Hesped for Joe Friedman ז"ל

Delivered outside Golders Green Synagogue

GGS 19/05/13

Few rabbis or communities are privileged to have a Joe Friedman in their midst.  It has been my tremendous blessing over the past 10 years and the great good fortune of our community for many more to have had Joe among us. 

Joe was the kind of ba’al ha-bayit with unswerving communal and personal loyalty, a man who gave everything of himself with no desire for any recognition; all he wanted in return was that his beloved community should thrive and be successful.

In 2005, I took the unusual step of reviving an ancient, yet dormant, tradition – the awarding of a ‘chaver’ title, of course, to Joe.  This turned him into a ‘companion’ of the community, a status he richly deserved.  The decoration took Joe and Yaffa by surprise; we gathered on a Shabbat morning on some pretext and I presented him with the award.  There was, of course, no other way to do this, as had he been asked in advance, he would never have accepted.  I looked back at the certificate we presented Joe on that occasion, which included the following:

He served as gabbai of our Shul for many years, faithfully worked for the community, whether in gabbayut or acts of chesed, including visiting the sick, accompanying the dead, comforting mourners, discreetly giving charity to the poor, arranging meals of visitors to the community; he strengthened Torah and awe of heaven.

On reflection, to many, many other contributions, I add these:

Hosting, together with Yaffa, more than 15 years of fantastic Shavuot-night programmes, holding the hand of a youngish rabbi as he found his feet in the community, being constantly available for sage advice and fighting for the Shul in every way.

The latter became quite literal when on one Shabbat morning, Joe physically wrestled a suspicious visitor to the floor of the bimah!

In every respect, Joe was a gibor – a warrior; how remarkable that he left this world on the Shabbat on which we read the Haftorah from Shoftim 13 about the birth of the original warrior – Samson.  At the time of the ‘chaver’ presentation, I described the award to Yaffa as a kind of knighthood for Joe, a knighthood for a gibor, a man who might be described elsewhere as a ‘knight of faith’.  Joe was a gibor for his family; a gibor for his Yiddishkeit, a gibor for his friends, a gibor for his rabbi and a gibor for his beloved community.

Although I am flooded with memories, I will offer just three brief vignettes to illustrate the kind of man Joe was.

On the day (1st April 2003) that my family and I arrived in this community, we moved into a house in Woodstock Road.  I recall that there was an old-fashioned single-legged telephone table in the hall which I was unable to remove from the wall where I wanted to erect a bookcase.  A man called Joe Friedman, whom I hardly knew, had mentioned that if I needed anything, I should give him a call, so I did.  Within five minutes, he was round at the house, holding a crowbar, with which he first ripped the table from the wall and then completely demolished it.  My wife reminded me that his pockets were also stuffed with sweets for our children.

A few years later, I was in the process of buying a family car, something I’d mentioned to Joe.  He was absolutely insistent that he accompanied me, as he was sure that I would get ripped off if I went on my own.  He test-drove the car, negotiated a good deal with the garage and for a few days, even covered a considerable shortfall.

And who could forget Joe’s appearance on Yom Kippur?  On several occasions, my wife remarked that with his white tallit and kittel complementing his white hair and shining face, Joe looked like an angel.  Whether leading the davening, reading Maftir Yonah or concentrating on his own tefillah, he presented a memorable and inspirational vision.

Joe’s given name was actually Shmuel Yosef, although no-one ever called him that – he was always known as Joe, Joseph or to Yaffa: Yossi.

It is written about the great prophet, the original Shmuel:

והנער שמואל משרת את ה

The lad Shmuel served God… (I Shmuel 3:1)

This verse sums up our ‘Shmuel’ – he regarded himself as just a lad, an ordinary person, although, of course, he was not.  And, quite simply, Joe ‘served God’.

At the start of Shemot, we learn about the transition of generations as the period of the Egyptian slavery begins.

וימת יוסף וכל אחיו וכל הדור ההוא

And Yosef died along with all his brothers and all of that generation. (Shemot 1:6)

This depiction hits a nerve for us.  Our ‘Yosef’ was of a type and from an era that will not be seen again.  Joe’s passion, generosity of spirit and deep commitment came from a generation that passes with him.

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has asked me to include the following personal tribute to Joe:

I remember Joe Friedman as a warm, friendly, deeply committed member of the Golders Green Synagogue, loyal to Judaism, the Jewish people and the state of Israel. He was always quiet and modest in manner, but always felt a sense of responsibility and always had a strong conscience and a determination to do the right and menschlich deed. It was a privilege to know him, and Elaine and I will miss him deeply. Our deepest condolences go to his loving wife Yaffa, his lovely children, Gaby, Ben, Annette, and Dana and the other members of his family. He was a blessing in life, and may his memory continue to inspire us.

To Yaffa, who stood by Joe’s side, supporting him in every endeavour, we say: your loss is huge and we try to share it and cry with you; we admire your fortitude and love.

Gaby, Ben, Dana and Annette, be comforted in the knowledge that your father Joe was a true gibor – a warrior who is a blessing to you and to all of us, an inspirational man whom I and no-one in our community will ever forget.

To Judith and Michael, we mourn with you the loss of a remarkable brother.

I conclude with the words of a congregant who was not able to attend today’s funeral, as he has summed up all our feelings so beautifully:

Please let Joe’s family know how fond all people were of him, and quite literally, how loved he was by all who met him.  He was truly a most wonderful and charming man.  His passing is a terrible loss to the community.

בלע המות לנצח ומחה ה אלקים דמעה מעל כל פנים

He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from upon all faces... (Yeshayahu 25:8)

יהי זכרו ברוך

May his memory be for a blessing.