In her famous poem Lekhol ish yesh shem, each of us has a name, Zelda stated:
Each of us has a name given us by God and by our father and mother.
But as the poem proceeds she explains clearly and powerfully that we all live in many different contexts, and what we are called in one may be different from another.
Each of us has a name given by our stature and smile, and the clothes we wear.
In paying tribute to Steve on behalf of the Leo Baeck College he cherished, I think of that disarming smile, his strong but subtle presence, his black suit and black suede shoes.
Each of us has a name given us by our enemies and by those we love.
Steve knew that the survival and flourishing of the College was vital for the future of Progressive Judaism in the United Kingdom. He wanted Leo Baeck to be as strong as it could be, he faced up to those who thought differently with determination and vigour, even if he was always scrupulously polite.
Each of us has a name given us by our leisure time and by our work.
Steve selflessly gave his leisure time to working for Leo Baeck, revising its ways of governance to assert its independence as a centre of excellence; he was always at the end of the phone when counsel or consolation was needed, and he was quick to be congratulatory and appreciative when that was appropriate: and although he was softly spoken he had real steel when it was needed, in his voice and in his backbone.
Each of us has a name given us by the sea and the way we die.
Steve continued to work for the College, the day before he died we had an exchange of emails, a last conversation. The news when it came was a bolt from the blue, if anyone could have beaten cancer surely it was Steve, but no. And the names given by the way he lived and the way he died?
Honour, decency, determination, courage, integrity, passion, vision and menschlichkeit, that above all.
We shall not see his like again, yehi zikhro barukh, his memory will be a blessing.
I am devastated, not being able to attend the funeral of Stephen Herman, a man I have known for decades, a man for whom I have had the greatest respect. I say decades, because I have been part of the Herman family life in so many ways, sad occasions and so many happy times – Bar and Bat Mitzvah of Ed and Jess, Kabbalat Torah too, maybe even baby blessings, marriages and many simchas, all celebrated in the Herman way, not forgetting the bar mitzvah. I have known the wider family and the dogs too. Steve and Judi, friends and most loyal, supportive congregants, so active and so full of life and energy.
Steve: all the words we must use I know have been used in the letters you have and will receive: nice, good, kind, compassionate, polite…all apply but each one not strong enough. Even mensch is too weak for Steve was a super mensch.
He was supportive to me, as the rabbi, of the congregation in so many ways. He was so welcoming to strangers and first-time members. He was interested in everybody’s story. He was a great President, making insightful speeches to Bnei Mitzvah, and always showing appreciation, writing to thank and congratulate the rabbis and choir after each High Holydays. President, yet always the willing shlepper. A Council member with always good counsel, advice given in the quietest way, never pompous or overbearing. A sincere and practicing Jew, whether it was reading Torah or the Book of Jonah. Active in Oaklands Drama Group, well, in so many ways and aspects of our congregational life.
I suppose we always said – Judi and Steve, can only think of them as a couple; such a wonderful marriage, such a wonderful couple, in so many ways the opposite of each other – you know what I mean: Judi, shall we say so fiery. Steve seeming so placid…yet it sure did work. Deeply in love through all the years.
Steve and Judi, such devoted parents and their love coloured the character and lives of their children Ed and Jess. And then…grandchildren Alys, Dylan and Myla, the gift that comes to from years of family togetherness.
It is often said that it’s not the number of years of our life that matters, but the life we give to those years, and Steve certainly packed so much into his life. He gave so much to so many individuals and institutions, but he was rewarded amply by the nachus of seeing his children happily settled, the grandchildren, of course, by the respect he received from so many, and of course by the love he received from Judi. From the exciting and colourful and artistic adventures you had together…from the love that will never end.
Stephen Herman: one in a million, we are thankful to have known you and spent so many years with you – Leych l’shalom – go in peace, and may your memory always give us sense of peace and blessing.
The Torah notes that, ‘never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses – whom the Eternal singled out, face to face…’ … Yet in every generation there are a few souls of whom we perceive more than a Divine spark – that we are all gifted; rather one filled with the Ruach Elohim Divine spirit that with regard to Bezalel we are told, comprised chochma, bina and da’at (skill, ability, knowledge or as Rashi suggests, wisdom, understanding and knowledge).
We, as individuals and as institutions, have been blessed by having Steve amongst us and leading us through his skill, knowledge and love. We admit that we feel cheated not to have had more and shocked at his sudden death.
The strength of a character is in the legacy that one leaves. The Torah recounts that when the period of wailing and mourning for Moses came to an end, there was a successor, Joshua the son of Nun, filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him.
We have been privileged to be touched by Steve. Perhaps we might honour Steve best the next time when in a moment that would have been filled by him, we step up with a pun, a conciliatory interruption, a smile rather than a word, wisdom from Jewish tradition or another culture, a love for the planet and all it contains, with a strong resolve for what is right, and all with a passionate and intense love.
In a conversation recorded in the Talmud (bMoed Katan 25b), Bar Avin asks Bar Kipok what words he would use for his eulogy. The response was:
Weep for the mourners,
Not for the soul that is gone –
It to its repose,
We to grief.
Words such as these might have been offered by Steve on this day, such was the humility, gentleness and care of the man.
And so it is, just as we pray that Steve’s soul is embraced by the Divine sukkat shalom, shelter of peace, we pray that you are surrounded both by the love of all those around you, and that which can only be from the Eternal One.