By AVI SAGI
Adapted and translated from the eulogy Prof. Sagi gave at the funeral of Yosef Achituv, Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, June 5, 2012. Click here for the original Hebrew. Click here to read more about Achituv.
To talk about Yoska in the past tense sounds absurd. After all, Yoska was a man full of life, all light and vitality. He was here and now suddenly he’s gone, and his voice is silent. To talk about Yoska and to eulogize him seems like weaving a fairy tale. Doesn’t a man like Yoska live in all of us? But the words are thin, and silence is appropriate. Because indeed Yoska lives within us, a man who was all wonders. Even before we learning of his wisdom, knowledge and deep insight, we learned from him, we learned him, from his very existence. He was in fact a wondrous man, all embracing, a true mensch and a rarity among us.
Now, as we are about to bid him farewell, we will remember that we are saying goodbye from Yoska the deceased here in front of us, but we are not departing from the warm character who will continue to be with us until our final days.
Everyone who knew Yoska, had a Yoska as his own. For one person, he was a source of comfort and support, for another he was a source of knowledge and wisdom, and for yet another, a loving companion. There was something deep that everyone who knew him took away –the memory of his warm, wholesome, enlightened personality, untainted and pure.
Yoska was all about compassion and caring for others. He never asked anything for himself. He was content with his lot, and this contentment found expression in an absence of want. His unique goodness was demonstrated precisely in the way that goodness should be – giving to others and caring for them. Even during his illness, he always, always, thought about others – his wife Yaffa, may she live and be well, his children, grandchildren, friends, the kibbutz, religious Zionism, the State, and every person suffering. Because he was a loving, compassionate man. He thought about everyone but himself. He was the kind of man who was a rock for everyone during hard times and good times.
His natural and unmitigated giving, his denial of self, and deep empathy for the other – qualities that so characterized Yoska – were a source of inspiration for us. Even the way he dealt with his illness taught all those around him how to deal with difficulty. Even in these difficult moments, as long as he lived, there was a smile on his face, and he was always worried about others. Yoska exuded strength and health. The rare courage and nobility that he demonstrated in struggling with his illness were a particularly poignant source of inspiration and strength for many of us, certainly for me.
Our Sages taught us that the righteous in their death are called “chaim,” life. This is because the righteous bring richness and depth to life. Yoska was a righteous one – even though he was so modest that such a thought would never have entered his heart – and he will continue to accompany our life, like a pillar of a man who lights the way with the essence of his personality. He was a tremendous leader who, through his very existence and the way he conducted himself, taught us about the possibility of simply being human.
And we haven’t even talked about Yoska the teacher and educator. Who among is not in need of the multitudes of sources that Yoska accumulated over the years? Who among us did not wish to be enhanced by his knowledge and insights in every field of human study? He was like a Torah scroll, science textbook and book of ethics all rolled up into one real life person.
And all of this with a deep love for the society in which he lived. In the book that we compiled for his seventieth birthday, we characterized Yoska as a social critic deeply involved in the society in which he lived and unwavering in his commitment to it. From this commitment and love, he introduced new possibilities to society – more precisely, encountered society with the type of findings found in its own attic. These possibilities are meant to improve and fix society. Yoska’s direct interest was to mend religious Zionism, which he was an integral part of him.
Yet his work strove towards an even further horizon: mending the entire society. He wanted to return the special synthesis between religion and humanism to Israeli society in general and religious Zionism in particular as well as the profound respect for all of God’s creatures regardless of religion, gender, political or national orientation, or skin color. This respect was not an empty concept, and if it was empty then it is we who are empty. This respect is demonstrated in his recognition of the equal value of all mortals, and a courageous stand against attempts to exclude women, or to hurt non-Jews, strangers, and those who are struggling and suffering. The man was a Jewish religious humanist. And as opposed to Leibowitz who saw a contradiction between humanism and Torah, Yoska believed that humanism is the very foundation of Torah and any other position is a desecration of God’s name.
His tremendous love and concern for the society in which he lived, like his great modesty, led even his detractors, who recognized his purity of heart, to treat him with great respect and appreciation.
The great importance of his work is outside of the boundaries of religious Zionism. As opposed to the common Israeli discourse which creates a dichotomy between religion and humanism, Yoska spent all of his energy presenting a different, completely opposite discourse, according to which humanism is at the basis of the foundation of Jewish tradition.
To meet Yoska meant to encounter boundless love. This love continues to accompany us and offers us comfort and consolation. It opens up the possibility for a different reality, one that returns us to the man who is already so sorely missed, who penetrated our hearts and became a source of strength. Who knows, maybe it will be in his power to move the mountain and alter reality. May his memory be blessed.