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Donniel Hartman’s Eulogy for His Father

Text of the eulogy that Doniel Hartman delivered at the funeral of his father, SHI Founder David Hartman

Below is the text of the eulogy that Donniel Hartman delivered at the funeral of his father, SHI Founder David Hartman.

My Dearest Abba,

It is very hard to say goodbye to you. Yesterday, when I covered your face with a sheet, a big hole was hollowed out of my heart. You were no longer with me.
We have been together for so long, walking together, and dreaming together. There is nothing in my life and for the last 40 years, nothing in yours that we did not either do together or share together or count on each other for support.
We saw each other every day, and even when I was 6000 miles away, there was not a day in which we did not talk to each other. While I can see you under the sheet, today is the first day that we cannot talk. Today I am truly alone.
You were my teacher, and my friend. But most of all you were my Abba.
You were not a simple man, and as you used to tell me, neither am I, and over the years of such closeness, of working day in and day out together, there were also stormy times. But, we had a rule. If we were arguing, no one was allowed to leave the room shouting. We had to hear each other out; continue to talk. Given our personalities, that rule was not always strictly observed, but the principle was maintained. Nothing was going to break us apart and nothing was going to come between us.
For me it was easier for one thing I always knew and drew upon, the one thing that I knew I could count on and indeed counted on every day, was that at the end of the day, your love and loyalty and care for my wellbeing, for my success, for my happiness – was a given and the core of our relationship. We were partners in life. You were my Abba.
I don’t think I can ever truly say goodbye to you. I don’t think that I will ever live a day without thinking about you, thinking about what you would think or say, think about something that you did or said that is shaping and influencing my life, my actions, my decisions.
While you were my Abba, you were also bigger than life. As my Abba it took me many years to understand the influence you had on people. As a teenager, carrying your books from lecture to lecture, people would talk to me about how special you are, how you changed their lives forever. People loved you, admired you, and spoke of you with such superlatives. For many years I couldn’t get it. After all, you were just an Abba.  
I don’t think there is any single explanation for your magic, for the secret of your power, influence and impact on so many people. Over the countless years as I watched you change and inspire person after person after person, often with one lecture, I came to understand some of it.
You were bigger than life, because you didn’t yearn to merely understand it but to change it. Reality didn’t define you; it was merely the springboard from which you started to weave your dreams, your vision of a better person, a better Judaism, a better Israel.
The antithesis of your life was the statement you encountered over and again when you came on aliyah – kakha ze ba-aretz, "this is the way it is in Israel." How you hated that statement. You despised it, ridiculed it and when you spoke about it over and again in your lectures, you dared people to free themselves from the prison of its grasp.
You were a dream merchant who swept people off their feet and inspired them to reimagine who they could be, and what they could be. To be close to you was to be a part of a nobler, greater, more inspiring picture of what life could be. To be next to you was to be a part of you, it was to touch what bigger than life could feel like. That was your power. That was your gift to people. Once touched by you, people were no longer the same.
Abba, you were, however, a different type of dream-merchant. You didn’t live in the fantasy world. Dreams were not an alternate reality, a place of escape, but a lens on which to look at the world and recalibrate its rules. You celebrated real life, loved reality. You simply believed that life should be bigger, that it could be better and you and all those around you were tasked to make it so. Through the conviction of your dreams you refused to let reality intimidate or limit you and as a result forged a path of achievements which are simply unimaginable. Any obstacle in your path would disappear through the power of your faith: faith in yourself, faith in your mission, faith in your vision of what the world should look like. Your whole career, this building, this institution and the thousands of students you trained and inspired, are and will always be a living testimony to your practical real worldly skill and genius, to the real-politic wisdom and acumen of a dream-merchant. 
Your magic did not only free people to reimagine themselves. Another secret of your power was that you liberated yourself and others to be free thinkers, uninhibited and unhindered by the convention and compromise of kakha ze, "that is the way it is," within their Jewish lives. To learn with you was to travel on an unpredictable, creative, exciting and unchartered journey to an intellectual and spiritual world of honesty, decency and relevancy, a world where there was room to breathe. Nothing stood in the way of your mind. Your imagination was irreverent, boundless and boundary-less. But unlike so many creative geniuses and path-blazers, you did not teach your students to agree with you, but to push for excellence and that nothing should stand in the way of their minds, their truths and their questions. It was only thus that they could earn your respect.
And so through you and with you, people were able to discover and be inspired by new ideas and new ways of thinking and living as Jews. They were not merely mesmerized by you, but enchanted by what they could experience because of you.
My Dearest Abba. Your lived a great life, a life lived your way until the very end. Even though you had difficulty breathing on your own these last few months, every time you pulled the oxygen away from you face, you were defying reality to limit you. You were not to be bound, confined or told by anyone what to do. As you wrote in your book "A Living Covenant," a book which inspired a generation of searching, questioning and thoughtful Jews, you were God’s covenantal partner, and God, Judaism, and anyone who dared to question it, where put in their place by the power of your will and the audacity of your spirit.
In the end, the rules of life, the limitations of the body overcame even you. But even there you won. You assumed that life had destined you to die at an early age like your brother and father, and you dared it to try. With every piece of candy and cake you ate as a diabetic and every salty soup, meat or herring you ate with your condition of congestive  heart failure, you lived another day victorious, bending the rules and indeed life itself to your will. You basked in the glory of your victory.
As your son, and as my Abba, I used to fight you cake by cake, meal after meal. To eat with you was to acquire an eating disorder. But then I accepted that you were not just my Abba. You were you, Duvi, the poor boy from Brooklyn, who failed in school and was told that he would never amount to much. Who parlayed his basketball prowess into an astounding academic and rabbinic career, driven to make it in the world, make your mark on the world and make the world bow to your will and dreams. With that drive you changed the Jewish world one idea and one person at a time. With that drive you lived to celebrate the defeat of your perceived genetic destiny, living year after year, fearing death all the while daring it to try to govern you and limit you.
So I made peace with your meals, with deep pain I even learnt to smile a little as you charted your chosen and self-directed course, and protected you and made sure that as your strength and capacity dwindled, no one would try to limit or control your spirit – so that you could die in dignity – which for you meant living every day as your own master.
About a year ago, during a particularly hard time – it was the third time that month that I had to rush you to the emergency ward, your body could simply not handle your eating habits – I was helping you down the stairs into the car, and you turned to me and said: "Donniel, I am sorry that I am such a burden on you." The truth was that I was angry and upset at what you were doing to yourself. 
But as we walked together hand in hand, I had a moment of deep understanding that guided our relationship and love throughout the last year of your life. I replied to you: "Abba, its ok. You carried me throughout my life. You were always there for me whenever I needed you. Everything I have, I have because of you. The meaning of a family is that we get to take turns. Now it’s my turn to carry you. It’s my turn to give back to you a little of what you gave to me." You smiled and said: "It’s true. I really was there for you. Wasn’t I?"
Yes Abba. You were really there for me, at my side, on my side, every day of my life.
Abba, I miss you so much. I want my Abba back, but it is not to be. I do, however, have your dreams. They and you will be with me and live within me forever.

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