I want to thank you all, friends and family for being here on this occasion. This is not a usual event, as you know, and I think the reason that this evening was planned was because of a need for many of us to come together to acknowledge the loss of someone very special in our lives. I speak for myself and on behalf of my sisters. And, in my heart, I also feel that I must use this time to remember my mother who died almost ten years ago. In so many ways, the impact of my mother and my father on my life is, of course, inseparable.
I grew up with a lot of love in my family life: my parents for each other, for their children and their grandchildren; and this also extended to a love of humanity which shaped their lives, and ours, in work, politics and our everyday lives. We were not at all religious but this humanitarianism provided us with a moral code probably stronger than most religious ones.
Along with this humanism, especially on my father’s part, was a keenly critical and analytical approach which never allowed him to see in just black and white, and which set him apart on so many occasions from the mainstream – whether within the C.P., the N.D.P., or the Labour Party in Israel – he never took an easy-joiner route and struggled angrily against hypocrisy, authoritarianism and dogma in every area. This eventually led to a cynical inability to get involved in any structured political form, and in the end he preferred to hold a dialogue with The Jerusalem Post in his own living room. But he was never, never apathetic and continued to care deeply about the world and his lately adopted country, Israel.
At the same time that he was so wrapped up with world affairs, he had an exceptional love for detail, and his own smaller community. He was a connoisseur of wine, espresso coffee, and could spend an endless amount of time studying a store window. The last time he visited, in spring, he and I and my husband Fred spent almost a whole evening in a local Korean supermarket, noting all the strange and interesting items and foodstuffs.
He had an incredible ability to get involved with strangers and find out their most intimate feelings, very quickly, whether they be shopkeepers or passersby. He would relate to them on their level, in their language, if possible, whether in terrible Italian or not so terrible Yiddish. I remember, as a child, being embarrassed by his openness and his bad accents. And I remember relating well to a story I read as a child, by Sholom Aleichem’s daughter, where she describes the same feeling of embarrassment when her father would sing loudly in their carriage as they went through the town. My father had that same uninhibited spirit that often defied social convention. And people, of course, responded. When I was in Israel just after his death, walking the streets with his dog near his home, several strangers who knew not his name, but recognized the dog, were very sorrowful to hear of his death, and one man kept saying what a good man he was, even though he didn’t really know him.
He really enjoyed helping others whenever possible. Since his death, I have heard endless stories from so many of his acquaintances and friends, of how Jimmy did so much for them. Many of you are probably out there now. I think his work in law began to frustrate him in this regard, when he did not feel himself a real helper as time went on. With much courage and conviction, he changed career goals in his mid-50s to study social work in Israel. He was only able to get a job for a short time there, as a social worker, but he obviously enjoyed this role immensely. And many people here also felt so secure knowing he was in Israel, when their children made trips there. He exuded a trust and security that was, in so many ways, intangible, and one only realizes when he has gone and a horrible vacuum is left unfilled.
And he loved music. My mother and he shared this love and have really passed it on to us. He was truly as sentimental a person as you could find and nothing brought this out like music. Some of my deepest and fondest memories of my mother and father are associated with specific pieces of music which I know they loved and which evoke the most poignant memories of al for me.
As I said, my parents were not at all religious and for a long time they were largely universalists. But, as time went on, their Jewish identity became increasingly important to them. As he became older, my father felt an increasing need to help and be among his own people. Perhaps a turning point for him was the event of going to New York to pick up his only surviving cousin from Poland, Helinka, who had suffered the concentration camps and had lost her whole family. I always sensed that, although he was glad to have had the opportunity to fight the Nazis in the Canadian forces, an unhealable guilt wound for the plight of his own people was opened up. The concept of a Jewish state became increasingly crucial to him and he put his feelings into action after my mother died and he went to make his home in Israel where he eventually remarried. Even so, he maintained his humanistic perspective and raged against the Begin government of the time, while labelling the idiocy of many aspects of the Labour Party. He never became an activist there but he did attend several Peace Now demonstrations.
I’m sure my father died the kind of death he wanted. His funeral was simple and perfect, and he was buried near my sister’s kibbutz overlooking the sea, among the fallen soldiers and people of the kibbutz, in the land which he chose to live. I miss him terribly – he was more than a father – he was truly a kindred spirit and a friend. Another light has blown out in my heart, but I know that so much of him, and my mother, lives on in my soul.
See www.diemer.ca/OtherDocs/JimmyGarfinkleMemorial-1994-11-05.pdf for the booklet printed for Jimmy Garfinkle’s memorial.