Three reminiscences, in reverse chronological order, that I hope say something about my uncle Lou, about things that I think were important to him.
Twenty or so years ago when discussing with him, perhaps at a seder, the structure of Jewish law, I commented with typical foolishness that so much seemed intended to rule things out. He became animated and disagreed; no, it, the Talmud, were intended to rule things in, to create ways of including people into the whole of Judaism.
Lou’s Judaism was inclusive; everything he did was intended to reach out and embrace the maximum number of Jews possible, to include them in a whole, to show respect to everyone as individuals, and to teach whatever he could to make them – us – a deeper part of that whole.
That inclusiveness was motivated by love, a love for all Jews and for family. Of all those he prepared for bar mitzvah, none could have been more blockheaded than me. His patience with me could only have been born of great love; why else the hours spent coaching and explaining, repeating slowly, the reel of tape rewound and played again and again? His loving embrace was the means to teach the unpromising but it was also the end. It was who he was.
Lou had boundless patience and boundless love, but also endless curiosity, especially about people and how they worked. The mind was something he took seriously. He thought, he cared about thinking, and he wanted others to think and to read and to allow these things to make a difference in their lives. But, for me at least, he wore this lightly. There was a sense of joy in who he was and how he did things.
Joy is important. The English muffin pizzas he prepared for Hillel and me when I would sleep over on Saturday nights might have said it all. Before fancy tomato sauce, there was ketchup, and before any of us knew about mozzarella, there was American cheese, and lots of black pepper. Direct and simple, with enough spice to keep us thinking, all designed, perhaps, to lead us to the ultimate, the pickled tomato.
Judaism and family were his foods. Preparing them for us was his joy.