My father passed away last Thursday morning at the age of 91. The following is the eulogy I delivered for my father last Thursday.
Parkinson’s is a cruel disease. It robs the body of the ability to walk, speak, eat, and move one’s limbs. So why would Hashem afflict the arms of a man who never missed a day of putting on tefillin since his bar mitzvah—in the horrors of Nazi Germany, on the battlefield in Korea, and while raising eight children with my mother, of blessed memory, in what was then a spiritual wasteland, in the late 1950s, in Columbus, Ohio? For 42 years, until my mother’s passing in 1994, my parents, along with just a few other religious families, built the Orthodox community in Columbus and created the standards of Orthodoxy there that exist until today.
Why would Hashem afflict the arms and hands of a man who made sure that everyone in Columbus, Ohio, had a lulav and esrog to hold in their hands?
Why would Hashem afflict the legs of a man who walked three miles each way to the Jewish nursing home in Columbus to daven for the residents even though we had a shul on our corner?
Why would Hashem afflict the voice of a man who used that voice to daven for the elderly, to read the Megillah, to blow the shofar for anyone who could not go to shul, and to read the Torah every Shabbos at the old-age home? Why would Hashem afflict the voice of man who taught baalei teshuvah how to sing the Shabbos zemiros?
His voice and his mouth were utilized to humor people, to cheer people up when they were down, to settle disputes among strangers who would call him for advice and guidance. Dad was a brilliant writer and orator who served as master of ceremonies at multitudes of community functions because of his sharp sense of humor and knowledge of Jewish law and world events.
But the most important use of his voice was his non-wavering expression of strict adherence to Jewish law, his adherence to halachah in the sphere of Jewish education, kashrut, and Jewish burial law and ritual, as he worked tirelessly with my mother in Columbus with just a few other stalwarts who were committed to authentic Jewish life.
When they started in Columbus in 1957, it was Mike and Ruth Seidemann and Rabbi David and Ruth Stavsky who fought every battle. The Stavskys were the rabbinic force and the Seidemanns were the laypeople who set the standards for Orthodox Judaism in Columbus. And through their efforts, the amount of yarmulkes and sheitels and kosher functions and taharah increased, and the mikveh and Hebrew day school, every aspect of Orthodox Jewish life, developed over the years.
When my parents arrived there in 1957, they were told by their relatives in New York to return to New York, that they would never have religious children and grandchildren if they remained in Columbus. But when my father passed away last Thursday at age 91, he had well over 91 descendants, each one an Orthodox Jew.
When my father arrived on the scene there was one Jewish organization that had annual dinners that were kosher. Within years, all the dinners were kosher. The Jewish home for the aged maintained its Orthodox practices despite many calls to relax those standards. They never changed them as long as Mr. Seidemann was there. At every crossroad, when a religious issue arose, the question was asked, “Well, what would Mike Seidemann say? What would Mike Seidemann do?”
I heard that some 15 years after my father left Columbus, there was a kosher affair at a hotel and the rabbi instructed the hotel staff to perform a certain task in a certain way. The non-Jewish worker replied that he can’t do so because Mr. Seidemann never would have permitted that.
He never lectured the unaffiliated to uphold standards but he never compromised either. Instead he used his quiet power of persuasion and often his humor to warm up to people, and then out of respect for Mr. Seidemann they would follow Jewish law.
He held a high position in government in Ohio and the staff changed the Xmas party to the “end-of-the-year party” out of respect for my father. They wanted to make the party kosher so my father could not only attend but also wouldn’t have to witness others eat non-kosher food. When they realized how difficult that would be, they told my mother that the only feasible way would be to have the party at our house and that my mother would have to cater it herself—and so it was.
When my mother went to the hospital every two years or so to give birth to yet another Seidemann, the hospital staff would remove the crucifix in her room and replace it only after my mother was discharged. My parents did not request that it be removed. The staff did so on their own out of respect for my parents.
When my father was admitted to the hospital in April 2018 a meeting was held of the various department heads and the nursing staff. They discussed that a holy man was just admitted and that he could not be treated like everyone else and there were written instructions on how he was to be treated, including days when he could not be shaved and how to reposition his yarmulke.
For close to 30 years, dad would type what became known as the “Shabbos letter.” We would receive it before Shabbos as we were then scattered in various yeshivas and high schools and colleges and then when we were married in our homes. The letters shared the events in the family, in Columbus, in Israel, and around the world. One of my sisters saved every letter, over 1,000 letters, that dad would mail to each of the children and to his parents who were still alive, living in Queens.
As galactic as he was, he lived in this world as well. Every weeknight, the family, after eating dinner together, would watch the CBS evening news because my parents felt that a Jew had to also know how to navigate the secular world. And then we would return to the TV to watch the Johnny Carson monologue because, as my dad said, the evening news can be cruel at times and we needed a bit of humor to end the day. And that’s how Dad persuaded Jews to become better Jews, and non-Jews to become better people.
Dad was always concerned with making sure that the non-Jews could never have a negative impression of religious Jews. When the state of Ohio provided my father with a state-owned car, he would drive next to us as we walked to school to make sure we were safe. He would not drive us because he said he did not have permission to use the car for personal trips, and what would the non-Jew say if they saw Mr. Seidemann using a state-owned vehicle for private matters?
So why would Hashem afflict the arms, legs, mouth, and voice of a man who used his arms, legs, mouth, and voice in the service of G-d?
I offer the following explanation. We live in a world where people want to show off the accomplishments of their arms, hands, legs, and voices.
Till the end, with all of the physical manifestations of the Parkinson’s, all of the infections, the constant hospitalizations, going from the hospital and back to the nursing home and then back to the hospital every few weeks, with the loss of the use of his arms, legs, and voice, my father’s heart remained unaffected. His cardiac function was never compromised.
It was a message that while actions speak louder than words, unless a warm, vibrant, beating heart is motivating those actions, that man will not be judged favorably.
So Hashem stilled the arms, hands, legs, and voice of a man who spent his entire life using those limbs and bodily systems to raise a family of Orthodox Jews, to build a Jewish community in Columbus, Ohio, to affect the non-Jews’ perception of Jews, and to settle disputes amongst Jew and non-Jew—but kept Dad’s heart strong till the end because it’s the heart that must dictate the actions of our limbs.
Twenty-five years ago, when my mother passed away, we closed one chapter of our family book, and today we close another. But we have memories to fill multiple lifetimes and a strong foundation upon which to continue to build. May Hashem comfort us among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.