This "memories" page is a compilation of varied recollections about J.J. as contributed by J.J.'s family and friends... from "the diary that we all carry around with us" [Oscar Wilde].
As you email in your "J.J. stories", poems, songs, photos and links, we will post them on the website. It is our hope that, with time, this page will continuously evolve.
We appreciate your input and encourage you to send us your stories so that you can contribute to the collective memory of our J.J.
Please note: only send in material that you want posted on this page. Any personal notes intended for the Greenberg family should be sent directly to them. Press here to go to the contact us page.
We thank those of you who have taken the time to send in postings.
he always came back to gloucester.
to all the good friends and relatives of jj I send you greetings and
condolences from gloucester, massachusetts.
gloucester, stalwart and serene blessed with beauty but tinged with despair having sent 10,000 sons to the great salt sea, and their fates. we know sadness here, it's etched a smooth deep groove in the harbor's granite arms and now again between the vast ocean and overburdened sky - tears fall. one drop of sea water is the whole of it, the whole of it one drop.
I never saw jj outside of gloucester. never knew his dealings in the wider world never saw him with a tie or in a formal setting. what i know of him are hot summer days and cool summer evenings. me back from a fishing trip of many days him in a crisp white shirt on a friday evening.
If the world were populated by people like our friend what possibilities it would hold. folks would take the time to get to know you, people would hold to their strong beliefs yet never press them on you, friends would love your children as they loved their own and respect would rule all of the days we are heir to.
the Greenbergs have walked with giants and are themselves of such mettle but here where the land stops and the water rises up - you must understand, they were simply the people down the street. in the 70's as i'm remembering him now jj was friendly, a nod, a wave, a smile, a few kind words. but as years passed the words grew longer, the nods more knowing, the smile broader, and a funny thing happened we became friends. not buddies, not pals but simply people who looked forward to seeing one another for a few short weeks when the earth returned to a former position around the good sun.
no there's not enough jewish fishermen in gloucester to make a minion but that's okay because on friday nights the Greenbergs would take in reluctants and backsliders to join in welcoming saturday. there jj would be bathed in the fading summer light and in his family's love. each child got a kiss and a whisper. we learned many things that were never taught only shown. how remarkable - saturday liberating? the Greenbergs made it so. but jj - jj knew where all the lines were the ones that marked the boundaries of faith and observance and he could rollerblade to the very edge stop on dime and make you smile as he came to rest well within the letter and the spirit.
jj was a hugger, i am not, but with jj you hugged. jj was a devout person i am not but with jj you felt cleansed of spirit, jj was genuine and without pretense, with jj you aspired. they say that children make you better than you really are, that is, they bring out the better nature of you and jj had that ability, that quality, to bring out people's better nature. he was the master of the human touch and how many he did touch even with his final breaths we will never know.
we told our 5 year old about him the other day. we were trying to protect our boy. let him be a kid a little longer. he loved jj big time and now he knows the rest as well. and so we brought him to a small gathering in gloucester down where the tide rises up to a granite bluff. it was a sunny windy day an open reach to the north and Maine beyond with the surf fetching up nearby. we stood and talked about our friend planted a weeping cherry tree in a neighbor's yard ate some food and went home. still he remains foremost in our daily thoughts.
the last time i saw him he gave me and my boy a lift back home - we'd come by bus to visit with him. he beeped the horn as we passed the little hospital where his brother was born. he was like that.
i gave him a book which he returned by mail before going overseas. he said he looked forward to seeing us soon.
he always came back to gloucester.
When I wrote the first piece of memory of JJ in 2002, I was an outsider to Judaism; I wasn't even close to understand what it meant that JJ lived Judaism. What I captured then were his kindness, compassion, strength, and his fun for life. I admired the balance in him and was amazed by the warmth in his entire being.
October 17, 2001, I met JJ as a student of his Hebrew alphabet class at Makor. I was having difficulties of accepting general and broad criticism upon the Jewish People and I wanted to learn the truth about them in order to become a bridge between the Jews and the world for better mutual understanding. Meanwhile, I struggled to find a better way of life for myself.
JJ looked so religious to me that I ran after him to "talk to me." At first, he said, "I don't know when I will have the time," (not a good excuse: all New Yorkers say they are busy) he continued, "I need to work, and to find time for my family and friends." (for friends? I decided then he was telling the truth) I told him, "I will wait until you have time." I did wait and JJ did find time for me. He said with a smile, "I'm ready. I'm always ready." Bur for some reason, the only time we actually sat down together was JJ helping me to read Hebrew phrases syllable by syllable - I wasn't able to put them together.
But we did talk. In the next 11 months, we e-mailed. During that period of time, I thought out loud all the time in my e-mails, about the world, people, and religions. He always responded with brief yet unpredictable comments making me think deeper and broader; but he never mentioned Judaism or anything related, until the end of the summer in 2002. Sometimes I was angry or frustrated about things or myself, but JJ was always there calm and gentle. I felt comfortable to tell him anything in my mind and was sure that he wouldn't laugh at me, or failed to notice the importance of the topic for me. I was right.
After he was gone, it was hard to get used to not hearing from him, or being able to write him anymore. But the most precious part lost, was, and even now, is, that JJ had given so much uninterrupted attention to my day dreams and all the talks about them. He listened, and listened. Sometimes he knew me better than I did. Although JJ very seldom talked about himself, he was not mysterious. His principles and value about life were upright and simple. One doesn't feel confused around him; one just wants to be better.
It was not an easy journey to know God. I learned there's a God when I was in Switzerland, and arrived in New York 7 years ago. I told God that I wanted to understand Him correctly in order to serve Him correctly. I asked Him to give me a teacher who can teach me His truth; and a friend who can share my joy of knowing Him. I had not dreamed that this person could be Jewish, just as I had not dreamed to convert to Judaism. But when the Plan was revealed and understood, what I planned or wanted was not important any more.
What JJ had done for me was truly extraordinary; what his Judaism had done for me was beyond imagination. The life of a gentile was changed forever for the better because what she looked and saw in a Jew (JJ). After I became a Jew, I constantly remind myself how a non-Jew or a non-religious Jew would look at me, and what a possible outcome it could be. I dare not to be careless.
When JJ passed away, I thought it was a sign that I should stop everything Jewish in my life because my only Jewish contact was taken away. On the other hand, I was facing another painful decision because deep in my soul I knew that I could never return to the old life style which was filled with confusions but lack of strength; I have seen so much beauty of strength and truth, and so much love in the life of JJ; I would have no life left if I turn away from what I have been revealed.
I in fact had no idea what a family JJ was from, and what good things he had done for his people and communities, until his parents came back from Israel and received visitors in their house. I read and heard many stories from his Jewish world. I stood there, looked at the pictures, said silently and gratefully, "You were exactly the JJ I knew."
When I left his parents' house, the "sign" thing came to me again; this time, no confusion. I suddenly understood that I didn't have to give up what I have known, and it was not a coincidence that I have met JJ. He was a special gift God had given me for my prayer! My heart was filled with awe and sadness, but I also started to see a little light.
I didn't give up the memories of JJ; I didn't return to my old way of life; and JJ continued to live in my life.
When I started learning Judaism, I didn't even know what was "Sanhedrin", "Mincha" or "Rosh Chodesh". But I determined to learn the teaching of Torah and borrow its strength to turn the great characters I discovered in JJ to my own: talk in a sincere and gentle tone with careful word selections; be sensitive instead of be impatient; be a good listener instead of be a good talker; self-control and self-discipline (I'm still learning until this day) It was such a difficult year; all the time I missed JJ and our conversations. On the other hand, the Torah learning and remembering the passion JJ had for his God, had helped to control my pain and fear from the passing of JJ. Hashem has become clearer and closer to me. JJ was absent but was never far away: I see his smile and hear his "excellent!" comment anytime I made progress.
When I first arrived in Jerusalem in 2004, I was so ready to love the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, because I got this "pre-school education" from JJ and the "formal teaching" from my Rabbi: A Jew must love and connect with the Land of Israel and the Jewish People; it comes as a package, not an option. But no one told me that not everyone lives in Israel was Jewish, and no one told me that not every Jew who lives in Israel is "religious"; no one really told me how many divisions within the Jewish religious world, and no one told me that the majority of Israelis might not get used to an Asian Jewish face. I received the strongest "culture-and-beyond shock" in my 10 years of living all around the world.
Even under circumstances as such, I never doubted my decision of becoming a Jew, nor wondered what kind of Jew Hashem wants me to be. The more I am challenged by the world including the Jewish world itself, the more I learn the profound value of Judaism JJ had demonstrated for me, so well prepared and so far in advance!
All these time, I constantly review my journey, my learning, and the foundation for my conversion. I gratefully found no regrets. I know Judaism is not a burden, and I know life is not supposed to be easy. Among many impressions JJ gave me, "having an easy life" was not one of them. To my understanding, he just made the points clear: what one should do when life is not easy, and what one can do to make life better. And I truly believe that all we need to know and to have can be found in true Judaism.
If I decided to love the people in Israel only after they show me JJ-like-warmness instead of curiosity or suspicions, I would never be able to love them. I told myself, "You must love these people no matter they understand or not; and do your best to find good things in each of them by understanding their lives and backgrounds; remembering how JJ respected you as who you were."
The Land and the People are magnificent. I decided to make aliyah. The aliyah process seemed so long and I was very frustrated sometimes. I struggled: networking shouldn't be the only efficient method to defeat bureaucracy; nor should it be at all. In the Jews, there should be a Torah way. How? During that long 6 months of aliyah process, I often wondered what JJ would have said about the situation. I wonder what made him believed that the government would participate in a program such as "Birthright Israel" in the first place years ago. I wonder he might never think it was an option; maybe, he always thought it is our duty to help the Jewish State to grow better and better and to take part in beneficial Jewish affairs My first year in Israel made me understand that an individual Jew is, and will be, constantly challenged by difficult or more difficult circumstances as the Jewish State is. But, we must have hope in Hashem, and never stop striving for better.
I still try to cope with the departure of JJ. I often miss JJ and feel sad, but I also can't pretend to forget his admiration for truth, and for life. After 911, he once comforted me saying, "too much sadness lately. Let's hope happiness will prevail." I remember his faith in Hashem.
I want to fully appreciate what I have been given; I want to remember JJ for the sake of what he believed and lived; I want his spirit to live on, although I am still not as capable and strong as I want to be.
May the spirit of JJ continue to live among us, may the light of Torah shine among us. May Hashem guide all of us and give us strength, for we refuse to let go the truth, the beauty, and all the possibilities for goodness and hope we saw in the life of JJ, in Judaism.
Please allow me to thank with deep gratitude: The Greenberg family, especially Goody and Eric, who have tried so hard to make my life in Israel easier.
To Rabbi Seth Farber and ITIM, for the tireless and determined assistance rendered me for my successful aliyah.
To all who educate me, encourage me, and inspire me on my way to Jerusalem.
And to Hashem, for making me one of His beloved.
Nitza Vicky Wu
The memorial concert last night inspired me to write down my memories of JJ as a colleague-ever professional, but always friendly and caring beyond mere professional-which are as fresh with me today as in the years that I knew him. At the time he was taken from us, it was too painful to write about him, and besides, I thought, there are so many people who knew him much better, who needs to hear from me? I write these recollections now to acknowledge that JJ will continue to be a great source of inspiration to myself and other people who were touched by him, and hopefully our memories will help preserve the powerful light of his life for generations.
My first brush with JJ occurred right before I was offered the job at Makor. I had flown in for an interview with Rabbis Greenberg and Gedzelman, and on a Friday afternoon a few weeks later I received the call I had been waiting for, that they were offering me the position of director of education. Before the offer was formal, however, I would receive a call from someone else first. About a half hour before Shabbat started, JJ called me. I had no idea who he was, only that he shared a last name with Yitz and that he was somehow involved with Makor. He asked me a few questions, whose intent was, I guess, for him just to get a good sense of me and to feel whether I would be an appropriate choice for the job. Although I didn't understand this at the time, this phone call was a part of the deep care that JJ took in all aspects of Makor, his phenomenal attention to details in his quest to reach out to young people.
Once I was on board, I saw JJ largely as a cheerleader here to help support our programs in whatever way he could. He would show up every chance he had, popping in to lectures and other programs to see how they were doing, who was coming to them, enjoying the content and then moving on to another program, or to chat with our patrons. Almost every conversation started out, after a "how are you?", with a "You're doing a great job"-something that we especially needed to hear those first years, when the pressures were the most intense. His ability to cheer people up is legendary, but it may be less well known how far he went to boost the spirits of his colleagues. Just looking around my office now I see many objects that were tokens of JJ's care: a JLN (Jewish Life Network) mug, glass, clock and athletic T-shirt (with 01 on the back-indeed, everyone should feel they are no. 1, in JJ's eyes); a JLN Certificate of Achievement, "For taking Makor's mission to heart," given at a ceremony that reminded me of the end of the "Wizard of Oz"; and two toy motorcycles that I recall he gave to us, for what reason I haven't the foggiest recollection-in all likelihood, just to enjoy them.
I never fully understood his role here, all that he undoubtedly really did to create Makor and make it happen. I still don't-I look forward to reading more about his role in founding Makor. He would never talk about himself. To say that it was it not in his nature to be boastful or to talk about himself is a great understatement. He was willing to try your patience only over important things, when he needed to push you to work harder and better, never to boost himself. One important lesson from JJ's life: the fact that "it was never about him" is why so many people cherish his memory.
I worked with JJ most over the beginning Hebrew classes he taught at Makor. In all my time teaching and administering classes, I have never seen a teacher so dedicated, so much on a sacred mission. Teaching Hebrew was JJ's opportunity to fulfill Makor's function, to share the treasures of Judaism with people who did not have the good fortune to grow up with them, and JJ approached that opportunity with an awe-inspiring arsenal of tools. He insisted on teaching this 6-week class as often as possible, never taking a break except during holidays. Needless to say, he never wanted to be paid. At times when we did send him a contract, like all the other teachers, he never returned it. He didn't say anything about it, but I'm afraid we may have insulted him by offering him money for work that he considered holy.
Before the class started, he would ask me to fax him the list of students-first a week in advance, then every couple of days so he could see who the new ones were. He would memorize their names; he didn't want to miss a single one. I would get calls from JJ or his assistant at JLN to remind me to do this-they never forgot. Indeed, JJ never seemed to forget any of the myriad details he devised to make these classes as rewarding, vibrant, meaningful as possible. I wonder if he had a checklist for all of his tasks, or if he just squirreled them away in his astonishingly organized mind. He always made sure that I had ordered the course booklets well in advance, had checked that room was set up properly, had bowls set up for cookies and pretzels that he bought for each class, and water pitchers and enough cups for the students. Was there ever a week when he didn't call to make sure of the bowls and the water? I don't think there was. Usually he would call me from the road, the sound of traffic in the background. He would tell me a dozen little things about his class, and I was always worried that he wouldn't be able to concentrate on driving, but to him this work seemed to come so effortlessly.
Unfailingly, each week he would appear at my office before his class, with suit and briefcase, and rattle off a list of items that needed attention. This student would be absent and needed to be sent something; that student might be interested in taking David's introduction to Judaism-can you get her information? If there were concerns about other classes or teachers, he always heard them before I did and expressed them to me. He would come early to tutor people who needed extra help, then stayed late with the students, bringing them down to the caf? both to give the caf? extra business and to get to know the students better. The worst thing that could happen was for a student to drop out; if someone didn't show up for a class he would contact them to see what happened, and meet with them before the next session. He wanted everyone to love Hebrew, to love Judaism, to finish the class and move on to higher levels. He stayed in touch with his students long after they took the class, by email and also by meeting with them personally (how did he have time? is a question I often asked). I regret that I did not attend more of his classes, to learn from him.
Perhaps his classes were most famous for his graduation ceremony, which would take place after the last session. He wrote up a program, with a list of speakers including the mayor and other dignitaries-all of whom, JJ would announce, unfortunately could not attend. JJ brought a tape recorder with a very tinny recording of "Pomp and Circumstance," which probably sounded tinnier each time he played it. He would address some words to the graduates, conveying, in his own amusing way, a sense of pride that everyone finished the class, overcoming the students' fear over the difficulty of learning Hebrew. He would then introduce the "featured speaker" who was usually David Gedzelman, though one time I had the honor. Then he would give each student a diploma with their name on it, and a coupon worth a discount to move on to the next level of Hebrew. What wouldn't he do for his students? At times, it was hard for me not to get exasperated at his persistence. He was disappointed when we had to raise the costs for his class and cut the discount for the next level, though he fully understood the financial pressures we faced. But he also taught us the most important lesson, to keep our focus on the mission of Makor. In his gentle and lovable way, JJ fought for that mission every day.
Lo alekha ha-melachah ligmor, ve-lo atah ben khorin lehibatel mimenah- You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it. JJ, may you remain in our hearts as an inspiration to continue, in our own poor way, your magnificent work.
Dear Yitz and Blu:
My main challenge in writing this letter is trying to find words of comfort when I need comfort myself. I hope you can forgive me for not writing until now, but I have not known what to say. This is my third attempt. I cry as I write this.
The concert at the Y in honor of JJ's Yartzheit, like the concert in Seton Park, was beautiful. JJ would have loved it and he would have been very happy to see so many people enjoying themselves. I do not think JJ would have wanted people to mourn his death, but rather to learn from his life, which he lived so joyfully, meaningfully, purposefully, and to share with him that same sweetness in life of which he enjoyed. It has been over 2 years since JJ's death and only now can I begin to have some perspective on this tragic event. I have not been able to go near the subject because I have not been able to accept the fact of it. I still feel like JJ is alive. JJ was my friend and I was honored to have been his. Perhaps there is some comfort for you in knowing that we all share your loss and you are not alone.
The thing I remember most about JJ was his smile. It could light up a room. I saw it at my door so many times when he came by. Last night I re-explored JJ's website and was amazed at the number of life enhancing projects that have developed in JJ's memory. "Tzadikim af B'mittatam Nikraim Chaim" - "the Holy, even in their death, are called Living, because the deeds they performed while alive continue after their death." In this spirit, it is appropriate that the SAR high-school was named in his honor, so that he will always be connected to the school his own father envisioned and founded, so that he will be remembered for the values for which SAR stands, so that SAR will be grounded in the values for which JJ lived, so that when people who were not fortunate enough to have known JJ will ask "Who was JJ?" they will learn about someone they should emulate, someone who embodied Ahavas Chesed, Ahavas Am Yisroel, Eretz Yisroel, and ultimately, Tikkun Olam.
As teachers and leaders of the community, may you be comforted in knowing that JJ was also a teacher, and that his life will serve as a lesson for others forever. His name will come up in conversation, and through these conversations he will continue to teach others the values you instilled in him. Know that your son was and will continue to be a teacher of your people, directly and by example. JJ, like his parents, was married to his community, which included the entire Family of Man, and his children who are his students will continue forever.
JJ had a special love for Israel and the Jewish people. I once met him in a pizza store in Jerusalem, serendipitously, and I asked where he was coming from. He had just appeared out of nowhere, which was an experience I often had with him. He said that he had been in Europe and was going to go home but wanted to stop by Israel first so he got on a different plane. I was jealous of a person who had the ability to do this, whose love for Israel and others was so open and natural. He had many enviable qualities and I was jealous I did not possess them to the degree that he did. He had more friends than me. In fact, he had more friends than anyone I ever knew. People liked him because he deserved to be liked. I am not ashamed of my jealousy because our tradition encourages us to be jealous of the excellent qualities in another person and to try and grow those qualities in ourselves.
JJ was a joker, to his credit, more than we think. To paraphrase a story in the Talmud, a Rabbi's students asked the Rabbi "Who is deserving of Heaven?" The Rabbi pointed to a joker. The students asked how a joker could merit Heaven. The Rabbi said because the joker makes people laugh, he makes them happy, he eases their pain, and so he merits Heaven. For this quality alone, JJ merited Heaven.
Unlike many of us, JJ's love was not exclusive, it was inclusive. The intensity and focus of his love did not diminish its breadth. This is unusual. For most of us, our love includes a few people, usually our family and a few friends. But JJ's love extended to all mankind, to all life, to fish, to flowers, and even to inanimate objects like paper. His vegetarianism was an expression of this love. His love of beauty was an expression of his love. His love of music was an expression of his love. His smile was an expression of his love.
I don't think JJ "liked" anything. He lived life too passionately for that. Either he loved it, or he hated it. JJ hated prejudice. JJ hated waste. JJ hated slander. JJ hated injustice. He became angry when he saw these things. I remember times when I thought "what are you getting so upset about? It's just ..." But, to JJ it was never "just" anything. Life was always about something. It was always personal.
His love for the Jewish people did not exclude a broader love for mankind. JJ did not distinguish between Jew and non-Jew. JJ boldly and generously gave his organs so that others could live, Jew or Arab, so that even his death bred life. He literally lives on in the bodies of other human beings. I have been wrestling with this issue, but since I heard JJ did this, I am more motivated to do the same.
In his life, and even in his death, he treated everyone with the same dignity and respect. I saw this with my own eyes. Black, White, Rich, Poor, JJ didn't care. It was irrelevant. JJ would help the unknown lady across the street. He would give up his seat for a stranger. The acts of basic civility that we are taught as children and then forget as adults JJ did all the time. Unlike so many of us who think we are smart, JJ knew that all he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten. Share. Be friends. Be kind. Love your family. Love your neighbor. It was his modus operandi. It was his nature. It was the way he moved through this world.
It was a rare and beautiful thing to see, and in all these ways he was a role model for me.
JJ died on Holy soil, in Israel, on Holy Land. There is Holiness and pride just in that. JJ died like a soldier in the Israeli army. The difference is, he defended Israel through life, not death. Life was always his way. His bike was his weapon of choice. He lived for Israel, for G-d, for the Jewish people, and for all of human kind, and he died while he was doing all this in Israel, his home.
I remember playing ping-pong with JJ on Shabbos. Hours and hours we played. We played intensely. I enjoyed it immensely. We were extremely competitive, but we played as friends. I remember all of JJ's Kippahs stacked on the head of a monkey in his room. With all his joking, JJ wasn't kidding when he put on his tzitzis and kippah. He was very, very proud to be a Jew. I remember learning with Rabbi Greenberg and JJ on Shabbos and JJ being promised that for every page of Gemara he learned he got another mile toward Israel. Geez, I thought, JJ must really love Israel if that is how one tempts him. I will miss those days.
I remember Gloucester and loving it and wishing I could be part of the family. I remember playing badminton with JJ in the backyard. I remember boating with JJ and going down with Moshe in the boat in the icy waters off Gloucester. I remember playing tennis with David and Moshe and JJ. I remember all the guests in Gloucester, the openness of the house, all the brothers, all the brotherhood, all the tzitzis, all the milk, all the cereal. It was a scene. It was great. I loved it. I loved JJ, I admired him and his family, and still do.
On a very personal note, you both know something about the struggles and travails I have been going through. When I was at the Y in honor of JJ, I saw people fighting off the stench of death with singing and clapping. At first, I thought it was dishonorable to JJ to be so happy on a day that commemorates his death. People were laughing and smiling. Then I started laughing and smiling and singing and clapping. I really had a great time. I realized that the only answer to death, sorrow, and loneliness is connection with other people. This is what JJ was trying to tell us, and I heard him speak to me that night. He was so connected to other people. Lately, and particularly since that night, I have been trying to connect with other people, with meaningful and purposeful goals in my life, not to be judgmental, and to accept people for who they are. I believe connecting with others is one of the essential elements in attaining happiness, not just for me but for anyone. I credit JJ and that evening for contributing to my healing, and I thank you both for raising a son who taught me so much.
When I went to visit with Blu at JJ's apartment I shared the following thought with her:
I try to think of JJ in the following way: I know that he cold not stand it when anyone he cared about was upset or unhappy and he would do what he could to rectify the situation. So when I think of him sadly I try to have his memory be a source of happiness, a blessing, because I know that he only wanted to do what he could to personally increase happiness in the world.
I met J.J. on the phone when I was working for the Mayanot branch of Birthright Israel in 2001. He was always so nice and friendly. Then we met in Israel months later while I was on the birthright trip. I remember how excited I was to introduce myself to him in person. We had such a great time hanging out for the few short days we were together. J.J was so cool. We kept in touch a bit via email, (hmm..i gotta see if i can find them) Anyway, after that first trip in Israel, I returned a bunch of times and every time I was visiting Israel I ran into J.J. We always stopped for a chat and he always made me feel like even though we really hardly new eacthother, that how I was doing, was important to him.
At this one birthright event in NYC, he was raffling off all this stuff including this huge israeli flag. I was like "oh man JJ i really want that flag, i dont have one..." I wasnt even included in the raffle and when he pulled out the paper he said and the winner is... "Shevy!" We were all cracking up and I was really touched. 4 years later, the huge flag is still hanging on my wall with more meaning to me than it ever had.
To his close family and friends, you should know that I am representing many out there who met J.J in passing and who were touched by his special soul.
Shevy Oliver (nee Muchnik)
I check this website periodically to see if any new memories have been posted. I think of JJ every day on many occasions. Reading other people's memories of JJ is one of my favorite things to do. They never fail to bring a smile to my face.
I'm always inspired by the way JJ connected with every human being that he met. I visited him in Gloucester for a weekend and he invited me to ask my best friend in Boston (whom he had never met) to come spend a day with us. JJ gave us the royal tour of Gloucester and Rockport and we had a really beautiful time. For dinner, we made what I have now come to call a JJ salad. My best friend and I were slicing the pears and avocados. When JJ noticed the methodless way we were cutting into the avocados, he introduced us to the most effective and efficient way to get the fruit of an avocado out of the shell.
Every time I cut an avocado, I think of JJ. It warmed my heart to learn that my best friend also thinks of JJ when she's cutting her avocados. She met JJ for only a day, I knew him for a few years, and the way we prepare our avocados is forever changed because of J.
Since JJ's passing last year, I have wanted to write about what he has done for me over the years, but I have waited, waited until the latest push from JJ (beyond the grave) finally came thru. As I listened to the hespadim about JJ's life at his funeral here in Jerusalem, I couldn't believe how much of an impact someone as young as JJ was able to make on the world. I met JJ about 15 years ago at a Central East shabbaton and became very friendly with both him and David Winter. I would see JJ and Dave at shabbatons and the impact they had on my life back then is something that I cant even describe. I became closer with Dave once he became the Advisor in Detroit and still saw JJ at shabbatons and whenever he would visit Dave. After graduating in 1992, I saw very little of JJ since I came to Israel for my year in Yeshivat Hakotel and ended up staying; joining the army and eventually doing college here too. I actually bumped into JJ a few times over chagim in Katamon and he would always say hi and remember who I was.
At his funeral, I recalled all the fun things JJ had done at shabbatons and was amazed to hear about the chesed level he had strived for, reached and even surpassed in his short lifetime. That night, I had a very difficult time sleeping, I couldn't help but wonder "how will people remember me if I end up dying young?" I felt that whatever I had accomplished in life, it was absolutely nothing compared to what JJ had accomplished. I made a vow to myself that I would find some way to have more of an impact on the lives around me and set off trying to find what that would be.
A month later, I had finally figured it out; I had been volunteering as a policeman in Jerusalem and decided that this was the path my life should lead. I began the lengthy process of joining the police force. Over the course of the next 6 months I trained both my body and my mind to overcome the obstacles I would encounter and by the end of May, I was finally ready. I had lost over 60 pounds, felt better about myself and my abilities and was confident that I would be able to serve my community to the best of my ability as a law enforcement officer. I picked up the phone nearly four months ago and told the induction office that I was ready to do the final test, a 3 day excursion to a police base near Netanya where they would test both the minds and bodies of potential candidates. Unfortunately, there was a hiring freeze and I wasn't able to go to do the test, known as a gibushon. I continued training and finally on a Sunday of mid-July they had an opening for me. I found out at the end of that week that I had passed the test except for one minor part of it (due to the fact that I had sprained my ankle on the first day). This past Monday, after physiotherapy and retraining on my badly sprained ankle, I was able to pass the 2k run on my first try. This coming Sunday (November 9), I will be inducted into the Israeli Police.
Because of the example JJ was to me in life, I will now begin working for the Israeli police serving and protecting klal yisrael.
Jerusalem, Israel (formerly Detroit, Michigan)
JJ was the embodiment of the Pasuk: Hevei Mikabel et kol ha'adam b'sever panim yafot. There is a feeling among the gedolim that we are in the pains of the coming of mashiach. The story of Rachel emanu reveals that those who are up with hakadosh baruch hoo can be defenders of the people, begging G-d for mercy on behalf of those who remain on earth and who are undeserving.
JJ is among the righteous men and women who are being called up to G-d to beg mercy for klal yisrael.
In his z'chut, and in the z'chut of the other tzaddikim and nashim tzidkaniot, may we be zocheh to see moshiach come bimhayrah b'yamanu and to be reunited with our loved ones in Yerushalayim Habenuyah.
As Yishayahu stated: K'ish asher imo tinachamenu, like a man whose mother comforts him, ken anochi anachemchem, so too will I (G-d) comfort you, u'viyirushalayim tinuchamu, and in Jerusalem will you be comforted.
This is JJ's continued work in Olam Habah, our work is to have continued bitachon.
He is missed here on earth, but we know he is working hard in olam habah.
Happy birthday to my old friend.
Though I didn't see J often, I miss him. I expect to see him just around the corner as somehow he always seemed to appear. JJ was the beginning of my life as I know it now. He opened my eyes and heart to the notion of an ideal world. I have carried this with me since we met almost 20 years ago. He planted a seed in my heart which has continued to blossom year after year. My husband Brian and I, together, continue to instill these ideals in our children. My pursuit for bringing harmony into this world is relentless. This all began with J. He always walked on the street side to keep me "safe". I have come to understand this was just another way JJ brought a comfort to this often chaotic world. He saw the beauty in everything. He had a true love for life, any way it would play out. JJ always found that silver lining. I thank him for giving me that blessing.
Through this web site and the many calls I received one year ago - from strangers who wanted to speak with someone who was close to him, I have learned so many new things about my old friend. He was a truly extraordinary man. I always remembered him as "unique" guy with a boyish charm all his own. The legend he was then has flourished way beyond the outreach of JPSY and the personal time and focus he gave to everyone he encountered. JJ has evolved into a world renowned and appreciated humanitarian. In His life and after, he has brought people together. For me he remains the CONNECTION and will forever remain connected to all of us.
It has been 2 years now since my wife had been diagnosed with cancer. I was at that time much more of a wreck emotionally than my wife. (JJ to the rescue #1.) It was my many long and intense conversations with JJ that I account for the strength to deal with my situation. My wife who is never one to give in to western medical opinions, which by the way were not so favorable, decided to persue alternate therapies under the guidance of a Chinese herbalist. Of course our insurance wasn't about to cover this and the cost was a bit more then we could afford..(JJ to the rescue #2). Shortly after, my wife and I received a check from a group of concerned associates with JJ listed as a contributor. He kept her name written on a piece of paper in his wallet and kept her in his prayers.
Now two years later she is still free of cancer..and I could still hear JJ "Don't worry everything will work out fine"
Thank you JJ.
Prod.Mngr / SoundEngineer
MAKOR / 92nd St. Y
35 W 67st NYC 10023
It has been almost one year since JJ was taken away and I never knew what to say on this remarkable website. JJ and I had alot of things in common but the one that drew us closest was the fact that we were Rabbis sons.When we had occasion to see each other through our high school and college years our first line to each other was..."Are you going???"...(rabbinical school)..
While I never stayed in the "family business" it was nice to see JJ spend his life devoted to the Jewish people.
This shabbos is going to be one year since JJs death. i think that my davening in shul will take on a different meaning and I urge everyone who reads this to have a little extra kavana this shabbos.
Well JJ,I never "went"...but because of you I will try to find my role in the Jewish world.I hope you will be as proud of me as I am of you.
I have been wanting to write for many months, but have hesitated until now, largely because this will likely be a very unusual post. You see, I never knew J.J. Greenberg, never even met him once or spoke to him. It was after his untimely and tragic death that he influenced me.
I have been a fan of Blu Greenberg for a long time and have read her books How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household and On Women and Judaism. Like many people, I got a kick out of her anecdotes about J.J. in the former book, as well as a general feeling of warmth and affection for her other children and family. I felt such a connection with them, as one often does with really good writing, that I felt sad and pained when I read about J.J.'s death.
Since that time, I have looked at the website regularly, and have read all the posts, as well as the moving and eloquent eulogies, and I have also looked at all of the links. It has almost made me feel like I knew J.J. to read all about him and his passions, quirks, and ways. And he has helped me, even though no longer on this earth.
His love of Israel and the way people described it convinced me to take a trip to Israel for the first time, which I have wanted to do for years, and I have booked it for this summer. I am really looking forward to it.
J.J.'s "friendly but relentless" commitment to recycling touched me deeply. Though I have been environmentally concerned and aware for years, I began taking more actions in this area. I make sure to take paper that has some writing on it and use it for scrap paper; am certain to bind newspapers with twine so that they get properly recycled where I live; and always take the caps off bottles before recycling them. These are minor things done one by one, but major things when they add up.
I joined the Halachic Organ Donor Society and notified relatives that I had done so. Had it not been for a link on your website, I would not have even heard of that.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I have consciously combined fun and zest with halacha, as J.J. was so well known for doing. I am not "frum", not even Modern Orthodox, but I have become increasingly more observant, and have studied a great deal in the past year and a half, and continue to do so. His passion for fun and Judaism was palpable and contagious, and again, I never even had the pleasure of meeting him or talking to him -- this was all through people who shared on the website, and from links.
I thought that it would bring some more joy and meaning to the hearts of J.J.'s wonderful family to know that he truly has had a positive impact and influence on people now, even from beyond this earth. I wish his family continued healing.
I was first introduced to J.J. at one of the many "Let My People Go" rallies back in 1985. I was a JPSY kid marching with the many hundreds of students rallying for the freedom of the Russian Refusniks. The minute I met J.J. I was hooked on all things Jewish! He was cool, because he was different; like a beautiful bird that you can only catch a glimpse of before it flies away. He set the trends and how we tried to immitate him: the long trench coat, the sweat pants/sneakers, the polo shirts (layered), the headband (we used to gang up on him (lovingly) and try to remove it, but to no avail he defended his headband like a secret treasure), and he was always ahead of the pack. Whether it was a JPSY shabbaton, an event like "Beatles Laser Rock" (he sang along in the sweetest voice -- I had a mad crush on him -- like all the other girls), or just hanging out in J2 after the Israeli Day Parade, where he famously rollerbladed backwards, J.J. was always interested in how I was doing (as if I was the only one that mattered), and concerned about my progress in school. It was always the best feeling to see J.J. by an event, because we knew we were going to have real "ruach" and "simcha" -- because that's what J.J. brought with him and shared it with everyone. His happiness and excitement was contagious, and yet he was serious about making us appreciate a real "frum" environment. During a summer with JPSY in Eretz Yisroel (Michelle & Michael & suprise guests), I decided along with my JPSY mentors that it was time for me to switch into Yeshiva when I came back to New York. J.J. was thrilled, supportive and encouraging. When I wanted to go on a special tour of the concentartion camps along with a select group of students, I knew I could not afford the trip. I called J.J. and told him how much this tour meant to me, and the financial dilemma I faced. He told me, "I will take care of the money for this trip, but promise me that you will tell everyone that you meet about all that you saw. We can never forget." I kept my promise! J.J. always called to check-up on me and I called him often to see how he was doing, but somehow 16 years have elpased, and yet I feel like I just lost my best friend. I know he was niftar in September, but I just found out listening to Zev Brenner Saturday night that at the Salute to Israel Parade there will be Rollerbladers skating in the memory of J.J. Greenberg........I immediately shreiked in horror and cried and cried and cried..................I loved him truly for he had a real neshama of gold, always making us losers feel good, giving us strength to carry on, grow up and become something he would be proud of. I adored his company, his delicious smile, and sea-foam eyes. His warmth carressed me for days after seeing him. He gave without asking for anything in return except to "thine ownself be true". I learned what integrity and honesty really is, what "You can count on me" really means, and how to live as a proud Jew. He taught me that being Jewish and being normal is synonomous! I will miss him, and I have a hole in my heart that can't be patched because a little piece of me has departed from this world, just like the way a beautiful birds just flies away never to return.
I love you J.J. Greenberg
Atara Schachter with five kids + 1 husband, 16 years later
a/k/a Lisa Rothkoff (the Co-Op City JPSY)
Norah Jones' arrival as a new star in the firmament of pop music blazed forth for all to see on Monday night, February 24, 2003. (See attached story). For JJ Greenberg friends, there is a human interest story behind the news.
MAKOR played a crucial role in catapulting Norah Jones' career. MAKOR is the cutting edge music performance space designed to reach out to Jews in their 20's and 30's. It was conceived of and created by Michael Steinhardt, David Gedzelman and JJ Greenberg. As executive director of the Jewish Life Network, JJ played a major role in developing the program.
At MAKOR, Norah Jones developed her act, honed her style and learned to interact with the public. Norah was reunited with her father, Ravi Shankar, for the first time after a long period of neglect and alienation when he came to see her perform at MAKOR.
One of JJ's key roles in MAKOR was to scout new acts and help decide which performers should be promoted as important new rising talents that would attract the Jewish crowd MAKOR sought to reach. JJ loved contemporary music. In fact, when he was in his teens and early twenties, he toyed with the idea of trying to become a producer of music records and concerts. Even after he set aside that idea, he kept up with everything new in the music world.
JJ caught Norah Jones' act early and immediately recognized her unusual talent and promise. He encouraged her as he enthusiastically recruited the leadership of MAKOR to feature her. JJ invited many individuals to hear and appreciate her very special program and style. MAKOR eventually signed her to a regular Wednesday night gig. After JJ's death, we found among his memorabilia, a photograph of Norah autographed and signed by her "To JJ, my first fan."
JJ bought a pretty nice road bike back in 2002. I remember that he had received it on the day that I arrived in New York for a visit. It was the object of my affection and I had the best time admiring each and every piece of it. As a road cyclist/racer on a tight budget, I couldn't help but be a little envious of his brand new components and frame. He was so excited to own the bike. And I find it totally ironic, at times, that his tragic death happened while he was on a bicycle. I ride my bike every single morning, religiously. I put myself at risk in traffic on a daily basis...but I guess all it takes is one awful stroke of luck...
I took nearly most of September and half of October off of cycling, as I couldn't ride without getting physically ill from the grief. But since then, I've gotten back in the saddle and have gingerly jumped into the racing season out here on the West coast. It's been a tough season so far, full of grueling paces and a few minor crashes. But today, tragedy struck again.
On the 6 month (American calendar) anniversary of JJ's death, I have lost yet another friend in a car on bike collision. His name was Garret and he was killed today in a race. He was 22 years old. As I sat on the mountain with my two teammates, waiting for the Sherrif to give us word on whether we could sit with his body, all I could do was pray that JJ was there to welcome Garret into the place where those who die too young and with too much life to live go...
Over time, we have become a community of friends, family, and "acquaintances" who have been deeply affected by JJ. Because the wounds left from JJ's death are hardly near healed, this reinjury is that much more sombering and intense. I didn't know who else to share this with beside you. Most of us drive cars - let's continue to be very aware of those on the road who are on two wheels and are so vulnerable.
I believe that by the true meaning of the word, JJ and I would have been considered "acquaintances." However, I truly believe that JJ did not understand the definition of that word for it seemed to me that everyone he came to know was embraced by him as "friend."
I was fortunate enough to meet JJ as a member of one of the first softball teams run by Makor (back then the Partnership for Jewish Life). I joined the team on my own, hoping to make some friends along the way. I must admit - we were a motley crew and we lacked athleticism! But all the while we tried our best to compete against corporate teams who took the games very seriously. That being said, we took a whipping quite often. But what I found most interesting was when I watched all of my teammates and saw how each one handled the losses. Some got angry, some got upset. Some just wanted to give up (and go grab a beer!).
And then there was JJ. To call him an inspiration is an understatement. Clearly not the most athletic of the bunch, JJ gave his all on the field. But more importantly, he slowly wove himself into the different personalities on the team and became the "glue." When we were losing, JJ helped cool the heated and console the defeated and distressed. And he did it all with his special smile and his carefully chosen words.
Honestly, I found it all quite amazing. So much so that he left an impression on me that lasted well beyond that summer. And when I heard of his passing I was not at all shocked at how much it affected me. I only knew JJ for a short time, but that's all it took for me to be inspired by his kindness and compassion and his desire to give.
To quote a famous New York Yankee:
"You give 100 percent in the first half of the game, and if that isn't enough in the second half you give what's left." - Yogi Berra
JJ gave 100% - all of the time. For that and a thousand other reasons, we'll miss him.
It has been a number of months now since the tragedy that took JJ from all of us. I had started writing something to be posted on this site at least a dozen times and it seemed that nothing I could put on paper would do JJ the proper justice and honor he deserves, here is my attempt.
I met JJ about 10 maybe 12 years ago or so through mutual friends and acquaintances on the Upper West Side. Over the years we spent many winter weekend ski trips and summer weekends in the Hamptons together. JJ was my friend. To all that knew him his death is such a huge blow. We still can not believe it. How can it be that he is gone? There are very few pure souls like JJ, how can God take away people like him, they are so few and we need them? Clearly JJ was not with us long enough.
Anyone that has ever met JJ, even for 30 seconds encountered his personal warmth and depth. When he spoke to you it was obvious that this was a person that actually was listening. He truly cared about how you were or what was going on in your life. He would see the good in all of us, perhaps sometimes clearer than we would or could see it in ourselves and would point out the good in something or someone that others might have missed. He respected and cared for all living things and the earth (in the Hamptons JJ would wash and reuse his paper plates his stated reason was for there to be less waste and more trees).
JJ's life mission was to foster a dialogue between all Jewish people and insure our continuity for the future. The divisions that exist between us did not exist on JJ's horizon. He somehow saw all people as equal and would fiercely argue with anyone that he heard promoting divisiveness, in fact those are the only times I could remember him arguing (perhaps also about the lyrics of a song). To JJ labels were bad (except for the label he always wore with his name on it). He spent all of his time in pursuit of these ideals. I often used to speak to him about the different programs that he or his mom and dad were involved in. Although a very humble person regarding his own achievements, he would become animated when we spoke about some of the varied involvement of his parents or of someone else. Although I only briefly met his parents some years ago, it is quite clear to me that these are people that really did an excellent job instilling into their son stellar values and a love for people, particularly the Jewish people. I am reminded of the Shlomo Carlbach song "Am Yisroel Chai". In that song there are 2 lines. "Od Avinue Chai" or God is still alive / relevant, "Am Yisroel Chai", the Jewish nations is alive. JJ spent every day of his life making sure for all of us that "Am Yisroel Chai" that we are alive and that we will survive and continue into the future. He viewed all Jews as important and although I never heard him say it, in retrospect I am certain he viewed the world and us all as holy. In the non offensive subtle way in which he lived, he showed us by his example that ""Od Avinue Chai"", God is still relevant on a daily basis and that God is alive within the Jewish people. JJ viewed all Jewish people in fact all people as an important component of this planet. It is said that in every generation there are 36 hidden "Tzadikim" people of exceptional character, people of great modesty and humility, people who care. These people are known as the "Lamid Vovnikim" . I believe JJ was one of them. As they say hindsight is always twenty - twenty.
Recently I went to the Jewish Center on a Shabbat for the first time in about a year. I had moved from the West Side and this was my first time back. It was after shul when everyone stands outside and talks and for a brief moment I forgot about what had happened. As was my custom for a long time I started to seek out JJ. At that moment it struck me anew that I will not see my friend JJ again. It's been four or five months since that fateful tragedy, I still find myself thinking about JJ and what his life stood for. I have read on this site others that have had this same feeling, that somehow we must do more to compensate, because our world is lacking and will never recover from the untimely tragic loss of my friend JJ Greenberg.
JJ Greenberg and Shlock Rock
J.J. Greenberg was one of my closest friends. He believed in me and my music. Since his passing last Fall I have been silent, as I did not really want to air my feelings in public. A lot of people said to me "you have to write a song", but that did not sit well with me. I did not want to make my relationship with JJ into a song. Nor did I want to turn him into a cartoon character or one of my Shlock Rock pieces of memorabilia. He was a special friend and I wanted to digest his memories and live with the fact that he would no longer be visiting me on his many trips to Israel or making cameo appearances at one or two concerts. Finally, enough time has passed that I can sit down and write about JJ and his relationship with me.
JJ was one of many people that I met back in the 80's who did things his way. He had energy, creativity and a love of life that transcended any negativity that got in his way. I think that is what drew us together and is what drew him to the band. It was 1986 and I was in my second year as music director of JPSY. JJ was an advisor and he was hanging out with David Winter and Allen Krasna. Rabbi Brian Thau was also involved as were many stars of Jewish Communal Life today. What was amazing about our relationship is that we took the world around us and combined it with Judaism in our everyday life. There was no better organization at that time than the Jewish Public School Youth Movement. We would take a kid off the street who had either a negative or an apathetic feeling towards Judaism and make them feel positive. We used skits from Saturday Night Live which were adapted to being Jewish and we used Movies such as the Blues Brothers. We used music, specifically Shlock Rock songs as that was the curriculum for JPSY kids. There was nothing that was off limits. The key was make them feel good about being Jewish because if they felt
any negativity there was no chance in keeping them.
I would say to JJ and the guys all the time that there needs to be a profession for you guys. They were not musicians but they were the most charismatic, creative individuals in the field of Informal Jewish Education I had ever met. Allen Krasna and David "Dr D" Winter along with JJ were the greatest. And they contributed to my band in every way possible. Writing songs and skits which appeared on albums, performing on albums and on stage were all things these guys did regularly. As the years went by JJ moved into professional communal service work but never left the band. He was always interested and always involved in my creative endeavors. He would tell me if he loved stuff and would also tell me if he felt I should have gone in a different direction. But he was there and he was involved.
On a personal level we experienced many fun adventures together. From 1987-1991 we would go to Israel together in January. We discovered the magic of going to the Kotel in the Night. JJ knew everyone so he was always making Shabbat arrangements. One Shabbat he calmly announced to me that we would be going to his friends for Shabbat where we would be spending Shabbat with Natan and Avital Scharansky. I freaked out. I had two meals with them and also did Hagbah in Shul while Natan did Gelilah. That was one of the greatest thrills that I had ever had. To be with a real Jewish hero for Shabbat. On the way back from Israel we would sometimes stop off in England. We once went to see a show and then afterwards stood at the stage entrance to get Kiki Dee's autograph. She was in the show and of course had a hit song with Elton John (Don't go breaking my heart). The January trips to Israel were amazing.
He had great shticks. I had the annoying habit (still do) of chewing my pens. In his apartment he would have a pen that I had chewed and it was taped to the wall with a sign that said "The King's Pen". If I ever asked him for a pen when we were on the street he pulled out his toothbrush first, then he took out a pen which actually did not have a pen inside. Finally I would get the pen on the third try. I would watch him have four fluffer-nutter sandwiches at a time. Even though he was a vegetarian he still made food fun. He would come driving up to my house in the passenger seat. Now that would be fine if there was a driver. But there was no one in the driver's seat. JJ had such long legs he could reach the gas and breaks from the passenger side. That scared the daylights out of me. He would buy cars that stuck out as well. He had two great convertibles that he would drive everywhere. The ultimate non-conformist but the ultimate good person. In the video Minyan Man we actually used one of his convertibles in the film. Whether it was 12 PM or midnight he was there for me.
When I got married he immediately became friendly with my wife and treated my girls like they were his own. He would come over to visit us in Israel without fail every trip. He would give them beanie babies and even had an exact list of every beanie baby the kids had. He had them on his last trip to Israel but sadly the girls got them after his unveiling.
JJ was life personified. He was happy and ambitious. He was determined to make a difference and he did not let red tape get in the way of his job. His job was to make people happy and he did it better than most. Hashem had other plans for him and I know he is making people happy up there as well and I am sure that he is still fighting for truth justice and the kosher way. JJ We Love you!
You will always be KP 6-1-3.
With so many summers and chagim spent together, there are many good memories of JJ. Two come to mind that I would like to share.
A typical Frank/Greenberg family gathering in the 1970's had a "masorah" of a knock down, drag out, huge water fight. With 8 kids between the two families, the Greenberg porch and kitchen was usually sopping wet in minutes of arriving. We kids were equally drenched from head to toe.
Poor JJ, as one of the younger, less able athletes in the group, he was always picked on. Moshe, David, Naava, Debra and I managed to get JJ no matter how he tried to defend himself against the big guys. Goody and Devori were usually off doing their own thing and JJ decided he could dance with the wolves so he got soaked time after time.
One day, JJ proved smarter than the rest of us. Rather than getting the hose, which he knew would be stolen out of his hands, or more pots and pans from the kitchen, he found ammunition that made him undefeatable. In the heat of the summer, he donned his brown winter SNORKLE JACKET WITH A HOOD lined with fake fur, and covered himself in his waterproof coat. The style of snorkle jacket in that day zipped up the neck so his face had breathing holes with the gray fake fur surrounding it.
I remember the picture vividly. JJ in his winter jacket, with no shoes on, appearing naked beneath the coat, running after us big guys to finally get us back. He was not scared anymore. He was invincible.
This was just one sign of JJ's creative thinking and problem solving. It was typical JJ willing to dance with the wolves, and it was JJ who outsmarted the big guys with the simplest solution.
About 2 years ago Succot, Tony and I decided to take the 5 kids to a Shlock Rock concert at the OU building in Jerusalem. I was so pleasantly surprised to see JJ near the stage. I caught JJ's eye and within moments he came over to say hello. I introduced JJ to my family and he spoke with everyone. My kids were so excited to meet the famous JJ who they heard time after time on our Shlock Rock tape.
After the show, JJ came over again. Before saying goodbye, he pulled out a tiny piece of paper (two inches by two inches) from his pocket. He asked me all the kids names and ages. I told him and he wrote them down. I noticed the paper was jam packed with tiny writing all over it. I wondered what he wanted it for and so I asked. JJ gave me one of his sweet, innocent, smiles and said, "I just like to keep track of everyone".
I must admit, at the time I thought it was sweet and unusual that he would want to write my kids names and ages down on a piece of paper, and then put it in his pocket. At JJ's funeral I suddenly understood there was a mystical, spiritual, JJ who liked to track his friends and their offspring. I understood JJ was a collector of data and he sent birthday cards, get well cards and phoned when he had spare moments in airports. It was only at JJ's untimely death that I learned of his hobby to collect and track information.
Ironically, JJ's database is a collection of people his soul touched in his lifetime.
Tali Frank Horwitz
I wrote my first part of growing up with JJ a few weeks after JJ A'h death. I wanted to write about my experiences with JJ when we became "older" and "wiser".
I headed to YU for College and JJ went off to Israel to study at BMT. During that year I got involved with Yeshiva University Seminars and Torah Leadership Seminars. When JJ got back he jumped in head first to help Jewish kids learn about and love being Jewish. In my Junior year of College I headed off to Israel and lo and behold JJ was back in Israel and he had an apartment in JERUSALEM. CAN YOU SAY PARTY? I had some of my most amazing Jerusalem experiences with J. Like going to Angel's at 12 o'clock at night because JJ had to have the freshest bread. It gave him real pleasure. My Yom Haatzmaut celebration with JJ was quite unique. He was a master bopper with those ridiculous hammer boppers (or whatever they were called). We also went to JJ's yeshiva . NO One spoke English that was ok no one spoke Hebrew either !! This was a kiruv yeshiva that took in european guys and a few brits(they don't really speak English -just joking calm down !) . I believe that I had Purim Seudah with JJ (it was my second day of Purim as I was in KBY and totally inebriated for the first day so why not go for two?) but I am not really sure where I ate that night but I did wind up... you guessed it in JJ's apartment.
When I got back from Israel I finished YU undergrad and started Semicha. I became close friends with another great friend of JJ ( alot of my friends today are somehow conected back to J) David Winter. Dave and I ran NY rEuropeanhe other guys thought they ran it!) in my Senior year of YU. The next year I went to Lincoln Square and who was my teamate David Winter. Whenver I ran a program Dave and I always wanted JJ a part of our program as JJ was the excitement and the life of the party. When I started LSS JPSY had already become really big and JJ became a real Kiruv leader. JJ was everywhere helping Jewish teens see how cool it was to be Jewish. When Dave left LSS he went to work with JJ at JPSY. I also continued to help with my Jpsy chapter in Riverdale. JJ helped me there also. Not so much in Kiruv as much as he helped through a rough time trying to balance my kiruv obligations and the friendships that developed from JPSY. It was tough sometimes I had to make tough decisions and people were mad at me. JJ stuck by me, he defended me and he tried to have them see where I was coming from.
After two years as a kiruv cowboy I decided that if I wanted to get semicha I had better go to Israel to learn at the Gruss Kollel. I saw JJ all the time (I'm not exactly sure why he kept coming back but again who cared I loved him and any time I could see him was awesome. Dave went to Detroit for a while. Towards the end of my first year at Gruss I got engaged and of course I called JJ. There was a pure Joy a total happiness for me . He was my Brother. It was then that I asked JJ to be an Usher at my wedding. August 24 1989. JJ put on a show . He came all the way back from glouster ( Dave Winter dove back from Detroit) juggling, dancing, roller blading, dancing with a cupon his head (attached to his head!). He was again the life of the party. I even sang Aishet Chayil with JJ toothbrush as a microphone (look at my wedding album!).
We (Devorah and I) then went back to Israel for my second year at Gruss. Same thing JJ kept popping up . We then went to LA and you guessed it JJ popped up again . He had relatives the Hulkowers and he came for a simcha. After a couple of years of Beautiful weather we had a brain Spasm and came back to the Jungle called NY. I Became the Associate Rabbi Ohab Zedek aka OZ the hoppingest shul for singles and kiruv. Who was my first phone call for help? JJ my second Dr D.(Dave Winter) The kiruv cowboys were back and now with adults. Some of the "sophisticated west siders" didn't want JJ and Dave to do their shtick but I knew it was their ruachthat would create excitement and bring Jews back more than any sophisticated d'var torah (however important). I was proud that through my developing the kiruv organization that I brough in JJ and dave. Even when I took on other responsibilities at OZ and passes on the kiruv assignmnet to others, JJ and Dave remained involved. JJ started to teach classes in Hebrew. They were one of the most popular classes. People wanted to be near JJ.
When I moved back to Riverdale I didn't get to see JJ all that much. It was tough . If I got lucky I would see him for second at the Genauer's or coming out of 611 (the building I grew up in and the building of my revered teacher Rabbi Genauer ZZ"L and his wonder Aishet Chayil Sylvia (may she have continued good health and long life). As my family grew JJ did manage to always make it to simchas. When Yori was born he bought my bechor (first born) a tee shirt that said on the back Thau. It was cool. It was simple. It was thoughtful. It was meaningful . It was JJ. My kids knew JJ as Uncle JJ and they all wanted to sing with Lenny like JJ and Dave. We moved to our rented house in North Riverdale and I saw JJ less. I begged him that we needed to just do something fun. JJ did not have time for fun. He was on a mission. We're on A mission from God he used to say (like the Blues Brothers ! -Hey did I ever tell you that my cousin was the producer of the blues brothers?). We moved to our first home and JJ was there to share in our Joy.
One of the last things that I told JJ was that I had become a Principal of Hillel Academy and I was planning on him and David coming up to Fairfield, to meet the students, turn them on to Judaism and help us get some much needed funding. He said that I could count on it . He and Dave would be there to help me and another dear friend of JJ Harav Shalom Baum (who I became close friends with because of JJ). JJ was thrilled for me.
I would like to end this with some words of comfort. I hope that I will have the Honor to eulogise my brother sometime in the future, but until then I would like to end by sharing a Torah/homiletical thought about this beautiful Neshoma.
I believe that around 10 years after we got married JJ finally bought us a wedding gift. We love it and we use it all the time. It is a challah cover from Israel. How appropriate. The Challah cover is used only on Shabbat, according to the homiletical interpretation, to not embarass the challah as the kiddush over the wine would go first replacing the usual most important food, the bread . JJ was like the challah cover. He was always happy for others to have the spot light and to cover others and protect them so they would not feel slighted or hurt. He was our cover. Our cover has been taken away from us. Our friend is gone but not our memories of the most beautiful midot a Jew could ever have. I pray that I will live up to his conduct and I always ask myself now: What would JJ do in this situation? Yhi Zichro Baruch.
Rabbi Brian Thau
My wife Lisa Zahner and I met JJ at his friend and classmate Ariel Kronman's house. It was his insistence on announcing himself by nametag - "Hello, my name is JJ" - and his explanation for doing so (to make NYC into a smaller, friendlier place after 9/11) that delighted us both. We only got to see him a few times - that evening, and a couple other times when he stopped by our upper west side rooftop for parties - but we treasure our memory of him.
He told us that we should be sure to be parents, and now we are - but alas, Owen was not born in time to meet him.
JJ's love for others and exuberance are an example for us for the rest of our lives. The Greenberg family should know how far and wide he is remembered, and what a difference he has made in the world.
In July of last year, JJ served as the Cohen at the pidyon ha-ben of our son, Samuel. We were honored when JJ volunteered to serve as Sam's kohen. Not only was he was a friend of my wife, Felicia (and her boss - with JJ, there existed no tension between the two roles) from Jewish Life Network, but, over the short period that we had known him, we had quickly come to understand the ways in which he lived and quietly but powerfully represented the best aspects of Judaism: kindness, generosity of spirit, and ahavat Israel.
In the weeks leading up to the pidyon, JJ was openly pleased and excited about the event. He often joked that since Sam was, technically, his baby, he'd be happy to take him home and raise him if we decided we weren't interested. He appeared at our apartment on the day of the Pidyon and announced that he had brought his own Baby Bjorn, "just in case." After all the time he had devoted to his many nieces and nephews over the years, he said, his brothers and sisters owed him a few diaper changes. We laughed-but because it was JJ, we actually almost believed him. The joy he took from this new Jewish life was so palpable, and he was so comfortable with the baby-more comfortable than we were after only four weeks of experience-that we wondered if he weren't just a little bit serious. (He may have been-Felicia told me later that JJ had mentioned once that his goal in life was to stay home raising his kids.)
The event itself was very emotional for us. Our principal sensation that day was one of releasing our son, giving him over spiritually - fragile and vulnerable as he was - into the hands of the Jewish people and the Jewish spirit, as embodied by JJ. What a difficult thing to relinquish control of our precious newborn - but what a beautiful job JJ did. With assurance, erudition, humor, and, above all, joy, he redeemed Sam and, lovingly, drew him one step further into the Jewish community. As Sam's parents, we felt, above all, an overwhelming sense of trust - that this kohen, who for the moment had complete control over our son and his little spirit, was elevating him into a Jewish moment, into the Jewish people.
That day, JJ, in his customary unassuming way, did a magnificent service to our son and our family. His humility, his assurance, and his joyfulness elevated our spirits and brought honor to the institution of the kohen. We feel great sorrow that Sam will not grow up with JJ as his friend, but we take some comfort in knowing that Sam's spiritual life will always be linked to JJ's worthy and honorable memory.
David Ben-Ur and Felicia Herman
As I sit here, it is December 26th, my office is very quiet, and I realize that even now, months later, I am having a hard time writing about JJ. I ask myself why, particularly since I had seen JJ only once in the last 10 years. The answer is that time has not diminshed the impact that JJ left on my life, and that what he had to give will be carried with me for a lifetime. The sense of loss, of something beeing missing, is still fresh. I offer then a few of my own memories, and hope that others will read them, understand, and smile.
I knew JJ as one of my advisors, and very much at the heart and soul of JPSY. I came into JPSY with no real religious background, other than knowing that I was Jewish. I came to my first Big Bash Weekend with only one other prior encounter with JPSY, and knowing only my best friend, Rachel. I was also very into acting back then, and came with the bold pronouncement that theater was my "real" religion, questioning brutally just about every idea or concept put in my path that weekend. I had also, despite my obviously tenuous connections to Judaism, already committed to starting a JPSY chapter at my high school. It made me a favorite target of many advisors that weekend, trying hard to convince me of the wisdom of what I was doing. JJ had a different approach. He simply made sure I was involved in the weekend, experiencing Judaism first hand, and let me know that my feelings and questions had a place there, however outrageous they may have been. I came away from that first shabbatone having had a great time, and knowing that somehow, I was bringing home much more than good memories - somehow, my religion had come to matter to me, and all because this one person had the simple wisdom to let me "be".
Fast forward to about a year and a half later. The Sheepshead Bay HS chapter of JPSY is alive and well, and nothing is more exciting to me than the thought of another shabbatone. I now very much identify with Judaism and JPSY, so much so that years later people I barely remember from my high school still remember & associate me with both. I look forward to seeing JJ at these events, knowing that my (still) outrageous questions will always find a home & encouragement there, and that my quirkiness and sarcastic sense of humor are appreciated, because they are the essence of me - and JJ appreciated everyone for being who they are. On this particular occasion, JPSY is going ice-skating, post shabbos. I love to skate, the feeling of being on ice as close to flying as I'll ever know. I'm very self absorbed at this point, and don't realize I have an audience. One that is, in fact, trying to get my attention - by following me around the rink, swatting at me with his scarf, just missing several times before I finally notice and turn around to see who it is....and, completely exasperated upon seeing JJ, promptly fall straight onto the ice, breaking the fall with my knee caps. I've never seen JJ apologize so profusely - not only because I had gotten hurt, but because the devilish gleam in my eyes foretold the sarcastic teasing that would be coming his way for this one. He was still looking sheepish but quite amused at my still bruised knees two weeks later as he handed me the award for JPSY chapter of the year - proud, too, to have seen me come so far in my religious idenitification, although he had enough sense not to say it out loud and embarass my proud teenaged self. I never did find out what it was that he wanted on the ice that night.
Fast forward many years later, long after JPSY has since dissolved, and my questions have found a home at the Brooklyn College Judaic Studies department. An old friend from JPSY has re-established contact with me, having wanted to let me know that a piece of music he had written for me in high school has now made an appearance on an actual album of his friend, and I have come to see them perform. I have, however, not come alone - my boyfriend, (now my husband) Danny has come with me. Danny is Chinese and Puerto Rican, and most would make the correct assumption upon meeting him that he is also not Jewish. A bit later, JJ comes in, and I am simultaneously suprised to see him, happy - because it's been several years, and anxious. My relationship with Danny is still on the newer side, and I am feeling tentative about what JJ might say. I should have known much, much better by then. He met Danny with grace and acceptance, and without question.
That absolute acceptance of Danny's presence in my life at such a critical point made a world of difference. We are married four years now (it's been almost 10 years since we started dating), and expecting our first child in April. The role of Judaism is strong in our home, and the faith in which our child will be raised, including involvement in temple - a strong religious identification that I did not grow up with. I did not know then that it was to be the last time I would see JJ. Typical of him, I went home that night bearing much more than I came with - the faith in myself and my religion to do what was right for me, and knowing that those who truly cared would find acceptance in their hearts for my choices. It has kept my roots in Judaism, when they might otherwise have found a home elsewhere. It is a legacy that will forever live with me, and that I look forward to passing on.
But JJ...I'm so horribly sorry that you're not here to do the teaching yourself.
Michele (Brill) Montanez
Our family wishes to thank you to all of you who visit the website, some of you on a regular basis. [In a separate email, we have written to those who have posted letters.] We appreciate the love you feel for JJ, z"l, and for remembering him with such deep feelings.
During the past several weeks, we have heard many inspiring and funny stories about JJ. We did not manage to get these down on paper but would like to savor them. If you have a story or memory of JJ and are more comfortable speaking than writing, please call us. [ 718-548-4211 ]. We shall be missing him for the rest of our lives, and any opportunity to laugh or cry about his special life is a source of comfort to us and to everyone who loved him. In addition, a book about JJ has been commissioned by a foundation and we wish to connect the author, William Novak, to these stories.
We also want to add our own stories and hardly know where to begin. Each time I take up a pen, I see how challenging it is to write for there is so much to say. JJ savored life to the fullest. In the midst of our sorrow, we are struggling to focus on the celebration of his life and not on tragedy and loss.
In that spirit, and since some have referred to it in their posting and others have asked it came to be, I'll begin my first website posting with the story of JJ's trademark sweatband. In the larger scheme of things, the sweatband seems of little significance. But it is a distinctive association many have with JJ, and it symbolizes a truth about his life: that all of its different parts were integrated - his joie de vivre; his kindness; his love of people; and his joy at being Jewish.
JJ first put on his sweatband at age 81/2, the summer of 1973. It began harmlessly enough, during a routine family errand to Tuck's Pharmacy in Rockport, Mass. At the checkout counter, he spotted a pile of sweat bands. There were two bands in each cellophane pack, all identical, three wide stripes of orange, white and blue. [You can see it in the photo labeled 'original sweatband'.] He wanted a pack so I bought one for him.
On the way home, Deborah noticed his sweatbands and asked for one. JJ complained that Deborah wouldn't really wear hers and that he would; also that he needed both, one for each wrist, etc. But she persisted, and his protests of 'not fair' fell on deaf ears. Reluctantly, he parted with one band, making a bet with her that he would wear his the longest.
I don't know when JJ decided that he would never take off his sweatband, because in this, as in many other recurrent practices in his life, he never openly declared his intentions. During that summer he got to like wearing it, and it settled into his fixed routine. He slept with it, swam with it and showered with it, setting the pattern for the next 27 years. Over the years, the sweatband got stretched out and frayed, and several times I stitched it right on his wrist since, by then, it was understood that he would not take it off.
The sweatband did not take over his life, but he guarded it fiercely when challenged. David holds the distinction of being the only person to have worn it simultaneously with JJ, sticking his arm through alongside JJ's. I think it was a peaceful encounter, and probably a moment of pride for JJ since he idolized his big brothers, but I don't actually recall the event and perhaps I was fortunate not to be there at that moment.
This, however, I do remember. When JJ was 10 or 11, Moshe and David threatened to cut off the sweatband in the middle of the night. The threat evaporated when I announced that whoever cut off JJ's sweatband in the middle of the night would be getting a haircut in the middle of the night.
At any rate, the band became increasingly worn and by the time he was 12 or 13 , it had already been stitched up a dozen times, so he covered it for protection. JJ had style: white covers for Shabbat, and colored ones to match his weekday shirts. He gave his 'cover' sweatbands to friends or to little kids who wanted one, so he must have purchased a good number during those 27 years, but the original one stayed on all the time. As far back as twenty years ago, we kidded about writing to the Guinness book of records.
Here is the poignant, almost surreal end, to the story. Immediately after the accident on September 13th, JJ was taken directly to Hillel Jaffe Hospital in Hadera where his personal effects were removed, [among them his phone-less cord around the ankle]. Somehow, they missed the sweatband. Two hours later, he was transferred to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Nothing could be done to save his life. The next morning, the 14th, he was prepared for organ donation. Only after those surgeries were complete and life support withdrawn, did Goody and David remove the tattered threads of orange, white and blue from his wrist. In a sense, his trademark sweatband survived him. In his lifetime, he never took it off.
What was this all about? Surely the sweatband had no significance when he first got it, just another of a thousand treats kids get during the course of their childhood. Deborah recalls that originally he wanted two bands because a Marvel Comics hero he liked wore one on each wrist to gain superpowers. Gradually, the sweatband became uniquely his own, his special mark in a big family where a 4th child probably needs some special markers. And surely he enjoyed the attention it brought to him: early on, friends - and that always included extended family - thought it was cool. The sweatband was fun.
But why did he not outgrow it, say at 18 or 25 or 35, as he began to build a personal reputation for professionalism, maturity and dignity? And what did this playful item come to symbolize or mean to him? To our great regret, we never asked. We simply took it for granted. And now there are a thousand other questions about meaning we would have liked to ask JJ, for only after his death - and in part from the stories and memories of others - did we begin to put together the many different parts of his life and come to understand them in a way that parents simply don't understand about their children from up close.
JJ had an enormous capacity for tolerating difference in people, for accepting them as they were. He appreciated difference. And his own idiosyncratic behaviors - some of which we tried unsuccessfully to get him to give up - attested to his feeling that people, in general, ought to be able to do their own thing and not worry excessively about what other people think.
But more than that perhaps, the sweatband and other JJ 'things'' represent a defining aspect of his life: his genuine love for people. We were aware that JJ had many friends and were privileged to know many of them. But we truly had no idea of the extent, depth and sustained nature of his relationships. Somewhere along the way, possibly in his teens or twenties, he came to understand - not articulate but rather experience - that his sweatband served as a connector to others. It could make someone laugh and feel comfortable; or draw a child out of a quiet or shy place; or bring a person into his life with an initial inquiry; or serve as a hook of familiarity in an ongoing relationship. It has been striking to us how many people have reported that they made their first entry into JJ's world of Judaism through curiosity or a chuckle about his sweatband or his inside-out t shirts.
In retrospect then, the sweatband and phone-less cord and gray raincoat and size 44x shorts and Sach watch and Russian military coat and flying tzitzit and name tag and a dozen other 'JJ items' were multi-layered. True, they were charming and colorful identifiers, but in a deeper sense, they were about JJ wanting his life to be bound up with other people's lives. All of these things were really about you -- about his relationship with you and his great joy at having you in his life.
Two vivid memories I have of JJ that demonstrate the kind of person he was occurred at a retreat for high school sophomores called Sophomore Seminar. At this gathering, JJ was an advisor, and I was a high school sophomore. The seminar's purpose was to educate high school kids about the different aspects of Judaism in a fun, interesting way.
One advisor who really stood out in a positive way was JJ Greenberg. Since I grew up in the same community as JJ, classmates from my school and other schools told me they thought JJ was such a good, cool guy, and with high school students the two adjectives did not necessarily go hand-in-hand. They could not believe he was modern Orthodox in his observance. During the three-day seminar, JJ was able to interact with and attract kids from different religious backgrounds. Even the kids who had no interest in Judaism participated in the programs when JJ encouraged them to do so, and they did so willingly, especially if JJ ran the program. JJ approached people on their own level; he knew how to talk to each person and relate to that individual. He brought Judaism to each individual person, and made Judaism and religious observance attractive to those whom he met. High schoolers can be a difficult age group with which to connect, but JJ broke through all barriers. He inspired the kids to pursue religious observance in a meaningful, fun way that would not be oppressive. JJ showed them that observance was a way to enhance life. JJ moved with ease within all circles and groups of Jews. He made it seem so easy, but that was JJ's gift.
During one of the programs at the seminar, everyone had been seated in the dining hall. JJ then made many people stand up, and he proceeded to have two lines of people face each other, with about forty people on each line. Nobody knew what was happening or what JJ was doing. I think the school faculty was a little concerned as well. JJ instructed the kids on each line to hold hands with the person facing them. Once that was accomplished, JJ went to the end of the line and told them when I land on your hands, throw me into the air and forward down the line. No one seemed to have any clue what JJ meant. Then JJ backed up about ten yards, and ran forward (or he may have roller skated) and dove into the air to land on the hands of the first people in the line. It worked! They threw him up into the air and forward. He went flying back into the air and came down on the hands of the next kids in the line, and in turn, they threw him upward and forward, letting JJ fly the entire way down. Everyone was laughing and having a great time. JJ was the life of the seminar, and he motivated others to act and live life fully.
Jonathan S. Glaser
JJ was a man with a lot of passion and love: he loved being Jewish, he loved (all) people, he loved Israel, he loved his work and he loved teaching. And JJ fulfilled his passion and love with hard work and strength by doing what is right, no matter it is big or small.
JJ taught Hebrew Alphabet Class at Makor. When I first saw his picture in the Makor brochure, I could not help to wonder how come this young and intelligent-looking man would spend one night each week to teach -- he could make good money easily and one night would be well needed for his own life in a busy city like New York. Then I saw him in person. He surprised me with another two things. First, he was so Jewish, from his Kepah, to his talk and manner. Second, he was so balanced, between the emotions that every New Yorker was struggling with at that time (October 2001) and his pleasant, warm and calm appearance; he was so balanced between the modern world and his 3,000 year old religion. And when I asked him to take 30 seconds to introduce himself since he had asked all students their stories, he said, "My parents are Americans. (?!) I studied in Israel at (?)grade. I am taking care of a foundation for the owner of this building. (and?) I love teaching, just love it. (!) OK, Enough about me. Let's start (the class)..." Although his introduction only caused me more questions, nevertheless, he was a great teacher. During the classes, he was skillful, patient and encouraging to everyone. He invited people to "take advantage of" him to ask any question anytime by using his home phone, office phone and e-mail address which were in the handout.
He always greeted everyone nicely when he or she walked in the classroom; he always stood by the door and said "good-bye" to everyone who was leaving after the class; he always cleaned up the tables (the used cups and leftover snack - the snack was provide by himself) after the class; he always stayed and waited for after-class-question, and he was always the last or among the last to leave the room. And that was always after a whole day work, and sometimes, "I have a meeting in my (Makor) office at 9:30(pm)."
In the last class of that term, JJ called it the graduation night, it was fun to look at his busyness and the programs he arranged. I remember these: after showing the class the tzitzit he was wearing when the word was read, after answering a phone call from his "Ema" (" I have to answer this, it is from my mother"), after telling the class "to honor your father and mother", after closing the door to stop the next class coming in, after inviting the Creative Director of Makor to give a "graduation speech", JJ presented a certificate to each student, accompanied by Shlock Rock music. Pictures were taken. When all were done, he was happy and satisfied.
JJ was so Jewish that everyone knew and saw and it was because all his conducts were strictly guided by his Jewish Teaching (which I did not know what exact they were at the beginning. And now, I am eager to learn all of them because simply they are the light of life), yet JJ was such a fun person with so much love to other humans.
JJ's love to others appeared in many ways: his tolerance, respect, patience, attention and his strength of doing what is right and helpful for others, including honest encouragement, real understanding and wise guidance. I wonder he ever said "can I help?" - he acted without asking. When I met JJ, I came for Jewish learning with nothing else but a wish, a wish to learn the truth about Jewish people and Judaism. In spite of at least 3 different cultures inside each of us (they were American, Israeli, and Jewish cultures in JJ, they were Chinese, European and some Christian cultures in me), in spite of the world we live in with so many "hidden languages"(for example, "yes" means "I don't know", "no" means "yes" and "OK" means "no"), with his strong Jewishness, in his special and gentle ways, JJ created a comfortable world for me to search, to think and to learn. I talked a lot and he always listened. "JJ, I visited the Holocaust Museum in DC. It is one of the best museums I have ever visited. Look, I learned this from it: sometimes, when we are not doing what is right, we are doing what is wrong already..." "JJ, I watched a documentary... I realized that learning people is different from learning a book - people have feelings and experiences which should be well considered and respected ..." "JJ, ..." JJ was always there and listened attentively. He listened so well that he knew what I needed before I realized them myself. He trained me to be a better listener by putting all his answers and responses in one paragraph without order; he inquired my Hebrew studies, he guided me to balance myself by putting hope in Hashem's teaching and His promises; he introduced self-discipline and self-control through his Jewish Faith (and these qualities were exactly what I lack of).
JJ's love to Israel was natural and powerful, in other words, with no condition. Once he told me, "...please do not worry. I have been to Israel at the average of 2 to 3 times each year most of my life. In the past 3 years, most of the times were under ‘advisory'..." To JJ, Israel was not only a place to "visit." It is his land. (In fact, isn't it a bad idea to say "it is dangerous" because one could not really explain what about the people who live there?) JJ's love to Israel is unshakable. When he came back from Israel, he was beaming, joyful and stronger. From knowing a little too little about Israel, now I learned and saw the beauty of Israel through JJ's eyes. As real as JJ's life, as real as JJ's strength, I know Israel is as beautiful as JJ believed. I was very touched by his passion to the land. I bear great respect for his parents who have done such a great job in raising such wonderful son. I told him once, " I wish one day I will look at Israel as the way you do, with love." JJ found himself strength through the teaching of Torah, he made himself capable to do what is right. And this may be the hope for Israel: claim her with love, courage and presence by her people.
JJ's strength will be always with me -- to do what is right, to live for what is worthwhile. And I thank the Master of the Universe for JJ in my life.
I clearly remember one of the last times I saw JJ. It was September 12th, 2001. Like so many other New Yorkers, I had somehow managed to pull myself out of a shocked stupor to drag myself down to the Red Cross Headquarters to see if there was anything I could do to help - or at least to try and stay busy enough to block out the nightmare.
After several hours there, I was finally assigned to assist in moving boxes of supplies off trucks and into the cavernous warehouse. There didn't seem to be anyone in charge. No one really had a clear idea of the most efficient way to move, sort or stack the boxes, and the process moved along slowly. It seemed to be somewhat of an exercise in futility, probably in large part because of the overwhelming sense of helplessness we were all experiencing.
After about half an hour, I saw a familiar figure - on roller skates. It was no surprise to me that in a time of crisis and need, JJ Greenberg should appear. He quickly took charge, assigning tasks, designating areas for each type of supply. Because he was on skates, he was able both to work twice as fast and to simultaneously oversee the progress - as well as to stop and chat with the other volunteers. I particularly was struck by not only by the leadership role he took on, but by his attitude - while obviously distraught, he still was JJ - smiling, ebullient, charismatic, filled with a joy and passion for life and a sense of love in helping others.
The last time I saw JJ was at the New Israel Fundraiser about a month and a half later - again in a setting that reflected his commitment to justice and compassion, as well as his ceaseless dedication to Judaism and to Israel.
It was with horror that a year and a day after I had seen him at the Red Cross I learned of the terrible accident. Once again the shocked stupor, the sense of loss, helplessness and useless sorrow.
I have known JJ since childhood. While we didn't see each other regularly, he was someone I always knew was around, whose presence was obvious even in his absence. His death is a tragedy not only for those who knew and loved him, but for the many he helped without ever knowing, the causes he gave himself fully to, and all those who otherwise might have crossed paths with him somewhere down the line.
JJ, we miss you and will never forget you. You have served as a role model and an inspiration, both in life and in death. The fact that you gave others life in your death speaks volumes of the sort of person you were and of the tremendous, immeasurable legacy you have left behind.
May your memory be a blessing.
With much love,
Well lets see its now almost 3 months since ....
and the mind-frame changes a bit.
At first it was a constant thought in my mind .. and now as life goes on .. sometimes exactly that happens .. life goes on. A few day will go without me thinking about the tragedy. I assume to some besides the family this may be true ... yes the hurt is there but life goes on.
I was one of the very prolific posters in the early days .. getting most of my thoughts out quickly .. and now I just check in on the site every once in a while. I actually had expected the posts to trickle/stop but they continue .. a real tribute to J
Forgive me if this posting is more about me than JJ. But I think many of us are re-examining our lives in the wake of this event
I divide the loss of JJ into several categories .. The 3 main ones are...
1. The loss of JJ the person /Friend
2. The lesson how precious life is and how easily it can slip away
(ironic living in Israel today, it was JJ's accident and not the many
Terror victims that hit home with me)
3. Life lessons from JJ.
Wanted to just share some of my thoughts/life changes since we lost JJ.
I just came back from a trip to the US for the first time in a few years. Originally we had decided that we were not going to "waste" our time in the US going from friend to friend just to sit and hang out, we wanted to have a more tangible experience. After JJ's death our attitude changed on this is seeing friends became so important to us. I realize now how precious they are and how friendship needs to be appreciated. A big part of our trip was to Baltimore where many people remember JJ and I as a team , it was hard/comforting seeing our former NCSYers/fellow advisors in the shadow. But I enjoyed spending time with them a bit more.
I find myself being much more philosophical about life these days especially about what I am accomplishing in my life. In the old days I used to make fun of the professional Shabbaton people (Lenny/JJ etc) who lived the Kiruv life while I joined them for a lot of those activities but also lived in the "Real world". A little burn-out and lot of cynicism, a family an Aliya dream etc. The Kiruv/Tikun Olam portion of my life either disappeared, or to be kinder went more to the micro (trying to make it here in Israel, dealing with family etc.).
Maybe it was JJ's death, maybe the high tech bust where now I am both not doing enough to Klal Yisrael and not making ends meet here, probably a little of both. But there is a strong voice telling me I need to be working for Klal Yisrael. JJ and I had that same need/mission. As I look back on it, he pretty much sacrificed his life (in terms of family, and his own wants and needs not Chas Veshalom the accident) or better, dedicated his life to it. I took the road more traveled. I wonder if the call is
A. because I now see I should have done this all along
B. I feel a need to pick up the slack left behind
C. With life so short and tenuous I don't know when my din ve'cheshbon is - and what I can see why I need to explain what I did with my life.
If this was fiction, I would say I have quit my job and started doing Kiruv full time again. Well that is not true. I still have many obligations and obstacles, and I can't even swear I will ever return to what is my shared calling with JJ. But JJ's death woke me up to the Emet of what I can and should be doing. (of course B"H I have some other obligations family living in Israel etc. that pose significant challenges to this).
Lastly I wanted to share a very small way I changed my life in the wake of JJ's death, and it comes from something his father said in the hesped. He spoke about how saddened the cafeteria workers were to hear of his death because JJ always took time to speak to everyone. I lack the magic personality JJ had in being able to talk to everyone and really care. I am also so much more cynical/snobbish/arrogant that he never was .. but since I heard that I have made an effort to chat with the security guards who are posted around our office building. I notice how people (like I always did) look through these people as they are just part of the scenery. B'zchut JJ I have made this small change in my life.
Wishing everyone a Happy Chanukah,
As I said in the early days of this tribute I posted a lot. if you have
not read what I wrote I do suggest that you read my Springsteen Story on JJ it seems to sum up many things.
"you think that's a menorah? This is a menorah!!" - JJ Greenberg .... M M M My Menorah ...
I was probably the least significant person in JJ's life, especially since my memories of JJ were during High School years. However, he was a very significant part of my life as well as so many others during that era. He was my first male best friend. Yes, all the girls loved him and after reading some of the writings honoring JJ, I realize I was not the only person he made feel special and unique. It was a special gift we all will miss. The first kippas (many many) and sweaters I made were for him...
I remember what a great hockey player he was and how he was so into sports. I remember speaking to him till 3 am so many days when I needed a friend to help lighten things up for me.. i remember hearing from the girls at school how he had gotten angry and punched a hole in the wall of his school...I remember people loving him and all claiming to be his best friend... I remember he used to have a shake in his leg and always wore a red wrist band..I remember how devoted he was to his mother and how proud he was of his father...I remember his laugh and always loved his voice.. I remember his braces....I remember his best friend ever, Richie Heisler, who truly was his best friend...I remember his birthday was on October 31st...
I remember how devastated I was when I learned that the first boy who ever kissed me had just passed away.. I will forever miss him and will always remember how special he was and how special he made me feel...
I was overwhelmed by JJ's goodness. I know that must sound odd, but I had never met someone so pious until our paths crossed…and on the day it happened, I knew my life would be forever changed. We met on an El Al flight on my way home from Israel. We had both been on Birthright Israel - he as an observer, me as a participant. He wanted to know all about my trip and I'm sure he got more than he bargained for. I was so at ease in his presence that I didn't hesitate to let him read every word in my journal from the trip. In the baggage claim he found me and gave me an apple. He told me that I should eat it, that he hoped that I kept good health. The gesture was so corny yet so rich. I dislike apples, but I ate it anyway.
Since that day, I have written the equivalent of a short novel's length about JJ in my journals. For some reason, our interactions always led me to write. JJ is, by far, the most reoccurring character in my life's story. I never realize exactly how detailed my accounts of our conversations and adventures were until I read through them, uninterrupted, a few days after his passing. I am grateful that I was driven to record my experiences with him, and that he will be forever present in the books of my life.
JJ called me a few minutes before he boarded the plane to go to Israel in September. I didn't have time to talk, so he said he'd give me a call when he got back. I've read through all the memories posted to this site. Many people call attention to JJ's incredible gift for making time for everyone. Talk about having your priorities straight! JJ taught me that life is only as rich as the friendships you keep. JJ had so many. I wish I hadn't been so caught up in that moment when he called. I know if it had been me calling J, he would have made the time.
I don't know about you, but finding the right words to submit to this website has been one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Reading all of the eloquent, beautifully articulated accounts of your relationships with JJ has been calming and unnerving simultaneously. I'm having so much trouble summing up the value of JJ's input in my world. Rather than pick a few meaningful moments, I want to, instead, post a poem I wrote for JJ on September 10, 2002. I was looking back on fall of 2001, how fresh our friendship was and the pride I felt when I learned of JJ's participation in the efforts to pull New York City out of the rubble that was left after the WTC attack. This poem reflects the state of our friendship a year later, but carries an eerie resonance when put into the context of today. I planned to send it to him while he was away. Perhaps this website is now the most appropriate place for it to make a home.
No amount of foresight would have made me more prepared.
You could have spelled it all out, laid this future before my eyes,
Speculation would be left behind, each rising moment would bring surprise..
I stepped out from your door and walked into this world-
A world of ash and paper and everything bent.
You rushed to clean the mess while I became absent.
I wanted to reach out to you while your hands touched us all
And we basked beneath the light you shed, you wouldn't let us fall.
We were spread out so thin,
Something slipped through.
How better could one describe what happened to me and you?
And then we kept walking, I stepped apart from this cluttered scene,
You never let me stray, clung to a vision of one day.
One day that will infinitely live, somehow,
Overwhelmed and weighted down by the heavy hand of now.
Did you know that you'd find us here?
Would you have told me if you did?
No amount of foresight would have made me more prepared.
To the relatives and friends of JJ,
JJ was a dear friend to me since we were eight years old. Our parents were close friends. Our families used to meet at their home in Riverdale on several holidays (at the time, we lived in Toronto). We spent many times together. Although I had not seen JJ for so many years, I’ll always have fond memories of him and his family.
More than anything else, JJ’s friendship was one that I should have nurtured despite the distance between us. When I read through this website dedicated to JJ’s memory, I could easily recognise JJ. To me, he had the unusual trait of being extremely popular while remaining modest and sensitive to the feelings of others. His genuine kindness and sensitivity towards others were unusually developed even when were children. the following two stories are completely in line with what I have been reading on this website.
One Shabbat, when I was about fourteen, and a guest at the Greenberg home, a messenger came over with the sad news that the Rabbi of their Shul had passed away. Not knowing who the visitor was (he was approximately our age), and not hearing the actual news, I continued to behave in a light manner, which was obviously inappropriate. As oblivious as I was to the change in atmosphere, JJ was not. As soon as we were alone, JJ simply told me matter-of-factly that the visitor was the Rabbi’s grandson who had come to inform them that the Rabbi had passed away. My subsequent embarrassment over my shameful behavior was relieved by JJ’s delicate manner in making me aware of my poor judgement. How did he know – at age fourteen – to correct me in such a graceful manner? I know adults who have not learned this skill.
Another time, when we were about twelve, JJ, after being asked what he would like in return for the Afikoman, responded that he wanted everyone to have a happy Pessach. I was so impressed by his decency that I said to myself, "If JJ can do it so can I." I have been to many Seders since then, but have never come across such selfless behavior in a child. Where did he learn how to be so sweet? He must have had a great family.
JJ’s ability to set an example for others to follow – without a trace of superiority, to "walk with kings [yet not] lose the common touch," is the rare mark of a true leader. Since learning that JJ grew up to be great person that I knew as a child, I have found myself asking, "What would JJ do in this situation." Perhaps that is because I have only now begun to realize that the best way to live a rewarding life is by emulating moral giants like JJ.
Needless to say, these are only two stories of many that have meant so much to me.
May his soul be bound with eternal life.
To JJ's friends and family:
I only knew JJ only for a very short while. He was my instructor at Makor. When I decided to take the JUST DO IT class I was nervous about it...I hadn't taken any sort of class since college, never spoke Hebrew and I was unsure of what to expect. Once I arrived at Makor, made it up to the 3rd floor, saw JJ, I was immediately relieved.
The first thing JJ did was take pictures of all of us. He said that it helped him keep everyone's name straight. For our convenience he wore a nifty name tag. (Little did I know this was his trademark!) Throughout the duration of the class he was encouraging, patient, funny, and especially quirky. I loved his mess of papers that he carried around, the little snippets of information from his past (how he learned Russian) and the roller-skating stories! I remember speaking to him after class one time and I honestly cannot remember what we were taking about. I can only remember how he looked at me when I spoke. I felt as though I was the only person in the world for that moment.
He was a unique soul and I sincerely regret that I will not have the chance to get to know him better.
Dear Rabbi Greenberg, Blu, Moshe, David, Deborah & Goody,
So many of the postings on this site speak to me: as someone who first looked up to JJ, zichrono l'bracha, from the vantage point of a youngster roaming the halls of the RJC; what it meant to be enveloped by the warmth and friendship of the Greenberg family; the genuine joy and closeness one felt as an old "friend of JJ" whenever bumping into him - at the Israel Day Parade, walking the streets of Jerusalem, when visiting our respective families in Riverdale for the hagim, and so many other times.
At the shiva in Jerusalem I mentioned a story to Rabbi Greenberg, who asked me to write it down as a memory for the family. Here goes:
The background is that the Ferzigers sat one row in front of the Greenbergs for many, many years of yamim noraim tefilot at the Hashkama Minyan in the RJC. The Greenbergs were, of course, our minyan's kohanim and we always always wished the family well upon their ascent and thanked them with a "yasher koach Kohen" upon their return. JJ and I seemed to develop a routine whereby, as he passed by on the way up to duchen, I would whisper "Hey, JJ, have us in mind. The Ferzigers - 4515 Greystone." He would smile and nod. On the way back JJ would make sure to tell me, "Had you in mind - Ferziger Family - all 7 of you - 4515 Greystone. You're covered. Don't worry." Year after year, this was our inside joke.
Last year I saw JJ in Bet Shemesh after his performance with Lenny and Shlock Rock at the annual Sukkot concert. We had not seen each other for a couple of years - but he was as warm and friendly as ever. He asked all about my children and how we were handling aliya. Then he said "y'know Ari, after all these years, I can't get up to duchen without thinking 'Ferzigers - 4515 Greystone'."
Thanks for having us in mind JJ. All of us in Klal Yisrael. May you be a melitz yosher.
With sadness, love and in friendship,
JJ taught me Hebrew last year at the Makor Center. I was very nervous about trying to learn a new language, but JJ made this challenge remarkably enjoyable. His enthsiasm, patience and exuberent manner put the fears of my classmates and me to rest. I have so often thought and spoken of the way in which he concluded our class with such thoughtfulness and fun. Now I wish I had emailed him the letter that I had drafted to him in my mind on the subway, to thank him for the gift of his energy, to tell him that I will always remember that class, and most certainly will associate serveral hebrew letters with his jokes.
JJ created a graduation ceremony at the conclusion of our class which says so much about the kind of person he was - funny, generous, eager to laugh and to make people laugh. He told us we could bring significant others, so I brought my partner who grew up in Jerusalem, the reason I wanted to learn Hebrew. She was particularly eager to meet my teacher about whom I spoke so often, and whom she thanked for my desire to practice and do my homework several times over. We both marvelled at the HILARIOUS speech he brought to us from George Bush, the tiny tape recorder that blasted the Israeli Philharmonic and the Aleph Bet Gimmel of Michael Jackson. JJ brought a camera and he then sent us all encouraging cards with the photos of us receiving our certificates from him - all this for a 6 weeks crash course!
I have just lost someone in my family and am feeling my way through the incredibly complex maze of grief. It is unpredictable and sometimes so lonely because the path you tread is through your own memories. I feel very much for the family and friends of JJ. The cathartic comings-together are also so important. Thank you to those who provided this wonderful website to honour a very special person that I really didn't know very well at all, but who affected me nonetheless.
It is strange because I never once called JJ on the phone, nor did he call me.
Yet I considered him a good friend.
I can't remember the first time I met him or where.
Yet I feel like I had known him all my life.
There were times when I wouldn't see him for months,
yet now that I know he is gone I miss him terribly.
If I walked into an event, shul(synagogue) or a meeting by myself and I saw JJ's face, I immediately felt like I was no longer alone.
At those moments when we would come together I felt like we would have a conversation, not just the usual "I'm fine and you."
In his absence there is so much that needs to be filled and I hope I can be one of his foot soldiers down here on earth.
One last thought:
Since I can remember, I learned to say the Sha'hachianu blessing whenever I had something new. This year on Yom Kippur I read the blessing in English for the first time. It thanks G-d, not for new things, but for bringing us to a new season. I couldn't help but think of JJ at that moment. I will now always associate him with that bracha (blessing) and it will always be a reminder to keep up the good in this world that JJ had begun. I will thank G-d for bringing me to the next season and remember through JJ, that there is a reason that I am still down here and there is more to be done.
To JJ's family and friends,
I am moved by the outpouring of grief and memories for JJ and want to add one story that touches on JJ's deep compassion. Two summers ago, my younger sister was told that she needed an immediate kidney transplant. I told my colleagues at Makor about this, and JJ immediately wrote down my sisters Hebrew name on what looked like a long list that he kept folded up in his wallet. He told me he would add her name to his prayers. Every time he saw me after that, he remembered to inquire after her health, and showed so much compassion for all she and my family was going through. I was especially touched to learn that upon his untimely death, his family chose to donate his organs. I only hope that JJ's extraordinary compassionate nature lives on in all those whose lives he touched.
This past Thursday, 24th October, was the first time in over 20 years that I did not speak with JJ on his birthday. I find myself composing messages to this site every day in my mind because there is so much to say -- and because JJ is always in my thoughts. What is so special is that my seven year old daughter, Tyler, mentions him to me almost every day. My kids loved JJ and saw him every time we visited NY. For ten years JJ has promised to visit us for a Shabbat in London and this past June surprised us by picking a weekend to come. He had to negotiate with my mom over the dates and really made a special effort to get on a plane for two days just to be with us for Shabbat. It was a great visit and I am so grateful that we had that special time with him alone.
I want to share a lovely story with everyone. Last weekend Tyler approached me with a Jaffa Cake in hand. She asked me if I wanted to see what JJ taught her. I was intrigued. She said that JJ taught her the right way to eat a Jaffa Cake -- that one needed to bite away the edge to be able to remove the chocolate and jammy centre in one piece and pop it into your mouth. "You can then throw the biscuit part away because it is not the good bit!". Then you need to let the chocolate dissolve in your mouth and remove a perfect, flat orange circle which "is the best bit!".
So many things remind me of JJ every day -- especially the canister of Jaffa Cakes in my kitchen. I miss him.
Dear J.J.'s Family,
I had the pleasure of getting to know J.J. through my involvement with Makor. I never really knew what his position was, just that he was often there and seemed to quietly love it as much as I did. J.J. treated me so familiarly, without formality, from the moment we met. He would proudly tell people about my Makor enthusiasm, right in front of me. When he met someone who wasn't familiar with Makor, he'd call me over to tell them about it. He made me feel important. If I went to Makor by myself, and saw him there, I knew I wasn't alone. Just his presence made me feel connected and safe. When I organized some History of Israel presentations for secular Jews and non-Jews in May, he responded to the general emails with accolades and suggestions. And he signed each email ‘xoj’. I wish I had saved them.
My last bout of laughter with him was in March, at a Makor Shabbat dessert. He was late, and trying to eat some cookies quickly, when he was called into a roomful of people to speak. When I ran into a back room to get him, he thought I was kidding, and then dashed into the crowded room with crumbs flying. I will always remember the twinkle in his eye when he would tease me, leaving me unsure if he understood the double meaning of his words, yet suspecting that he did. While I do not come from an observant background, I always felt accepted around JJ. There were no lines between us; he seamlessly moved through people, rather than around them. I feel so fortunate to have shared some time with him, and I will do my best to follow his example. What I valued the most was how unassuming and real he was-- a natural leader who mixed kindness, humor, and warmth, and positively affected so many lives.
My condolences to his family and all of those lucky people touched by him.
The first time I remember seeing you
you were dancing to the theme song from Rocky
at someone's sweet 16
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....
You had an apartment in Kiryat Moshe once
when we were all in Israel
you used to make great vegetable soup
and gave anybody who came by
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....
College- endless Friday nights
hanging out in your kitchen in Riverdale
everyone was invited
making up dumb games
always telling "remember when" stories
and laughing so hard
we could never get the words out
while creating new memories at the same time
everyone wanted to be around you
that's just who you are....
You were a clown on roller skates
at our wedding
You made us an engagement party
We lived down the street from you in Queens
traded cars cause I couldn't drive manual
and then you taught me too
You always had kosher candy from Australia or England
or assorted places you visited for kiruv
and you never ate it
you had two pianos
and couldn't play
can't tell you why
it's just who you are....
But music was everything
words to every song
original artist,producer, and year
You were Elvis, a rap star, and J.J. The Kohen
it's how you reached them
it's who you are....
You would come to Israel
we never knew when
just like that
you let our kids dress you up
and count all your watches and toothbrushes
and check to see if the wristband is really still there
you watched them dance
and listened to countless songs
and always brought candy
and listened to every word
they all want to be around you
that's just who you are...
They thought you were really Elvis
and would ask when's J.J.coming
you'd call from the airport
to say goodbye
and say you'd be back
and we knew you would...
Being with J.J.
the laughter kept coming
now the tears keep coming
You love Israel
You love people
You love life
You love family
You are our good friend
You are everybody's good friend
How do you do that?
Did you know how loved you are?
You gave a piece of yourself to everyone you knew
made every person feel important
listening to every word
How did you do it?
It's just who you are....
You weren't supposed to die like that
there's something we can't explain
a time and space all your own
that made you you seem immortal
but maybe growing old like everybody else
is just too ordinary for you
G-d has bigger plans for you- I know I can't explain
It's just who you are....
So you're leaving us behind
never growing old
that's just who you are....
that's just who you are....
You're always in our hearts,
Karen, Judah, Sarina, Tali, Yardana, and Yaakov Richman
Dear Rabbi & Blu, Moshe, DG, Deb & Goody and all of the hundreds if not thousands of people who have been honored to have JJ as your friend,
I am writing on October 23, 2002 because tomorrow would have been the day that I would have called JJ to wish him a happy birthday. You see My birthday is on the 28th of October so we each called each other every year. There were times when I would call him on the 26th and it was ok because it was in the middle of our birthdays. He wasn't just a friend I truly had the priviledge of having another brother.What is amazing about J was that there must be a countless number of people who feel exactly how I do.
I have known JJ since we were little kids growing up in Riverdale. I became close friends with JJ after the family came back from their year sabbatical in Israel (Deb was in 5th grade I believe so J was in Fourth). JJ's other long time best friend Richie Heisler was very lonely the year JJ was away and I had just started to come to shul so Richie took me in as a surrogate best friend while JJ was in Israel. I knew JJ's house better then he did as Richie and I spent an entire year exploring the building construction of their house. Little did the Greenbergs know that I would have something to do with the reconstruction of certain walls in the lining room/foyer. Let me explain JJ and I decided it was a good time to wrestle so we did.It was me and this kid Effie Bernstein versus JJ and Seth Farber. I ran at full steam at Seth putting his entire backside through the wall of the foyer! Later when we realized that the Greenbergs were eventually going to see our damage we decided to plea for mercy by righting a ridiculously silly song called "Please don't give me the chair I'm too young too die"..... Every year at least once we would sing it no matter what.
What is amazing about JJ is he didn't say when Richie brought him over who are you he welcomed me into the Greenberg home as if we had been best friends for years! I had the prividge of growing up in the Greenberg house some of my best Shabbat experience was the real kedusha of real Jewish people living a Torah life and it was fun! JJ made every moment I was with him fun. Even if he was sleeping or reading a comic or just playing backgammon or the 5 hour risk games which always ending with someone tipping the board over saying "you 're ganging up on me". This was just in Elementary school.
When we got to High School I would see JJ and wonder when did he go to High School. I went to Ramaz and there were sightings of J all over Manhattan and Riverdale! JJ knew how to have fun. When JJ was a senior in h.s. I convinced J that he should be the chapter president (we didn't have elections I appointed him!) after explaining how much fun we had and that he wouldn't have to do any work because I would do it and so would the chapter advisor JJ agreed because it was a good cause. JJ helped us build Riverdale NCSY into the coolest happening in NY Region only because he joined ! He was the magnet to everyone in Riverdale. All the guys and the girls admired and respected him. I respected him. I had so many memories that I want to write so I will come back again. I hope that perhaps my memories could be kept together. While we were both extremely busy we always had time to talk to each other and to keep in touch.
I will Miss JJ very much. My son Yori was devastated when he heard the news. JJ was to my kids Uncle JJ (my kids kept telling Eran and Itay at camp) because JJ was my brother.
I Mourn along with you.
Your brother and friend
Rabbi Brian Thau
It is difficult to try to put into words ones impressions of a person, let alone a close friend. How do you describe your emotions properly? His smile? His spirit of goodness and generosity? His warmth? His hugs? Basically, how do you describe JJ Greenberg? In my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t have thought that I would write something like this but life has a way of bringing the unexpected and the unreal so I feel that in order to keep JJ alive, his memory needs to be honored by stories about him…
I first met JJ in Israel on Succot over 10 years ago. There was something that automatically drew one to him…was it his smile or his flasher trench coat look that made you spot him from the back but take a walk around to see what was actually going on? Regardless it was JJ. He was the guy who walked into a dance club and saw me sitting alone and approached me and convinced me that it would be a great loss if I wouldn’t dance with him. We were definitely an odd couple on the dance floor but so began our friendship. JJ made a point of keeping in touch with me even when we came back to NY and so he let me into his world of early retirement. After years of working in kiruv, JJ came back from Russia and took advantage of his parent’s sabbatical in Israel to spend time in Riverdale, cataloging his comic books and records. He drew me into the social network of the Upper West Side and got me involved with Camp Simcha. That was JJ, not only doing chessed on his own but drawing others to join him.
JJ was original, not only recognized by his phoneless cord, inside out t-shirts, size 54 shorts, sash-watch, inkless pen, toothbrush, and wrist band but also in behavior. Once on a trip to Puerto Rico, we were four friends in the airport, two had cell phones while two did not - not to feel the odd man out, JJ removed his shoes and handed one to me and both of us started talking into the shoes… Maxwell Smart style. Suffice it to say, we got some interesting stares and a good picture out of it.
At my wedding the seating was separate, but that didn’t deter JJ - he took a basket of rolls and tucked a napkin in his pants to play the part of a waiter and came to “serve” on the women’s side. Fortunately the photographer caught this act on film for me to cherish.
JJ was proud to be Jewish and made others proud as well. In Puerto Rico, JJ proudly davened shacharit on the porch facing the pool showing off his teffilin to all and wearing his tzizit proudly at the pool or on the tennis court. He would roller blade in Central Park wearing his tzizit proudly on the outside. And who can forget .. “Yo Yo be Jewish”.
Another of JJ’s outstanding features was his devotion to his family from his grandparents to his nieces and nephews. Once on a drive from Jerusalem to Ra'anana we stopped off to buy lottery tickets. As we continued driving we started to spend the lottery money that we already “won”. I told JJ that if I won, I would buy him $10,000 worth of CDs and he said if he won he would buy me $10,000 in shoes. But what he real reason he wanted to win the money was so he could get a permanent car and driver for his grandparents. Not for himself. He often was his grandparent’s driver and on one occasion, when he took them to a shiva call, he met a woman and started dating her. When he was in Eilat with his family he made of point of being there solely for his family and not going out at night with friends. He took the kids to the novelty store in the hotel and let each one pick one gift of their choice. JJ was so proud of his family and wanted to share them with everyone. He had no qualms about inviting his friends to his sibling’s home - knowing that there was always room at their table and a friendly smile. His family was unique too. Most 30 year olds don’t have their mother throw a party for them however, Blu Greenberg did just that. A wonderful surprise party was thrown in JJ’s honor and he was truly surprised.
JJ’s generosity was not only for his family - it extended to his friends. On one of my last correspondences with him via e-mail he wanted to check that he had bought me a wedding gift. That was what was important to him - always doing the right thing and giving gifts to others.
JJ taught me the “30 second rule” - if we met someone and he didn’t introduce them to me within 30 seconds I had to introduce myself to them so that they would introduce themselves by name. He did this because he knew so many people and sometimes he didn’t remember their name - this way they wouldn’t feel awkward and everyone would come out feeling good.
Looking out at the hundreds of people who attended JJ’s funeral one couldn’t help but think, how did so many people know this guy and all felt so close to him. That was JJ, he made each person that he met feel special and close to him. Everyone that met him felt that they were immediately his friend and he would always remember them. As someone told my husband, there isn’t a sole on the Upper West Side between the age of 25 - 50 who didn’t know JJ.
JJ loved life, people, experiences - he loved living. They say that tzaddikim pass away on Shabbat. Perhaps conventional wisdom would not have given him that title and JJ surely would have not have accepted the title willingly but alas God granted it upon him for the world to know. In his 36 years, JJ accomplished more that those who live twice as long. He touched so many throughout the world. JJ passed on during the time of year that is called the Yamim Hanoraim, the days of awe, and this year they were truly a difficult time. Yet his shiva mourning period was cut short by Succot, a holiday also called Zman Simchateinu, the period of our happiness, and his shloshim, the final mourning period for his family, was cut short by Simchat Torah, the day of the year that the Torah is honored. I think these holidays actually represent JJ, he was a person who embodied happiness and lived Torah.
JJ would not have wanted us to mourn his passing by being sad. I think that the best way to honor JJ is to emulate his good deeds - live life to the fullest, smile at others, not to speak Lashon hora, be proud to be Jewish, love Israel, be respectful of others, make everyone feel special, care for your family, and most of all - be true yourself.
Luv ya J. Forever.
Rena Krakowski Riger
I was so sorry to hear the tragic news about JJ. Every time I think of JJ and his entire being I just smile and laugh. Upon reading one of the eulogies mentioning JJs love for music, 2 stories came to my mind.
I had been on the phone with Amy Barenholtz recalling a JJ moment. We were off to ski in Okemo on a Steve Budow and Elise Becker ski trip. JJ, Linda Honigswachs, Amy Barenholtz and I were in the car. We were blasting one of JJ's cassettes and we were singing Prince, "Raspberry Baret" on the top of our lungs and literally dancing in the car, the car was shaking like I have never seen a car shake (not!!) JJ then taught us the song the "Name Game (banana phanna phophana me my phophana)", we couldn't stop singing we were addicted, again, again we would say, we went through every name in the car and then in the ski house. It was a memorable ride never to be forgotten.
The other story was when I had to persuade JJ to eat with my family during Passover when he and Moshe were in Miami. I don't know how they got to this conversation, but JJ and my father started talking about chazanut. Boy did JJ impress my father with his knowledge, I don't think my father thought someone our age would enjoy the music and have the extensive knowledge JJ had. Anyway, my family fell in love with both your brothers, how they both got up from the table to clear and help out. A few days after Pesach my father received a package from JJ, it was a tape JJ made for my father with my fathers favorite chazzans. He was soooo touched. I wasn't surprised, that was JJ.
I feel privileged that I knew JJ and my family feels privileged that they got to know him even for a short time (The amount of time doesn't count, it is the quality and with JJ it was almost always quality time). JJ made a difference in this world and I hope that I can make even 1/100 of the difference he made!! It is now that I truely believe with all my heart in an olam habah.
With all my love,
Elise Becker Cohen
I'm very sorry to hear about J.J.'s death. Last spring I took his "Just Do It" Hebrew class at Makor and until now had no idea about his greater achievements or his stature in the community. Humble, indeed. I just new him as a dedicated, silly and fun loving teacher who seemed to love people and who loved a good joke (or even a bad one).
When I picked up my ticket at the front counter on the first day the young woman said, with a huge smile on her face, "Oh...You're in JJ's Class!" and I thought 'Whoever this guy is, he must be popular'. And he was. Not a single class went by without some smiling face popping through the door to say hello to him. He would introduce them to the class as yet another former student and would always remember their name.
Being the 'goy' that I am, he took extra care in helping me pick out a hebrew name and even showed me a whole page of research he had done on my real name and how it could be translated in different ways. I quickly realized this was not extra care. He did this kind of thing for everyone. All this just so that he could print it on a very formal looking diploma and, on the last day (after reading a spoof letter from the President of the United States congratulating us all), hand it to everyone individually in front of the the class as 'Pomp and Circumstance' played on the boom-box (Snap-shot and all).
This was "Hebrew Reading 1" held once a week for an hour and a half. This was a special guy.
Often when a person is remembered after their death one only hears of their good qualities; The person seems heroic. From the moment I met JJ he seemed to have nothing BUT good qualities. I think the lighted faces I always saw around him would agree. And after learning about what he did for others in his life (and with his body in death), he seems nothing but heroic.
I am sure that for the people who knew him well these things have always been clear about JJ. I just wanted you to know that for the guy that only new him as 'My hebrew teacher', he always treated me as most would only a dear friend (he certainly emailed more than most of my friends). And he helped me to speak my wife's language.
I'm sorry for you, his loved ones, because you must miss this dear, dear man. I'm sorry for this world because we can't afford to loose such an extraordinary human being. And I'm sorry for myself because I will never be that one he so proudly introduces when I poke my head into his classroom.
My name is Eran and I am JJ's nephew.
Last time I saw him and did something special with him was last time I went to America. He then took me, my mother, and my brothers to a restaurant where we all had hamburgers except for JJ who's a vegetarian.
He then took us to a music store called "hmv" where he let all of us buy cd's.
Then we went to see the broadway show "The Prince and the Pauper" and I got so lucky 'cause I sat next to him.
I had lot's and lot's of fun that day.
I remember that we used to love going to JJ's house cause he had a really fun Nintendo game and candy's that pops in your mouth.
He'd always fix us a great lunch or dinner.
Once he took us to Central Park where he taught my brother Nathaniel to rollerblade and we went into a circle of rollerbladers (my mother says everybody knew him but I don't remember that).
I'll write back,
This was an email I sent to the listserve recently created for J.J.'s friends from his year at BMT in Israel. The news of J.J.'s accident brought together a group of close to 100 people spread all over the world, many who hadn't been in touch since their 1983-84 year in yeshiva together. I am sure that J.J. would love the fact that we are all sharing old stories and jokes, reliving old times, apologizing for past misdeeds, and rediscovering how much we all care for each other.
Its been very moving getting these memories and updates from you all.
I have always been very stoic when getting bad news, but saying Tehilim for JJ on Friday night brought me to tears for the first time in many years.
Its been incredible realizing just how many tens of thousands JJ seems to have touched personally. The sheer numbers of people who felt deep personal relationships with him, relationships that made them feel special and unique as a person, the little side jokes and shared experiences- in every part of the world! The wide range of people from Jewish leaders and scholars to everyday folks...The special relationships he had with his family and siblings and the time they spent together in Gloucester, the way they were his best friends...
Everything was a little bit more fun and special when you did it with JJ - whenever I spoke to him, he made me feel smarter, funnier, more interesting of a person. And he did it without doing it at anyone else's expense.
We are all so busy with our lives and careers, but so was JJ and still he seemed to have time to connect with so many lives. I promise to try to do a better job valuing those who are and who have been part of my life.
At the same time that J was so much of a people person, he was also so much his own person - his unique quirks - the sweatband, the pocket blowtorch he carried in Israel, the little chocolates in his carry bag, roller blading everywhere, being a vegetarian, his own schedule for classes and college, his music collection, Schlock Rock.
JJ's focus for his talents was kiruv - my suggestion for contributing to his good work is for us to support an outreach program that he was involved with - Makor, which he helped create and where he taught beginning Hebrew might be an idea. Rabbi David Gezelman, Executive Director of Makor, has been one of JJ's closest colleagues these last years.
(fyi - I have since learnt about the Foundation being established in J.J.'s memory)
J.J.'s impact on so many during his life was so vast, and it is clear that the impact of his death is rippling even wider.
To JJ's friends and relatives -
JJ was one of my closest friends in Queens College. We saw each other nearly every day, sharing classes and lunches in the Kosher Caf. When college was over, we went our separate ways, but would often run into each other in the city and would greet each other with a warm hello. That was the thing about JJ. It didn't matter how long it had been. You could pick up right where you left off.
A few years ago we saw each other at a party and decided to leave together with another friend. The elevator doors closed and I looked around and realized the elevator was packed with 16 men and two women. We had gone down about two floors when the elevator stopped -- we were stuck between the 20th and 21st floors. Surrounded by men who are a foot taller or more, I felt myself starting to panic. I confided to JJ that I was about to have a panic attack. I will never forget his kindness, especially at that moment. He looked in my eyes and told me we'd be fine. Then he pulled out his wallet and entertained me with stories and pictures of his niece and nephews.
Just as I was started to relax, JJ's other friend collapsed in the elevator. We all took a step back and tried to revive him. When we were finally released from the elevator, there was an ambulance waiting downstairs. JJ and I brought his friend into the ambulance where he was checked out and pronounced healthy. Even so, JJ brought him home and stayed the night to make sure he was OK.
That's the person JJ was. And these are the memories I will carry with me always. What a tragic loss. The world will not be the same without him.
I had planned at a later date to write and share something about my relation with JJ which I will do in the future...
But something very interesting came up:
As I left the memorial service for JJ I began home on the subway and became engaged in a wonderful conversation about Music and Theater with a person sitting next to me....approaching his stop he handed me his card: Playwright/Director.. John Jesurun.
I don't know how he does it but JJ will never cease to amaze and inspire me.
Much Love.. Wayne
Music Prod Mngr./Sound Engineer
of the 92ND ST Y
We have 4 kids, triplet 9.5 year old girls and a 1 year old son. My daughters adored JJ. All kids did. They say that kids are the best judges of character so it makes sense that they all loved JJ. And it wasn't just the presents, although they knew that JJ would never walk through the door empty handed. He really spent time with them, he would sit on the couch and just talk with them, asking about school, their friends, etc.
Once JJ's visit coincided with my daughter Talia's birthday party. He came into our house and told the girls that he just came to drop off their Beanie Babies but couldn't stay. Talia begged and pleaded with him to at east stay for the ice cream and cake and JJ agreed with a smile. Always with a smile. JJ then went upstairs with Talia and her 8 year old giggly friends and helped her get "dressed" for the party. He picked out a leotard and a tutu from the dress-up box and told her to go into the bathroom and change. When she came out, he fixed her hair and put a tiara on her head and sent her downstairs to the party looking like a princess. We have pictures of JJ from her party and we took them out to look at them on the day of the funeral. Talia's best memories from her party are of JJ.
JJ always brought my girls Beanie Babies. When we received the bag with the Beanie Babies that were found in JJ's suitcase after he died, my kids were kind of scared to open it. I have never seen them receive a present without ripping it open immediately. They opened the bag with reverence and didn't even fight about which doll belonged to whom, they just took them out of the bag gently and held them for a second. My daughter Netanya looked at me and said, "all of our beanie babies from JJ are special but this one is a mazkeret' (keepsake) to remember him". I noticed the other day as I was making her bed that she has it suspended from the top bunkbed so that when she is lying on the bottom bunk she sees it all of the time.
In typical JJ fashion, the Beanie Babies that he chose must have been the most bizarre looking ones in the store. Instead of cute little puppies or bunnies, he bought them odd looking colorful dragons. And of course my kids just love them.
JJ was very much a part of our lives, even though we only saw him briefly once every few months. I guess that a small dose of JJ goes a long way. We will miss him very much.
After reading the four eulogies written by his family, I now understand the size of the gift that this remarkable family gave to six other families by donating J.J.'s organs after his tragic death. I am one of those that received a kidney that is working 100% and has improved my life. I was, until the transplant, half person and I am now a full and a happy head of my family. I want to thank BLU and Rabbi YITZ GREENBERG for the gift and to send all the remarkable family my codolences for their loss. My story is in the shade of the GREENBERG's one. I hope to write it in this website soon after being in touch with the family.
Avraham Zvi Friedlender
Petah Tiqva, Israel
When I was in high school at Bronx Science, I belonged to a group called JPSY (Jewish Public School Youth). It was a very special group that had local and regional activities. I met JJ at some of the Shabbatonim.
Though I haven't seen him in years, I can say that I have fond memories of him as an amazing Madrich with never-ending enthusiasm and co'ach.
Reena Barnett, Jerusalem
Dear Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg, Deborah, Moshe, David and Goodey,
When I made Aliyah in 1991, one of the first people I was introduced to was JJ. I was convinced that he was a native of Jerusalem based on how at home he seemed to be here, (he seemed to know and be known by everyone).
What immediately struck me as I told you Rabbi Greenberg, was his warm and generously knowing smile.
In the few times that we met in the early 90's I remember well the excitement that was created when word got around that JJ was arriving on one of his seemingly frequent visits to Jerusalem. (JJ's coming!!) and how the room simply seemed to light up with his beautiful smile.
I have to admit that I am the poorer for not having got to know JJ better, but feel enriched for having been in his company, leaving memories of a very warm and generous soul.
May JJ's sweet and great Neshama have the Aliya which he thoroughly deserves...
David Hersham - Jerusalem
October 14, 2002
In December 2000, we, Michal and me, prepared a trip to New York, which was actually based on JJ hospitality.
We were serving at the Israeli Embassy in Belgium and had the opportunity to know JJ via our friendship with the Weil family, (Eric, Goody and the kids).
So upon landing in NY we went straight to JJ apartment. It was late at night and we meet JJ there.
It was very late and time to go to bed, we just turned to the right, toward the study were there was also a bed, but JJ stands at the door and said “you’ll sleep in my room”, Michi was pregnant and he wouldn’t consider letting her sleep in the study, we had a short “debate”, and I am well known to be stubborn, but it was “lost” from the first word, JJ decided that it should be so, and it was so. The truth is that somehow we didn’t feel embarrassed (just a little because of some social obligation and habit which JJ was so much above).
We stayed there all the week, every morning JJ wouldn’t leave to work before he was sure that we knew what we were about to do this day, had the right entrance pass to the museums, knew exactly what new exhibition was on. (Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, we must apologize that this week he probably arrived late to work because of us…)
JJ’s flat was also something amazing, stepping in I get the impression of a flat that cannot fit all the items which were there, but with time you can feel that every single object has his exact place, story and meaning, from the small paper on the mirror of the bathroom, with the thanks of Tamar and Tsahi, until the last disk on the infinite shelves. There was room for every one, and once you have been there, you are there forever.
And so will he be with us forever.
P.S.- A small confession, although my hearing is quite bad, I am very sensitive to noise, and can’t sleep even with the ticking of a hand watch.
So in JJ‘s room there is this Elvis Presley watch, dancing and making such noise…
Every night before getting to bed I used to take out the batteries and in the morning I would put them back and hang it up again. Although I fixed the time in reference to my watch I have no doubt that he noticed it…
Michi and Manu Abitbol