Memorial candle
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One week ago, on Shabbat, Dr. Jesse Berkowitz passed away peacefully at the age of 95 at the Protea Hills retirement village. As a friend who knew Jesse longer than anyone except his immediate family, I was asked to eulogize him. That request set me to thinking about why I so admired this American oleh, a respected gastroenterologist who was never in the public eye and never wanted to be, but who serves as a role model for what ethical, idealistic, yet practical Jewish Zionist life is all about.

When Yaakov Avinu left Beer Sheva, Rashi, in this week's Torah reading, says that "the departure of a righteous person makes an impression; for when a righteous person is in a city, he is its magnificence, he is its splendor, he is its grandeur. Once he has departed from there, its magnificence has gone away, its splendor has gone away, its grandeur has gone away." Since Jesse had retired many years earlier and for the past few years was not his old self, his leaving would not leave an obvious impression of that kind, but it is important that Mark Antony's words do not come true, that the good he did is not interred with him.

Jesse loved helping people. When my eldest son Akiva (whose son is now in Gaza - so do the math) was 4, he was in a playgroup in the Five Towns with Jesse's youngest, Lawrence, and I began a warm friendship with his wife Elinor z"l. Then my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, stage 3, which at the time was not the treatable lymphoma it is today, but fairly close to a death sentence.

Jesse heard of it from Elinor, called me and offered his help. He took me to his friend, Dr. Sam Korman, the doctor who pioneered amniocentesis, and the two of them spent hours with me calling one doctor after another (remember, no internet, no smartphones, not even a fax machine), each call leading to more information. Eventually, they were able to suggest four alternatives for treatment, and I chose the experimental aggressive one of an Israeli named Dr. Kaplan in California.

Once he had completed the treatment, Dov and I made aliyah as we had planned, and he lived another 35 years, making his mark as founding dean of the Emunah College of Arts and Technology and becoming a recipient of the Israel Education prize and the Religious Education prize for his life's work.

Jesse, who barely knew me, accompanied us all through the six month period of treatment, making sure Dov was registered as undergoing experimental procedures, so that it cost us nothing, - and if did all that for us, can you imagine what he did for other people?

Jesse loved Eretz Yisrael, all of Eretz Yisrael. When he donated a Sefer Torah, it was to Metzad in Gush Etzion. He was a dedicated supporter of the Jewish presence in Chevron, and Rabbi Eliezer Waldman zt"l of the Kiryat Arba Yeshiva had the key to the Berkowitz home and would go there straight from the airport when he came to the USA. Jesse finally realized his dream of moving to Eretz Yisrael, although by then Elinor was ill. All their children studied in Israel and live there.

When as a young man, he served for years as a US army doctor, he certainly could not have imagined that six of his twelve grandchildren would be serving in the IDF in the current war, but I am sure that his heart would be bursting with pride. May all our soldiers return safely.

Jesse loved Torah and had great respect for Talmidei Chachamim. He grew up in the South Bronx and went to the Bronx H.S. of Science, yet he always learned Torah. For many years, the weekly Kiddush club at this house near Beth Sholom in Cedarhurst, L.I. was a learning meeting, embellished by Elinor's famous vegetarian cholent.

He was an active member of the shul, made sure his children got a thorough Torah education, read widely, went to lectures. He told me how he called Rabbi Herschel Shachter for advice on how to deal with Elinor's condition when she became very ill with the autoimmune disease that, despite his heroic efforts, eventually took her life.

Jesse loved Elinor. They built a wonderful family, inspiring them all with a desire to live in Israel. We stayed with them for weeks when in the US for Dov's follow-up, while their children saw our home as theirs when they came to study in Israel. Elinor had several strokes, became paralyzed on most of one side, and unable to speak. When I took her to lunch, I had to cut her food for her, when they came for Shabbat, I would help her dress.

But Jesse took this care to another level. He would call me before the holidays – it always made me cry - and ask what kind of clothes, what kind of hats were in style, so he could be sure that she, who had always been well groomed and very well dressed, would continue to look her best.

He was very proud of his children, but I am not sure they heard that from him very often! But he and my husband spoke almost every day, and then after Dov died, he would speak to me, and half of every conversation was about how much nachat they gave him...

Jesse and Ettie's bayit neeman beYisrael. After Elinor's death, Jesse continued to entertain guests on Shabbat. He was a health conscious and excellent cook, but the children were married and it was a lonely period for him. And then Hashem blessed him again and a friend suggested he meet Ettie Porat, a refined and gracious Jerusalem widow whose daughters I had taught in Chorev and who had run a beautiful home and successful business.

After their marriage, the Berkowitz household once again became a warm, inviting place where I was often a guest and always made to feel at home. Ettie and I became good friends, even taking courses together, and she and Jesse enjoyed their retirement years and grandchildren to the fullest.

Sadly, Jesse eventually began to show signs of cognitive deterioration, but Ettie rose to the challenge and took care of him devotedly, at some point realizing that the best solution was for the two to move to Protea Hills, where cared for by Ettie and the caregiver she carefully chose for him, he lived comfortably until he passed away.

May his memory be blessed, and may Ettie be blessed with many more years of fruitful life, enjoying the company of her children, grandchildren (also great grandchildren!) and the many friends who filled the house during the shiva.

And may we be granted many more Religious Zionist models of the kind Dr. Jesse Berkowitz symbolized.