By Benzion Kaplan
A large crowd of mourners gathered at Yeshiva Darchei Torah on DecemberÂ 3 for the levayah of Harvey (Chaim Tuvia) Gordon, z’l, who served the yeshiva for the last three years–as director of safety and security–and the greater Jewish community for decades before that, most recently as executive director of the Jewish Community Council of the Rockaway Peninsula.
But as those at the levayah discovered, and Harvey’s close friends and relatives had known for years, he transcended his titles and job descriptions; above all he was a distinguished mensch, a dedicated servant of Hashem and His people.
Harvey Gordon was born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, a city known as the “Rose of New England” that was a world away from the bustle of New York where he later moved. The New England simplicity and straightforward outlook on life that he grew up with were traits that he never shed.
Harvey was not privileged to attend a yeshiva or day school, yet he became stronger in his Yiddishkeit thanks to the guidance of Rabbi and Mrs. Mitchell Geller of his hometown and the pioneering influence of NCSY. Seeking a true yeshiva experience, Harvey made his way to Far Rockaway and became a talmid of Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld, zt’l, who was then in the early stages of his legendary life’s work at the Sh’or Yoshuv Institute.
Harvey remained in Far Rockaway and settled there with his wife, Lynne, one of the earliest employees of the nascent Yeshiva Darchei Torah. (Today Mrs. Gordon serves as the administrator of the yeshiva’s office.) Harvey was an exemplary husband, treating his spouse of over 40 years with the utmost derech eretz and respect. Their son Yudi remembers that he never left the table without thanking his wife for the meal and never began the first seudah of yom tov without first acknowledging her hard work to all those seated around the table.
He was a devoted father, present with his family at supper each evening even as he worked extra jobs to afford the tuitions necessary for his four children to receive the very best chinuch. Rather than preaching the importance of learning, Harvey taught by example. He faithfully attended the shiurim of his rebbi, Rabbi Amos Bunim, zt’l, and when Rabbi Bunim was niftar, he joined the shiur of Rabbi Yehoshua Kurland, shlita. Eventually he extended the overflowing love he had for his children to his grandchildren; his favorite part of the day was spending quality time with them, whether in person or via Skype.
Harvey was the embodiment of kibbud av va’eim, often making the three-hour drive to Norwich to visit and assist his parents. Beyond his immediate family, he made a point of staying in active contact with his many cousins and took his wife and children with him to numerous family reunions. Whenever a relative whose descendants were not observant passed away, Harvey committed to saying Kaddish for the entire year; his fellow mispallelim got the sense that he was saying Kaddish more often than not.
Harvey Gordon was the quintessential ehrliche Yid, possessed of a uniquely sterling character. His integrity was unassailable. His speech and actions were without embellishment or pretense. If he said he would do something, he did it. Working in the field of communal service, he dedicated his entire life to helping other people, without seeking the limelight or credit for his achievements. The accomplishments of getting a father a decent job, finding respectable housing for an immigrant, or ensuring the safe arrival and dismissal of hundreds of children at the yeshiva each day were reward enough. He had a positive, upbeat perspective on life and rarely, if ever, complained, even as he endured his difficult illness. He chose instead to express his gratitude to his doctors, nurses, and visitors.
Chesed was his lifeblood, and it did not end with the close of business each day. Harvey and Lynne Gordon’s home on Beach 12th Street was a hub of hachnasas orchim, with guests–from schoolmates of his children to strangers–dining and sleeping there for days and weeks on end. Even in his final days, as his strength ebbed away, Harvey’s mind was occupied with finding employment for a fellow Jew.
He was fiercely diligent about mitzvos and never missed tefillah b’tzibbur. Even in his final, semi-conscious state, he was focused on matters such as the latest time for Krias Shema, donning tefillin, davening Ma’ariv, and reciting Havdallah and Kiddush Levanah.
Throughout his life, in every situation, he dealt with each person–whether indigent applicants, medaled police commanders, or impatient parents waiting in a carpool line–with the same equanimity, firmness about what was right, and compassion. His life was one of kiddush Hashem, embodying the dictum of Chazal “that the name of Heaven be beloved through you.”
Harvey Gordon was a multifaceted individual, and the impact of his quiet chesed will generate ripple effects for years to come. Yet Rabbi Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, summed up in his hesped one quality that Harvey’s family, friends, and colleagues can truly testify to.
“He’s going back [to Shamayim] clean,” the rosh yeshiva declared, a most fitting statement about a truly great man with impeccable integrity, an ehrliche Yid who will be sorely missed and whose shining legacy will long endure.
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By Benzion Kaplan