Recently we learned in the Torah that Am Yisrael was expelled from Eretz Yisrael because we didn’t serve Hashem with joy, simcha, even though we were blessed with great material and spiritual wealth. That situation would never had occurred if Alvin Gordon had lived in those days. With his perpetually happy smile, he brought simcha to everyone he met. Just as the sun radiates warmth, Alvin Gordon radiated joy and love. To everyone. Immediately. After a minute in his presence even strangers felt like a cherished brother or a son.
Mr. Gordon was buried last night in the Har HaMenachot Cemetary in Givat Shaul after a full and rewarding 93 years. He is survived by his wife, Elaine and his sons, Robert, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee, and Baruch, a longtime resident of Bet-El, founder of Arutz 7’s Israel National News in English, and currently Director of Development of Bet-El Institutions.
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon made Aliyah some fifteen years ago. Continuing to run his law firm in Memphis, he and his wife would spend 5 months a year in Israel where he became an important part in the lives of hundreds of people for his acts of gratuitous kindness.
Alvin Gordon was a familiar figure to the residents of Bet-El where Baruch’s family has lived for nearly 40 years. An avid supporter of the community and yeshiva, he would often be seen walking outside in his big and colorful Iraqi kippah, handing out small gifts to children and blessing everyone he met with a happy greeting to have a wonderful day.
In eulogizing his father, Baruch said that he was never too busy to interrupt what he was doing and find time to talk to a person in need. “When I visited my parents in Memphis,” Baruch recalled, “I would often sit with my father in his law office. Among his many involvements with the local Jewish community, he managed the affairs and finances of two Jewish foundations. Throughout the day, shlichim would arrive from all over the Jewish world, seeking help for their communities and organizations. Instead of quickly writing out a check and keeping on with his law work, he would always take the time to sit with the visitor and make him feel welcome, inquiring in detail about what the project needed to achieve its goals in the most effective manner."
"And he enjoyed introducing our assimilated brothers and sisters to the sweetness of the Torah. The Gordon home was like an Israeli-American hotel on Shabbat. Our Shabbos meals were almost as famous in Memphis as Elvis Presley. Dad loved to tell message-filled stories that enchanted everyone. He was like Shlomo Carlebach without a guitar. In his completely humble and unassuming manner he made every guest feel at home. 'This bottle of Southern Comfort still has a lot of good whiskey in it,' he would say in his thick southern drawl, pushing it toward a guest. 'Have another drink. A fine bottle of whisky is like a mother cow. More than the calf likes to drink, the mother likes to give forth her milk to its young'uns. If you want to make this bottle happy, you have to drink its whisky.’ And all the time they were getting high on the whisky, they were getting high on the messages of Torah which my father would feed them along with his stories.”
His son Robert said that his father was the most generous person he ever met. “He helped hundreds of people on a private individual level. Often my father would sense that a person was in need and he would offer to help him even before the person made a request. The thing that made him happiest about money was giving it to others.”
In Memphis, the Gordon family were members of the local Conservative synagogue but Torah was not yet the center of their lives as it would later become. Baruch reported that his father found great inspiration and a role model to follow in the Rebbe of Chabad. On a visit to Crown Heights which sparked his religious awakening, Mr. Gordon waited his turn with a large crowd of people to receive the Rebbe’s blessing. “Seeing my father, the Rebbe paused to ask him where he was from. When my father answered Memphis, the Rebbe said that he didn’t yet have a Chabad shaliach in Memphis and that my father was the man for the task. My father stuttered in surprise and said that he didn’t know Torah. The Rebbe told him to learn and that a great blessing would follow.”
Dedicating himself to his new mission, Mr. Gordon established a center for Chabad in Memphis and hired a Rabbi to run operations. He himself began to study Torah several hours a day with the Rabbi of the Conservative synagogue who had obtained an Orthodox Rabbinical ordination - a true Talmid Chacham who had agreed to lead the congregation because he needed parnassa like many Orthodox Rabbis in those days in America. Slowly the Gordon home library grew to house hundreds of books on a rainbow of Jewish themes. In the years which followed, Mr. Gordon developed close friendships with Rabbi Beryl Wein, Rabbi Chaim Kramer, author of several books about Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and Rabbi David Samson, author of several commentaries on the teachings of Rabbi Kook. Mr. Gordon helped finance several of their educational projects and publications.
Baruch says that his father always stressed to his children and grandchildren the great importance of relationships. “My father often mentioned a research project undertaken by Harvard University. A group of 200 people from all walks of life were followed for 40 years in order to determine what were the main factors which led to a healthy and happy life. The answer wasn't wealth, success or fame. The answer turned out to be good relationships with other people.
“My father was kind to everyone,” his son Robert remembers. “He loved to help people and make them smile. For him, doing chesed was the most important thing in the world.”
May his memory be for blessing and an example to all of us.