The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can't take that away from me
We may never, never meet again
On that bumpy road to love
Still I'll always, always keep the memory of
The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no, they can't take that away from me
No, they can't take that away from me
Two nice Jewish boys named George and Ira Gershwin wrote this song that was part of my childhood. The basic meaning of the song is that even if the lovers are physically separated, they still have their memories. It is a song of mixed joy and sadness.
A generation later, the song was featured on commercials for taking photographs in color so that you could remember your child’s early years. Since that commercial expanded the song’s range from romantic love to all the loves of our lives, the song said to me that I want to keep the loves of my life close to my heart. And they can’t take that away from me.
But then I asked myself:
Who’s “they”? Who are the “they” that want to take my loves away from me?
For me, “they” are death, time, sickness, reality, heart failure, old age, strokes, cancer, anxiety, fear, pessimism, nasty people, failure, financial pressures, and the list goes on.
They, the negative realities, want to take it away from you.
I want to use the phrase and make it talk about important themes in our lives.
First, I want to talk about the hardest subject, about the people whom we love who have died.
My father died a few months ago.
But long before he died, for years, “they” tried to take him away from me.
Strokes, heart failure, anxiety, fear.
But I’d go to see him, or I’d talk to him on the phone, and his mind was intact even if his personality was affected by the strokes, and I would superimpose my memories of him onto the man I was sitting with and talking to,
Not to let them take him away from me
And when he tried to take himself away from me,
When he would not want to talk about the things we had always talked about
I coaxed him until he would
They tried to take my father away
But they couldn’t do it; I wouldn’t let them
I hope that when I talk about my relationship with my father, you’ll be able to relate in some way to one or more of your own relationships
Because if you're lucky like me
If you're blessed in this life
You have overlapping identity with one or more people.
Not just intersecting lives; you are partly that person and that person is partly you.
My father and I not only had intertwined lives but overlapping identities. Most people called him “Rabbi Scolnic.” Most people call me “Rabbi Scolnic.” He used to say, smiling, riffing off of Christian theology, “The father becomes the son and the son becomes the father.” “If you know the father,” he would say, “you know the son, and if you know the son, you know the father.” And then he’d laugh at his own joke.
When Joseph in the Bible reveals himself to his brothers, he says: HaOde Avi Chai?
“Does my father yet live? ...”
I will tell you that my father lives. Right now.
His identity is strong in me
Maybe stronger than ever
The ‘him’ in me stands here, on my first set of High Holidays since his death,
not weak and shaken
But strong and defiant
My family lost its center, its patriarch
But we're not done
We're not over
We're not finished
We've got centuries to go before we sleep
And my father’s four children and 13 grandchildren and lots and lots of great-grandchildren
they will all carry him on into the future. Aand so my father so-called died this year
but he's not sleeping
He will never sleep
And so, even now that he’s so-called “gone,” I say to him:
The way you laughed at your own jokes
The way you were interested in everything
The way you loved life with vitality
The way you used negative psychology and begged me not to become a rabbi;
The way you told me to keep my sermons short
No, no, they can’t take that away from me
They did not take him away from me.
I hope that you are sitting here and saying to yourself:
Yes, my identity and that of this parent or child or sibling or spouse or friend overlap and we are partly each other.
And if that person has died, he or she has not been taken away from me.
We won’t meet again
on this bumpy road called life
but we are still we.
People said to me, with great kindness, “I’m sorry for the loss of your father.”
But I didn’t lose him
Not for a second
He is with me and in me stronger than when he was so-called alive
So I am telling you not to let death take anything away from you.
I also want to talk about some other things that they want to take away from you.
One of them is your Jewish identity
“Religion is so old-fashioned
What do you need that stuff for?
Who needs to sit shiva?
Who needs a synagogue?
Who needs a community when you have it online?
I am a spiritual person and I don’t need a prayer book or a tradition.”
But the truth is that we all do need to be part of a we
When my father died, it was so good and so meaningful to have the traditions to follow
When I couldn’t think, the genius of the ages thought for me
And every morning I wake up and I’m with him at services
During a really sad and rough time in my life, I wouldn’t have traded my Judaism for anything.
And all of the traditions, starting with covering the mirror so I wasn’t conscious of my appearance, played perfectly in my emotions.
And people will try to take the intensity of your feelings and your memories away. They’ll say, “It’s time to let go. It’s time to move on.”
Well, I don’t want to let go. I will go on in my life but I don’t want to move away from my memories. I’m not moving from my father to another father.
There’s a movie called Super 8 that begins with a boy’s mother dying in a tragic accident. The boy, Joe, carries a locket with her picture in his pocket. The movie ends with an alien leaving Earth in a rocket that pulls all the metal towards it so that the locket flies out of Joe’s pocket and becomes attached to the rocket.
The idea is: Joe has been forced to let go of his mother. And that is considered to be the positive conclusion of the movie.
But I’m against this. I want Joe to carry that locket. I want him to go on and have his mother near him.
So the question is:
Should we let go?
Should we let the locket go?
I don’t want to let go.
Why should I?
What’s wrong or unhealthy with wearing your mother’s pin or earrings or wearing your father’s tie or kipah?
What’s wrong with using your father’s Kiddush cup or your mother’s candlesticks?
I understand the point of finding a balance between holding on and moving on.
But there is too much pressure about moving on. And it’s so-called well-meaning people who seem to judge you and give you a prescribed timetable.
“Oh, your father passed away three months ago. I’m sure you’re ok by now.”
What do you mean “ok”?
I was ok the day he died.
I’m ok now.
Or to tell the truth, I’m ok except when I’m not ok.
Because I had a hole in my heart then and I still do and I guess I always will.
If you love someone who has died, not loved but love, time enables you to go on, but time should not be a factor in getting you to let go.
I’ll say it again: I will never let go.
So another force that will try to take it away from you will be all those who push too hard to let go that which you should not let go of.
Joe should keep his mother’s locket
I have my grandfather’s desk in my office
I use my father’s Rabbi’s Manual.
I always will.
There’s another movie, this one called NEVER LET ME GO, and it is another futuristic dystopian nightmare. We follow the lives of clones, human clones that were created to donate body parts and organs to those whom they were cloned from. The clones know their purpose; they are “Donors,” those who go through operation after operation while they are being mined for their healthy organs. Eventually, they die at young ages after all of the operations. Their purpose is specific and limited; it is why they were brought into the world in the first place.
You watch this movie and your heart breaks when these human clones realize that their lives are limited and that they will lose each other.
But then your heart starts beating with fear when you realize that it is not so different from us; we realize how limited our lives are. At least the clones know why they were brought into life; many of us never seem to really know what our purpose is.
The title “Never Let Me Go” is from the title of a love song, but the song becomes one that is sung by all of us to all of our loved ones,
and by all of our loved ones to all of us, and it is what I hear from my loved ones who have died. Never let me go.
And again, there are these people who insist that I have to let go.
And I just ask, “Why?”
And they say, “Because life is for the living.”
Fine, I’ll go on, but why should death end the relationship?
I am not morbid or maudlin or pathetic.
And I’m not crazy and I don’t do séances.
And so I say, defiantly, I don’t care what anybody says, when it comes to my love and my memory, you can’t take that away from me.
What else are they going to try to take away from you?
There are people in your life who are “they,” who will try to take away your pride, your success, your happiness, your pleasure, your confidence, your trust, your ideals.
A Jewish girl named Carole King sings:
People can be so cold
they'll hurt you and desert you
they'll take your soul if you let them
oh yeah don't you let them.
That’s precisely right.
Don’t you let them.
After all, of the things that make us miserable, most of them are people. Family members who drive you out of your mind,
Bosses who put you down and evaluate you unfairly
Co-workers who eye you suspiciously for no reason
But don’t you let them convince you that you did a bad job or something wrong
You were conscientious and loyal and you took your work seriously every day
And even if you got fired
You have to say to yourself,
I did a good job.
I have value.
And don’t let them take your beliefs away
I promise you: they will try to take it away from you
Hold on to your dreams, your hopes
Keep working on your hopes
Despite all their rejection
Don’t give up
Maybe you’re the tortoise and not the hare,
maybe you’re the one who takes longer to get to the finish line
But don’t stop
Keep moving on your little tortoise legs and don’t be so worried about where the hares are
And yes, time/reality/age/bad luck will move against your health, your happiness, your pleasure
They will try to take it away from you.
What you have to do is find the pleasure in every day
Find ways to be happy
Do everything you can to be as healthy as you can and stop with the stupid excuses and the self-destructive denial
Say, every day,
“As long as I live,
My loved ones will live
As long as I live,
I will carry my loves in me and with me
I will never let them go
I will always have the locket in my pocket
I will never let my loved ones pass away
And I will never let them take my identity away
I will always know who I am
I am Jewish
And that means that I love and I strive and I never give up and I always hope for the best
And I know all about them
Time and death and nasty people
But you see
I have all of this wonderful stuff inside me
No no, they will never take that away from me.