When I was a kid, parents always shooed their children out of the Synagogue when it was time to recite the prayer because it was deemed frightening for children to see adults cry. And for most of my adult life it was not a prayer I said. This year, in addition to remembering my father who passed away 7 years ago, I remembered my nephew, Ilan Tokayer, who was taken from us this part March, at the age of 25. Although I had shed many tears over him when I learned he had passed away and since then, a poem I read today in the prayerbook brought back the loss that his family and friends still feel:
We Remember Them, by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer,
At the rising of the sun and at its going down
We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter
We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring
We remember them....
When people have real influence in life, their memory never leaves us, unlike the way we sometimes realize that we don't know if certain celebrities who once glowed brightly are dead or alive. But Ilan made a difference in his short life, which was easy to discern by the fact that 1000 people came to his funeral in New Jersey, and another 1000 people came to his burial in Israel.
What made me think about Ilan's legacy was the recent death of Steve Jobs, whose influence everyone has been commemorating over the past few days. The words I heard used most frequently used to describe him were "visionary" and "relentless," and his effect on society is undeniable. Although there were exceptions, few people talked about Jobs' impact as a human being, as a husband, father, or close friend. I don't point this out to detract anything from the famously private Jobs; I only mention it to highlight that the gentle soul who was Ilan left a different king of lasting influence.
Much as Steve Jobs' frequently quoted speech to the graduates of Stanford exhorts us to consider, at every moment, whether we are doing what we want to be doing with our lives, the memory of Ilan exhorts me, and the many people he touched, to ask ourselves Are we living the life of the kind of human being we can be proud to be? Ilan touched many peoples' lives, but he touched them all individually, and on different levels -- emotional, spiritual, creative, and many others. And I suspect that the people who were privileged to know him will keep asking ourselves the question of whether we're living up to the model he exemplified of what a human being can become, and how he changed the world.
In remembering Ilan, I'd like to cite one more poem, this from Hannah Senesh: "There are stars whose light reaches the earth only after they themselves have disintegrated. And there are individuals whose memory lights the world after they have passed from it. These lights shine in the darkest night and illumine for us the path."