January 9, 2009


A few weeks ago, I turned 25. Along with the semi-obligatory quarter-life crisis that comes along with this, I concretely realized the one thing that strikes fear into the heart of every young man of my age: that I am turning into my father.

But when I look at this more closely, I see that is perhaps not as bad as I might have thought. After all, didn’t my father go through the same thing at one point? Surely, when people say “you look like a Kushnir,” it must mean something. Case in point, when my bubbe called up my zeide when I was born to announce that I looked identical to my father when hewas born (and my zeide allegedly expressing his skepticism over the phone), I figure that she wouldn’t have said what she said if there weren’t something important in blood.

We all called my grandad by different names: zeide, Punchy, Dave, Dad. But let’s not forget that his name was David – or in Hebrew, daled-vav-daled. The letter “daled” is related to the word “deled” – or door. Indeed, with a bit of imagination, the shape of the letter evokes that of a doorframe.

I don’t mean to compare my zeide to a doorframe, but I wish to use it as a metaphor. A doorframe is a structure used to support a wall around a space below. It must be strong, lest the wall collapse under its own weight.

For all the trials he saw throughout the twentieth century, between cold wars, hot wars, culture wars and even family wars, my zeide was like that doorframe. He was the strength that bound the family together. Through his class, his stoicism, his tacit expression of fatherly power and guidance, his acumen and his humour, he kept a small community of people together with his strength.

Strength and power are often confused. Power is the ability to make someone do something they would not otherwise do. However, power flows from strength, which in a human sense, is a mark of determination toward a set of values. And more than anything, that value in his life was his family. My zeide, for all of the challenges that his long life brought him, lived his life in strength.

However, only those who are truly stong will know to use their strength judiciously. Through that sense of judiciousness, he knew when he was right, and – when the time came for it – when his power needed to be applied to the world in a different way than it had been previously.

That’s the mark of my zeide. Strength. Through his long fight against illness, and thus his fight for his family – and by that, I mean all of us, including those who cannot be with us today but still hold him in their hearts – he showed us what strength means.

I bring up the analogy of lineage because of something a wise colleague of mine told me once: family is a funny thing; no matter how hard you try to run away from it, it will always come back to bite you in the tuchus. Assuming this is true, I trust myself to be very fortunate. For if I can expect to grow a shred of Zeide’s strength into something else, if that is his legacy, then I will be proud to carry it.

Let me end these words with a couple of words from our friend Binyamin David, something that describes his strength through restraint:

“If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.”

Thank you.


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