Remembering Jack

Today January 29th was my father's birthday. He would be 84 years old had he lived. He made his transition a year and half ago. As I remember him in my heart, I want to share the eulogy that I wrote and was graciously spoken for me by Rabbi Goldstein from Temple Sha'arey Shalom on August 16, 2009. 

E U L O G Y  
for Jack M. Slater

Jack and Jeff at Camp Winadu 1962

There are a few things I wanted you to know about my father.

Jack had big feet.

My dad was a tall man and ever since I was a boy, I always thought that from his heel to his toe those things at the end of his legs must be a yard long. Maybe I had this awareness because as a child my feet were small and almost felt like an after thought on my body. As I grew up my feet did grow to size 8. They were dwarfed by Dad’s size 13 that seemed to go on forever and a day.

I have come to realize that it wasn’t really his feet that made me feel pangs of anxiety but that he put those feet into really big shoes. I mean really big shoes.

In 1969 when Jack’s beloved father Joe Slater passed away, as the oldest son, Jack had his own shoes to fill: his father’s. As Jack’s oldest son, I knew some day I too would have to try to fill Jack’s shoes and even step into the legacy of my grandfather’s soul. And like my father, and his father before him, I would need to be patient, calm and wise so that I could offer help to those who needed it. I imagined I would intuitively know how to celebrate the spectacular joy of the most ordinary routine event recognizing each blessing that was right before me. So, I need to be brave and take that giant step to be like Jack.

Jack had big feet.

Jack was my coach in baseball and life 
Jack had long arms.

Standing next to him his arms was like branches from an overgrown Hawaiian banyan tree that went on about a mile past its trunk as the branches grow into the earth.  Dad could reach up and touch things on high shelves or stretch down below into deep dark openings. By contrast, my arms were of average length that did plenty of ordinary things but felt like they could never have Jack’s reach.

I have also come to understand why he needed such long arms. Without them he couldn’t reach deep into his pockets to pull out $20 dollar bills to hand out to his friends or family members in need.  He would extend his helping hand way down into his pockets so that his children and grandchildren had a little spending money. Or, with these long arms, he could go even deeper into the pocket of his soul to help found a new synagogue in 1957 or provide help to a community in need who had far less. He was always giving every day of his life.

And those extra long arms gave him a chance to give even more. Jack had the ability to pull close to him all of those who needed a loving arm around a shoulder. He surrounded our entire family as the one person to whom we could rely upon to help in ways far more important than money. He was able to hold together those who needed love, compassion or just the warmth of human kindness.

Jack had long arms.

Jack had an enormous heart.

Surrounded by Jack's love: Diane and Jeff in 1959
When I was little and would sit on his lap I remember the tick tock tempo of what seemed to be a huge and powerful pump that would power my father. The heart of a man is like the center of his being generating a life force to propel him during his time on earth. As my wife Ra El has reminded me, my father’s heart is now light, energy and love that can always be felt, heard and comforting to each and every one of us. His body is in transition but the celestial light in his heart lives on.

Ironically, Jack’s physical heart became damaged in his later years. Although he had to have a defibrillator implanted, no mechanical device was really needed to fuel what needed to flow through his veins. His heart problems were physical but Jack Slater never had anything wrong with his heart that any Doctor or device needed to fix. It always seemed odd to say that we said Dad had chronic heart failure. Jack Slater did not have heart failure. He had heart success.

Jack’s big enormous heart was always his greatest gift to his friends and family. It was a heart that pulsed with warmth and empathy to all who needed love. His heart was a family treasure that he gave and shared with each and every person he touched and came into contact with every day. He listened with heart, he saw the world through his heart and he loved through his heart. Every person who hears these words is thinking Jack Slater was a sweet man.

Sometimes at dinner with Ra El, Sarah and Fanny, we will play the dinner question game. I’ll make up some silly question for all of us to talk about. What three people would you love to have dinner with? Who from history would you love to meet? Occasionally the question will be about what super power we would like to have? Would we want to fly around the world like Superman or have X-ray vision to see past steel walls? Would we want to be invisible or have the power to move mountains? I always wanted a heart as enormous and as strong as my father.

Jack had an enormous heart.

After our wonderful four days visiting with my parents this past week, my oldest daughter Sarah flew back to Hawaii where she teaches. My loving wife Ra El gave our daughter Sarah a beautiful spiritual wall hanging for her new apartment. It reads.

“In the end, what matters most is how well did you live, how well did you love, how well did you learn to let go”?

As a child, whenever I would go to bed at night, my father would say to me “schluff gezunt” which he told me meant to have a good night’s sleep. I don’t know if it was German or Yiddish. I just know that I heard these words at the end of each day during my childhood.

For the last 28 years, I too would kiss my daughter’s good night and tell them schluff gezunt. Six days ago, as I left Springfield to head back to North Carolina, I kissed my dad and said good bye. I told him schluff gezunt.

Now he continues on his extraordinary journey, not back to sleep, but into the embrace and full awakening of his magnificent soul that lives in light and love forever.  He takes his enormous heart, his long arms of light, and his hugely radiant soul into the infinite reality to spread more love in the cosmos wherever it is needed.   He has come home to his truly Bigger Self, the awe-inspiring presence of God’s light that he has always been and will always be forever.

Thank you, Dad, for sharing these gifts of love with us.  We send you hugs and kisses on your journey.  May it be filled with peace, joy, beauty, love, light, laughter, and wonder forever.

There are a few things I wanted you to know about my father.

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