Remembrances

From friends and colleagues:

After Rabbi Gold died, his Worship and Study Congregation at Harvard Hillel requested that congregants and friends share remembrances of him. Here are just a small sample:

Sam Fuchs

I joined Worship and Study and met Ben after he had retired from Harvard Hillel, and so could only listen with wonder, and some envy, as minyaners of longer standing spoke of his vigorous and leadership and inspiring High Holidays sermons and Shabbat divrei Torah [discussions explaining and interpreting the Torah portion].  Happily, over the last half dozen years or so, I had the good fortune of becoming close to Ben as I became his companion for the weekly Shabbat services, personal assistant on matters of technology, sukkah building, and other diverse matters, and spent many hours talking, singing, and sharing meals (often lovingly served to us both by his youngest daughter, Merav) with him.

When Ben learned that my rusty Hebrew was a residue of what was, to age 11, my mother tongue, he encouraged me to revive it and offered to do so through regular readings of Hebrew with him. I jumped on the opportunity and quickly accepted. We picked the tanach [Bible] books of 1 and 2 Samuel as the texts for our study, for Ben thought of them as some of the most beautifully written texts in the tanach. While I was well acquainted with the Torah we read every Shabbat, I had only random familiarity with the rest of tanach, something I could begin to correct with this study.

We met once a week in the late afternoon for about an hour and a half to read the Books of Samuel.  Ben would greet me at the door with, “Baruch haba!” – “Blessed be the one who arrives!” His warm, sincere manner of saying it gave this welcome a sense approaching a blessing.  My initial awkward response of “Hi” seemed pale in comparison, and so I asked him for a more proper Hebrew response. “Baruch hanimtzah!” he said; literally, “Blessed be the one who is found!” It seemed a perfect response, for truly I had been blessed in finding Rabbi Ben-Zion Gold and having him welcome me into his life. And so it became our custom whenever I visited: “Baruch haba!” “Baruch hanimtzah!”

Reading the Books of Samuel, the tales of Samuel, Saul and David became some of the most wonderful hours I can remember over the last few years. We would sit side by side at his dining room table, with two copies of the Tanach, a beautifully printed Hebrew volume, and the JPS Hebrew-English volume. We would alternate, one reading a few verses in Hebrew, the other responding with the English, and then switch the roles.  His Hebrew was so superior to mine and I so enjoyed listening to it, that I often asked him to read all the Hebrew and have me respond with the English; but he insisted we alternate so that I could work on my Hebrew. As with all things, Ben was a very strict teacher, and would patiently insist I repeat the whole of the my Hebrew verses if I mispronounced a word or two in them. The language was so rich, the images so vivid, the narrative so dramatic, that I did so with pleasure.  Ben would sometimes pause, after a particularly dramatic or intricate or bloody confrontation in the narrative and declare with loving wonder “What a story!”  or “How bloody!” or make some other short observation about the text.  I remember how much pleasure we both took in reading, rereading, and laughing as we visualized the wonderfully rendered scene in 1 Samuel 24 when, hot in pursuit of David, Saul relieves himself in the cave in which David is hiding, and “… then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe” and afterwards waves the cloth at Saul saying, “I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion.”

I relished every session, and with Ben as my guide, grew to marvel at craft and beauty of the language in Samuel. For me, most moving was the figure of Saul and the tragic fate bestowed upon him through the intrigue dictated by God and carried out by Samuel and David. Our readings slowed as Ben weakened and we last read of David’s sorrow at his favorite son’s, Absalom’s, rebellion. Thanks to Ben, I learned that, wondrous as is Torah, there is breathtaking beauty in the rest of tanach for me to study in years to come.

As I think of Ben these last few days, sometime my mind wonders off and sees his peaceful, smiling self approaching the Gates of His Maker, and there being greeted with “Baruch haba!” and Ben responding with joy, “Baruch hanimtzah!”

 

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