If they had begun by saying that he was a Bronx boy who went to Stuyvesant High School, I would have had a moral obligation to co-officiate at his memorial service.
The Unitarian Minister who called me in the late evening ignored this significant status.
Instead the reverend pleaded on behalf of the Unitarian widow for me to suffuse the service with Jewish elements for her late husband whose core being was Jewish.
"We have been looking for a rabbi and you came highly recommended. The memorial service will take place on Friday. Won’t you please come? It would mean so much to the bereaved family."
And that is how I found myself at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland, chanting the "El Maleh Rachamim," and leading the grieving community in the Kaddish. And did I mention the ribbon cutting ritual that the son and the grandchildren participated in before the service?
The eulogies were offered by two of his 85-year-old male friends who grew up with the deceased in the Bronx. Did I say the Bronx? My old neighborhood in the Bronx. The Bronx Zoo. The Bronx Botanical Gardens. Crotona Park and the Cross Bronx Expressway.
My sweet childhood reflections returned rapidly at a memorial service by a man I never met, but a man I knew so much about. I knew where he played and where he went to school; I knew the sights and sounds of his native birthplace; I knew his struggles as a first generation immigrant; and I heard his Bronx accent whispering in my ear. "Wasn’t I a lucky man to have had the opportunities I had to become the scientist I was supposed to be in a country that gave me the freedom to excel and explore?"
I met Feivel’s soul last week and we traded stories about the gift of growing up in the Bronx without a map to guide us, just a path to invent.
In gratitude. In memoriam. Amen.