How can I paint for you a picture of our beautiful J.J., there are not enough colors in this world to do him justice. He was so handsome--tall, and lean, with the most beautiful soulful grey green eyes, and the sweetest smile. And yet, with all this handsomeness, his greatest beauty came from within, from his beautiful neshama.
He was so sweet, kind and gentle, and so so sensitive. He truly loved life, and loved his life, because he lived it the way he wanted to. As Jonathan said, " J.J. was the coolest frumm guy, and the frummest cool guy he ever met." J.J. was adventurous, and funny, and at times even a little zany, with his quirky fads--like wearing 10 t-shirts at once, and fuzzy socks; and sock watches, and Sach watches; the phone-less cord, and more recently his name tag; and of course, his famous sweatband, which he never took off for a record 27 years.
And he was smart, with an insatiable quest for knowledge. He read books voraciously, and the New York times everyday, cover to cover. He would clip the stories and mail them to us with a little note saying "in case you missed this one...
He loved music, with a CD collection in the thousands. And he could name every TOP 10 music list from the 1950's to today. And he had a special place for Elvis, the King. Whom he faithfully dressed up as every year on Purim, or wore to visit and cheer up a sick friend.
J.J. loved to travel, he wanted to see the world, and experience different cultures. And he loved to visit Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he went for rejuvenation and fun- which to J.J. were often synonymous.
He went to museums, and concerts, and Broadway shows. And if he liked a show he'd buy tickets for others to see it.
J.J. was generous to a fault. He gave more of his money to TZEDAKAH than he used for himself. But his greatest gifts were the ones where he gave of himself to you. He was always ready with a helping hand, and he never waited to be asked. He was always a step ahead of you--knowing what you would need 10 minutes before you even realized yourself. Last year, on 9/11 when the twin towers fell, people were seen running away from ground zero. But as soon as J.J. heard, he ran downtown to the chaos, to help the emergency workers and victims in any way that he could. That was the day he put on the name tag for the first time. He thought it would help people, to approach him, to see his name, and ask for help. After that week, he decided he'd keep on wearing it, because he saw how people opened up to him, and J.J. was always looking for ways to eliminate barriers between people. J.J. was always trying to protect the world. Whether it was by recycling, or turning off unnecessary lights. Or trying not to use excess paper goods, and reusing his paper napkin twice before it became a cleaning cloth. He always checked the paper plates being used at our tables to make sure there were no doubles stuck together. He was intent on preserving this world one paper plate at a time. He never left the water running when he brushed his teeth, which he did quite often, or when he washed the dishes. The one indulgence he allowed himself was his long luxurious shower.
J.J. always had his priorities straight in life. He was so comfortable in his own skin. He didn't care what other people said or did, he always did what he thought was right. He never thought ill of people, and he tried never to speak Lashon Hara. He had an unwavering sense of justice, and would not tolerate injustice, even something as simple as someone cheating in a game of Monopoly.
But his greatest priority in his life was his family.
He was the most wonderful grandson to Safta Sylvia, shuttling her around in his mustang convertible to visit her great grandchildren, or to a movie, or a show. And he called her all the time. He was her 'BUD'.
He was the most wonderful and adoring son. J.J. took such great pride in working with Abba. He was always protecting him, making sure he didn't work too hard or over-extend himself more than Abba already had. And always defending him--his ideas and actions, against any who might speak against them. He lived by the values that Abba had always taught us--of being METAKEN OLAM, and to always see the uniqueness, and the TZELEM ELOKIM in every person. To Ema, he was her "darling J.J." So much of his kindness and gentleness with people grew out of their special relationship. And Ema's laid-back disposition, and her constant example, that things did not matter-- only people did, were at the core of J.J.'s personality.
J.J. was the most wonderful, most incredible brother. Always looking out for all of us, giving us advice on our relationships, or protecting us that no one should take advantage. He encouraged our talents, which he recognized in us- when we often didn't see it ourselves. But he was far better at giving praise than at accepting it. He was so modest, and I often thought that he didn't appreciate all the great, truly amazing talents he possessed--especially his talent with people. And J.J. was so much fun, always with a smile, and a good laugh. He came to all our weddings, and to those of friends, with all his wild shtick, from Hula skirts to Batman and Elvis costumes. His roller blades and his amazing back flips. Standing on trays, or balancing them on his head (with a little help from scotch tape), and the juggling and the unicycles. All to show the great joy he felt for you on your day. And we were looking forward to the day when we could give him the biggest, wildest, happiest wedding of all, to show him our great joy in return. It was this quality of J.J., his youthful fun-loving spirit, that endeared him to everyone. But most of all to his nieces and nephews who bestowed upon him "most favorite uncle" status. J.J. adored his nieces and nephews. They were and will always be his children ( the ones that he did not have physically, but inherited by love); and he shaped so much of what and who they are, that he will always live on in them. He was a surrogate father to each one: Sacha, Keren, Itai, Erani, Joe, Netanelli, Yaeli, Elli Belli, Eitani, Emi and Jakey, Arielli, Sarah Rose. They got so much pleasure and joy from J.J., but they gave him so much more. When they were all babies, he always knew just the right way to hold them, to keep them from crying. And when they would become teenagers, he knew exactly how to engage them, and council them. J.J. was constantly taking pictures and video taping the kids, and would fly back and forth from New York, to Brussels and Israel with footage of all the cousins to keep everyone close and connected. He never missed a birthday, a Brit Milah, a siddur play, or a graduation--no matter how busy he was. He always walked into our homes with his hands stretched out, and the first child he would see would get that great greeting ("KER"). And sometimes, if they were all engrossed in the computer or T.V., and would not even look his way, he would just stand there and say over and over again, with outstretched arms, each name with the same excitement until it would finally register on one set of small ears, and that child would turn and jump into his arms, and yell back "J.J.!", and then all the kids would see him and jump on him with hugs and kisses. Even little Sarah Rose who, at the tender age of one and a half, already has a special relationship with J.J, and lights up when he enters the room. J.J. was so thrilled when Sarah Rose was born,--not just because he was going to have a new baby to love, but because she lived so close by, and he could visit all the time. But proximity never deterred J.J. In spite of distance and work, J.J. managed to build the most beautiful, loving and unique relationships with his nieces and nephews in Israel. He planned most his vacations around trips to Israel to be with them, as he had done this very trip. And he called them all the time when he wasn't there visiting. When Sacha, his first niece was born, J.J., in his inimitable way, set out to make something that would express his constant joy. So he created the "Sach Watch". There were no hands or numbers, just a cute picture of baby Sacha affixed to the face of the watch. And when anyone would ask him what time it was, he would look at his watch and say, "its Sacha Time!" And, I now suspect that this is how J.J.'s real watch ended up clipped to his sock, because when he was with his nieces and nephews, time just stopped. J.J. was so full of life, and he breathed more life into everyone and everything he touched. And as much as we all appreciated him, and we did - we loved him so dearly- I don't think we appreciated him as much as we should have. Not because it wasn't obvious, but because in life we sometimes take for granted the things that we know are a constant, and I think that J.J.'s true greatness was constant and was beyond our scope. And now, we must appreciate him the way he should have been appreciated in his life, by taking all his goodness, and trying to incorporate it into all of our lives. Even as our lives have been altered forever and will never be the same.
I thought so much about what I could say about J.J. as Jew, with the Yamim Noraim just passed, but we are a family in crisis, spiritually and emotionally, and we cannot find answers for this terrible tragedy. But even in his death, J.J. has given us something to hold onto-that he was so proud to be a Jew. No matter where he was or what he was doing, it was there with him. With his TzitTzit hanging over his shirts at the beach, or flying about when rollerblading in the park. And while J.J. was a man about the world, he was never hesitant or afraid to keep the traditions in places where it might be strange to onlookers--like in downtown Gloucester, or Strasbourg or Spain. He lived by the laws of the Torah, and it shaped everything he said and did. And so even though today are hearts are breaking, and our pain unimaginable, we will take from this- J.J.'s conviction, and try to live our lives a little more like he did. With a little more adventure, a little more kindness, a little more sacrifice, a little more Jewish pride, and most of all, with the deepest love which he gave us. Because as many of you know, J.J., even in his death, gave life, by donating several of his organs, except for one that was damaged, his heart, because, maybe, it was too big to fit in anyone else.
We love you J.J.. You will always be in our hearts and our minds, and we will never let your spirit and your soul leave this earth--which you were always busy perfecting. And we wait for the day, BIMHERAH BEYAMENU, when we will be together again, and meet you at the gates of Olam Habbah, where we know you are already waiting for us.
Eulogy of JJ Greenberg by his brother, David Greenberg
“אמר אלי אל תעלני בחצי ימי, בדור דורים שנותיך“
(תהילים ק”ב פםוק כ”ה)
JJ, as I stood over you this morning, reading these words from Tehillim, in your shmirah, I thought of your soul wrestling with the angel who had come to take you back to Hashem. Your work here was not done. JJ, you will always be my goofy kid brother, the one who I loved, who I watched grow up, and who grew in my eyes from a funny kid to someone whose values and whose principles expressed everything that I believed to be important in life-- everything that we learned from our parents, from our teachers, from our communities. Deborah spoke so beautifully about all your wonderful qualities, and I think that it's either spend a year here or a lifetime here describing them or cut myself short and just relate one or two more that perhaps were not clear enough from Deborah's words.
Specifically, your incredible work in kiruv levavot. This expressed itself all through your life basically, but particularly as you grew older through Shlock Rock, NCSY, JPSY, Seminars, and, of course, in your work today, the Jewish Life Network. I think that the success of your work is obvious just from the incredible circle of friends and students you've built around you-people who called us over the course of the last days just to somehow touch us and to say that you were that part of their life or were so special to them. And it's obvious that that was so much a part of your being and that that's why you were so successful at it. I think that what stood behind that incredible success was a character trait of yours which is truly unique and truly special in these cynical days. And that was your belief, your belief that redemption was possible; that our job in this world, of tikun olam, was something which could be accomplished despite how difficult and daunting a task that might have seemed. Something which I think certainly I and almost everybody I know and all the people around you have something incredibly special to take from. That redemption can come through kiruv levavot and it can come through taking care of the world and through your concern for ecology and in fact through your concern for every single member of the world who you touched, from the people who you just met, your friends, and us most of all, your family and those who loved you.
I also think that there was something of that same philosophy behind your love for eretz Yisrael. Now, in Yamim Hanoraim, I think of Rav Kook's theory of teshuvah and how teshuvah leretz Yisrael was so much a part of that. Your love for eretz Yisrael, standing here today, it's just, it's all a part of that. And we know how much you loved Israel and how insistent you were on being here every occasion you could. In fact, as tragic as it is, in fact, this is where you need to be right now.
I don't want to go on and talk about you too much. I know that you were too modest to ever want anybody to speak at great length about your wonderful qualities. I just need to say one more thing to you, JJ. I never understood the concept of olam haba. The idea of a soul living on everlastling was too much for my brain, my mortal understanding, to comprehend. I understood that it was "nistar" [hidden], something which I perhaps would never understand. The one thing which made sense to me about the idea of olam haba was that olam haba was one's posterity-the things that you did in this world would live on for ever and ever. JJ, I said in the beginning that you probably struggled, that you didn't want to go, weren't ready to go. But I know that the place that you have gone to, because of the things that you did in this world is certainly and most definitely a "Gan Eden"--a place of love and respect and all of the good things from this world.
You have pegged the bar for us extremely high, and we will struggle for the rest of our time here to match and to reach that bar. We ask for your forgiveness, and we thank you for everything that you have given us. I want to just say one more time,
'ה אשי ,ךנחיו ךילא וינפ 'ה ראי ,ךרמשיו 'ה ךרבי
םולש ךל םשיו ךילא וינפ
I love you, JJ.
Eulogy of JJ Greenberg by his father, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg
I want to begin with an apology. You came here to do a chesed shel emet, an act of pure loving kindness, and we kept you standing and waiting on this hot day. Please understand: We are a devastated family: dragging our feet, struggling with the inescapable, bitter truth that once we begin, the words will run out, and he will be taken away from us forever.
J.J. Greenberg, Natan Yosef HaKohen Ben Harav Yitzchak HaKohen u'Bluma Haleviah, fulfilled many verses of the Torah. But in particular, he lived out a classic passage from Tehillim, which begins with the phrase MI HA-ISH HA-CHOFETZ CHAYIM (Psalms 34, 13). WHO IS A MAN WHO LOVES LIFE?
J.J. was a man who loved life. He showed constant reverence for life. He was a vegetarian, at his own initiative, since the age of 14. He was a Machmir (very strict observer) of the command bal tashchit - "not to waste." He was a friendly but relentless recycler. Under his watchful eye at Jewish Life Network, not a single piece of paper went into a wastebin without being used on both sides.
J.J. loved God's creation. He loved sunsets and oceans. He loved Gloucester, Massachusetts, on the water. He loved Israel and especially Jerusalem with the hills that surround it. And that is why we understood that we must bury him here, overlooking the Judean hills that he loved.
Most of all, he loved the highest form of life: the human being, b'tselem Elokim. At NCSY and JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth) kiruv seminars, every participant had J.J.'s warm and personal attention. One participant told us this past week, "It may have been just a five-minute conversation, but for those minutes, you felt that you were the center of his universe."
J.J. was the uncle of 14 nephews and nieces, each and every one of whom had a special and different relationship with him, and he spent days and nights making the connection strong. As a son and grandson, he showed unstinting loving daily concern. As a professional executive, he talked and he listened endlessly to colleagues and staff. Many nights he stayed late until 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 to do planning and paperwork, because as long as there was someone in the office, he would just talk and listen, and would never cut a person off. He was interested in everyone, great and small. The maintenance men and a waiter at Makor (our outreach cafe) were heartbroken to hear the sad news because J.J had established a relationship with them, and with the staff of each department, and not just with the highest executive echelon.
Most amazing of all, J.J. had this inexhaustible gift of developing friendship. We ourselves did not realize how great was the number and scope of the people he befriended in an ongoing way until, after the fact, we discovered the legion of those he related to and helped. As for his own friends, he would do anything for them. One friend told us just this week that he went through a very difficult breakup of a marriage and a divorce. J.J. took him into his apartment for nine months. Out of discretion, and out of modesty, J.J. never spoke of this to anyone. Of course, he was not just good to his own friends. He became friend with our friends, at CLAL, at the Riverdale Jewish Center synagogue; neither age gaps nor variety of backgrounds mattered to him. He became the friend of his siblings' friends. One such friend told us this story this week. She developed breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy. Without saying a word to anyone, he called her every single day; then too he would visit her regularly. On some of those visits he came to clown, sometimes wearing the Elvis costume that he made his signature attire in Shlock Rock. She said to us, "You know, many people came lovingly for bikur holim, but in the end it was like they were experiencing my shiva with me. I loved his visits because he made me laugh. It was like a celebration of my life." That was J.J.
He had a great sense of humor, and a vast, unique repertoire of shtick. He loved to make people happy, to cheer them up and give them hope. He was a master of being mesameach [give joy to bride and groom] at weddings. Blu used to say that by the time he got married, we would have to rent Madison Square Garden or Central Park to make room for all the friends who promised they would reciprocate by being mesameach at his wedding.
He loved the Creator, the Ground of Life, Hashem. He would never pass a mezuzah without kissing it, and not ostentatiously. He would never eat a piece of food without making a bracha (blessing). He never passed an image of God without bathing that person in his warmth. In this same spirit, he was a big Baal Tzedaka. His accountant told us this week that he gave most generously, and to many charitable organizations.
OHAYV YAMIM LIR'OT TOV (Psalms 34, 13). WHO LOVES DAYS TO SEE GOOD IN THEM.\
He loved every day because he had a zest for life in all its aspects and pleasures. You could see it in that smile; that fun-filled, gentle smile that lit up a room when he walked in. You sensed it in those zany, even weird shtick which he expressed throughout his life. He was an athlete. He exercised, bike rode, roller-skated. He ate healthily. Yet he loved many kinds of food, and particularly when the food was prepared especially for him, there was an extra element of gratitude in his appreciation. J.J. loved music. With his encyclopedic knowledge of modern, popular music, indeed of contemporary popular culture, he played a tremendous role in Makor. Jewish Life Network created Makor, as a cafe, a performance space to reach out to unaffiliated Jews through cutting-edge music and art and drama. As supervisor on behalf of Jewish Life Network, J.J. worked with Makor's creative director, Rabbi David Gedzelman, to decide which programs really could be cool enough and cutting-edge enough to attract our crowd. Now, Makor attracts 2,000 people every week. As it grew, J.J. would go to Makor 2,3,4 times a week to look and check out the space, the food and the program to make sure there was quality control and to interact with the people. The theory of Makor was that once you get people in the door through pop culture, then you would bring them back for Jewish studies and Hebrew language courses. So he volunteered to be the Hebrew crash course language teacher because being a volunteer Hebrew teacher was important, and not beneath the dignity of the executive director of the parent foundation. He came to Israel early (before Yom Kippur) so he could go back before the end of Succot and not have to cancel a Hebrew course session - because he so loved teaching the course. J.J. always saw the good in people. He had patience. He waited for them; he helped them mature; he gave them a second chance; and he brought out the best in them.
NETZOR LESHONCHA MAY-RA (34, 14). GUARD YOUR TONGUE FROM SPEAKING EVIL.
J.J. had this amazing and subtle way of avoiding lashon hara. He somehow managed to guide the conversation. He somehow managed to glide around the point of temptation, so that you did not notice. He sized up the bad people, the untrustworthy; he was not fooled by shvitzers - but you could never get him to talk down about people.
USFATECHA MEDABAIR MIRMAH. AND YOUR LIPS FROM TELLING FALSEHOODS.
J.J. was a person of absolute integrity. He would not lie or mislead even if it would cost him, and sometimes it did. The fact that he was a proud Jew, that he unself-consciously wore a kippah everywhere, that he wore his tzitzit out over his t-shirts in recreational and leisure time activities in many public non-Jewish places, very frequently turned his quiet integrity into a kiddush Hashem (a sanctification of God's name and religion).
SOOR MAYRA V'ASEH TOV (34, 15). TURN FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD.
J.J. had an intense sense of justice and reaction to injustice, and he would take on powerful and important people if he felt they were acting wrongly. Instinctively, he looked for every chance he could get to do good and to help people. He conceived of Spark, a program that Jewish Life Network developed to make personal service a central value in Yiddishkeit and in the community. He increased JLN's investment in Hillel's Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps. He felt that since JCSC fellows took a whole year at a minimum salary to devote themselves to reaching out to their fellow students, this was a program to be prized and nurtured.
J.J. practiced what he preached. He started by being a volunteer for six months for Y.U.S.S.R in Talinn, Estonia. He went there to reach out to Jews who were rediscovering their Jewishness and building a Jewish community. And he learned Russian in order to do that. Then he went on to work at Beit Ezra, a home for developmentally disabled adults. He was one of those rare people who had enough interest, enough patience and enough love to evoke a real response in them. I could go on and on in this vein and still not do justice to him.
BAKESH SHALOM VERADFAYHU (34, 25). SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.
J.J. had strong opinions and principles, but he would subordinate his own drives to find a common ground for everyone to work together. In particular, with our partnerships and in the early days of Jewish Life Network, there were clashes over policy and tactics, and strong disagreements. He guided me when to draw a line in the sand and insist that this must be, when a different tack would circumvent the problem, and when to yield the point. He also had the vision and the persistence to come back again and again until the right point was reached. When we first articulated the birthright israel program, he worked before the program actually started to think the idea through. Almost everyone told us that the government would never be involved as a partner because it had never invested in this way with any diaspora program in the past. But he was insistent that without the government's participation, we would never put together the needed funding, and that this sharing of cost was morally right and a wise investment for Israel. He persisted. We went together from official to official, finding the first handful that would support the new approach. Without the force of Steinhardt's vision, without the backing and the connections of Bronfman, birthright israel never would have happened. But J.J. made his contribution in his dogged pursuit of the goal and strong counsel to think fresh, and to make sure that it was done right. Thus, he helped achieve the right outcome - a true partnership between Israel and world Jewry.
What more can I say with these inadequate words about a son who was an ohev Hashem (lover of God), ohev Israel (lover of the people of Israel), ohev chaim (lover of life). We worked together for seven years on a daily basis. We had our ups and downs, bad days and good, but there was not one single day when he did not look out for me, to help and support me, to defend me, to preserve my health, to lighten my burden. He always made himself the enabler. As he did in every context, he insisted that Michael Steinhardt or I should be up front. And Blu will testify that not a single day passed without speaking to him, seeking his advice, getting his editing skills when she wrote, getting his guidance daily from purchasing a computer to recruiting a funder. He fulfilled the mitzvah of kibud av ve'em (honor your father and mother) with love, with gentleness, and with a smile. Never mind that he did not take our advice many times, and never mind that he was sensitive, and at times stung by our occasional criticism. The truth is that he was an individual. He was never a pushover or a clinging vine. The fun, the goodness, the strength was a daily gift to us and to hundreds of other people.
In accordance with J.J.'s expressed values, when his neshama separated from his body, he gave his final gifts of love. He donated six vital organs and more to give life and enrich the life of other people. That is a perfect summation of J.J.'s life. All his life, he gave of his life to give other people life and to enrich their lives.
We understood the risk of having children. So there is just one more comment to make. We are a family of Kohanim. J.J. loved to duchen (go up and bless the congregation), especially because the key to the priestly blessing is the requirement that it be done in a spirit of love; that act made him joyful and excited. Most of all, he loved to duchen when we went up together to bless as a family, and he stood with his two older brothers whom he loved and strove to live up to. So, in J.J.'s memory, I would like to offer the blessing of a Kohen to everyone. May God bless you with a child so loving, so kind, so good, so continuously supportive and protective, so wise, so Jewish, so devoted to clal yisrael, so modest, so funny, so gentle, so zany, so weird, so individual, so free of spirit, so religious, so cool, so honest that even if you knew, as we now know, that at the end of thirty-six years, the life together would conclude with this unspeakable heartbreak, with this inexplicable tragedy, with this endless pain, you would still say, "Give me this child." Every day of our life with J.J. was a permanent blessing.
Hashem natan v'hashem lakach. Yehi shem hashem mevorach may'ata v'ad olam.
Eulogy of JJ Greenberg by his sister, Goody Weil
J.J. had a special relationship with all of his nieces and nephews: Moshe and Abbie's daughter: Sarah Rose; and David and Mindy's children: Sacha, Keren, Itai, Yael and Noam; Deborah and Jonathan's children: Joseph, Elliot, Jacob and Emily; and mine and Eric's children: Eran, Nathaniel, Eitan and Ariel.
The letter that I am about to read contains the words of one of J.J.'s nephews, but expresses the sentiments of all of his nieces and nephews.
I've never felt this bad in my life. Usually I don't see you for months and I live on, but this time it's only been 4 days and I'm already crying because this time it's forever. I'll never forget you and the truth is, who would? I cannot remember you not smiling; you were always smiling that one-and-only smile. I'll miss you and never forget you.
Your nephew Eran