What does the simple son say? “What’s this?” You should say to him “With a strong hand Hashem took me out of Egypt, from the house of servitude.”
The simple questions. If I may be so bold, I will give my brother the credit for these also, as he always had this quality. Even when he was asking you very difficult questions… he himself, usually, had no guile in his questioning. He asked questions simply. Note, please, that nowhere does it say that simple questions are synonymous with easy ones.
And the one who does not know how to ask
And then there are the questions that we do not know how to ask…
And the one who does not know how to ask, you start for him,
And this is something many of you have tried to do… to start for us, to provide us with reasons, with answers, with new ways to ask the questions…
You have good company. In parshat Shmini, when Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu bring a korban to hashem and they are killed, moshe does an interesting thing….
[“Now Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan and placed in it fire, and placed on it incense, and brought it before the Lord; a strange fire which he had not commanded them. And a fire went out from before the Lord and consumed them and they died before God]
(nb. Nowhere does it actually say they did something wrong….)
And Moshe said to Aharon: this is what God said ‘with those close to me I will be sanctified, and before the entire nation I will be honored’, “Vayidom Aharon”and Aharon was silent.”
We see here one of the few times in the Chumash that Moshe states: “God said” without seeing god having said something first. Moshe says in god’s name: “By those close to tme I will be made kodesh…”

Interesting that Moshe felt the need to speak…. But Aharon, Aharon was silent (Vayidom Aharon).
We. My Family. Some of you. Understand.
Vayidom mishpachat Lopatin. And the snowflakes of memory cover Amir…

Thoughts on Shiva

The best things about the shiva were my brother’s friends. For this, and for many things, I thank you all. You celebrated his life. This is what shiva should be. You helped us see amir through your eyes. Helped us make his life more… alive. Helped make us *more* proud. We talked about him with love and joy and hope and promise…. It was what shiva should be. I think that is when healing starts. I could see the path my brother had been walking a little more clearly, and the path stood there more clearly for his having walked it.

A helpful bucket

this was sent to me by a friend. I thought of this when people were struggling for what to say….
The best way I know to picture how we receive help from others in grief, is to imagine you are holding a bucket. The size and color doesn’t matter. The bucket represents the feelings bottled up inside of you when you are in pain. If you have suffered a loss, hold the bucket and think through how you feel right now. If you are reading this to learn more about helping others, then imagine what would be in your bucket if a loved one had died very recently. What is in your bucket?

Fear. Will I survive? What will happen to me now? Who will care for me? Who will be with me when I need someone near? Most likely your bucket is almost full just from the fear. But there is also:

Pain. It is amazing how much physical pain there is in grief. Your chest hurts, and you can’t breathe. Sometimes the pain is so intense your body refuses to even move. There is enough pain to fill the bucket all by itself.

Sorrow. There is devastating sadness; overwhelming sorrow. A gaping hole has been bitten out of your heart and it bleeds inside your very soul. You cry buckets of tears and then cry some more.

Loneliness. There is no lonely like that felt when you are in a room full of people and totally alone at the same time. Loneliness alone can fill any bucket ever made.

I could go on, but that’s enough to get the idea across, and hopefully get you started thinking through your own list. What is in your bucket?

Now picture someone like me approaching you and your bucket. I also have a bucket. My bucket is full of explanations. I am armed and ready to explain why your loved one had to die, how they are now better off and how you should feel.

I am also well equipped with new ways to look at your loss. In politics they call that “spin doctoring,” but most human beings seem to know this skill by instinct.

I have almost a bucketful of comforting words and encouraging sayings. I can also quote vast amounts of scriptures. I seem to favor the ones that tell you not to grieve.

So we face each other armed with full buckets. The problem is, I don’t want to get into your bucket. Yours is scary. If I get in there, you might start crying and I may not be able to make you stop. You might ask me something I could not answer. There is too much intimacy in your bucket. I want to stand at a safe distance and pour what is in my bucket into yours. I want the things in my bucket to wash over your pain like some magic salve to take away your pain and dry your tears. I have this vision of my words being like cool water to a dry tongue. Soothing and curing as it flows.

But your bucket is full. There is no room for anything that is in my bucket. Your needs are calling so loudly there is no way you could hear anything I say. Your pain is far too intense to be cooled by any verbal salve, no matter how profound.

The only way I can help you is to get into your bucket, to try to feel your pain, to accept your feelings as they are and make every effort to understand. I cannot really know how you feel. I cannot actually understand your pain or how your mind is working under the stress, but I can stand with you through the journey. I can allow you to feel what you feel and learn to be comfortable doing so. That is called, “Getting into your bucket.”I was speaking on guilt and anger in grief to a conference of grieving parents. I asked the group what they felt guilty about. I will never forget one mother who said, “All the way to the hospital, my son begged me to turn back. He did not want the transplant. He was afraid. I would not turn back, and he died.”I asked her how many times someone had told her that her son would have died anyway. She said, “Hundreds.” When I asked her if that had helped her in any way she said, “No.”I asked her how many times she had been told that she was acting out of love and doing the right thing, she gave the same two responses. Many times and, no, it did not help.”I asked her how many times she had been told that God had taken her son for some reason, and she gave the same responses- “many” and “no help.”I asked how many times someone had told her that it had been four years since her son’s death and that it was time to “Put that behind you and get on with your life.”
This time she responded with great anger that she had heard that from many wellmeaning people, including family members, and that it not only did not help, it added to her pain and made her angry.

What I was really asking her is, “How many people have tried to pour their buckets into yours?
“I then said, “Would it help if I hugged you and said `that must really hurt’?”

She said, “That would help a great deal. That would really help.” Why would that help? Because I was offering to get into her bucket with her and to be in her pain, instead of trying salve over her pain with words and explanations.

If you are in pain, find someone who will get into your bucket. Most of the time these folks are found in grief groups or among friends who have been there. It is not normal procedure. It is hard to swallow our fears and climb into your bucket.

If you are reading this to find ways to help others in grief, then lay aside your explanations and your words of comfort. Forget all of the instructions and directions you think will help and learn to say, “That must really hurt.” I think that is the most healing combination of words in the English language. They really mean, “May I feel along with you as you walk through your pain?” “May I get into your bucket?”Healing happens in their buckets.

By Doug Manning
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

A brother’s thoughts

Some of you I knew, and some I regretfully never had the privilege of meeting. But my family is honored and awed by the work and love that so many of you have put into this labor of love. We thank you all.