THE BLOG
11/07/2014 01:29 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

Smiling and Climbing: In Tribute to Joe Gold

Are you smiling and climbing?

This week, our community celebrated the life of Joe Gold, t. His eulogy serves as a source of inspiration for each of us. What can you learn from the life of Joe Gold?

The greatest crown is a good name. More than wealth, ones reputation endures. I think I speak for everyone in saying that we have rarely encountered a person like Joe Gold. Nearing almost 100 years on this earth, he lived every day to its fullest with authenticity, kindness, love and a perpetual smile. His good name -- his shem tov -- and he are beloved by all of us.

Last night at dinner, my children were reflecting on him. They remember the man with the white hair, big silk blue yarmulke and smile.

In truth, no matter how much is said about Joe Gold, it can never be enough. He was a spiritual giant and if we were not of the Jewish faith, he might be anointed a saint. Yet because he lived his life to the fullest he will live in each of us. With Joe, his inside was like his outside. Goodness through and through. It is not often that a person merits to be loved and appreciated so much by his family and his community and to feel it and know it. Joe sensed the mutual love with humility and grace.

This past spring, he received the first annual Chai lifetime achievement award from our shul. It was one the highlights of his life. Just two days ago, he watched the video of his playing the violin, his acceptance remarks and the rousing standing ovation from our shul. The moment gave him such joy. When I was with him after Shabbat this week, I shared with him how his playing of the violin was one of the most inspiring moments of my rabbinate. We all felt the energy in the room. Numerous people came to me that night and said they felt the presence of God. Joe's love of his family, his friends, his music and his faith all merged into a deeply spiritual frequency I will and many will never forget. His soul soared.

To his credit, Joe did his best to live on this higher frequency every day. His life is a guide for all of us. I would like to share a verse that in my mind encapsulates Joe and the way he will live in us.
Following the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf and G-d has forgiven the Jewish people; he calls on Moses to ascend the Mt. Sinai again. The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction."

I believe then when Joe was born, G-d called on him to ascend the mountain of life and stay there...Joe has been climbing every since. Joe did not believe in the concept of retirement from life. His fortitude was amazing. Until a couple of weeks ago, he was coming to shul. His heart was physically weak, almost totally blocked, but his spirit was strong. He had every excuse in the book to stay home but with the help often of the Freedbergs and his family, he loved coming to shul. To all of those who say I am too tired on a Shabbat morning, think of Joe and his zeal and love of his faith. Everyone sensed his devotion. When he would walk into shul, it was if the sea was splitting. People moved to the side and insured that he made his way safely and easily to his special spot. Through his eighties and into his nineties, he sang in the High Holiday choir and the CAS Choir. A few years ago, he played his violin on Selichot night.

Joe climbed the mountain every day. What was the secret of his longevity?

When I asked Joe last spring, he shared, "I cannot tell you the answer but I can tell you how a life should be lived. I grew up in this synagogue with the core values of Judaism instilled in me by my parents of blessed memory Rose and Nathan Gold. They taught me the importance of Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. In fact this is how five brothers stayed in business together for fifty years. I learned from my parents that your word is your bond. "

I think the answer and Joe would agree lies in the next part of the verse. G-d tells Moses not only to climb the mountain but veyehe sham - to linger there and be present. The word Shin Mem signifies his secret. Shem means a good name. Shem means one's faith. Shem means to be present and in the moment. To love every human being and moment of your life.

For Joe - his word was his bond. He lived with a sense of integrity and honesty second to none. As Jerry shared with me, he is the only person I know who liked to pay taxes. He felt a sense of duty to his country. The family shared with me that when his brothers asked him many years ago whether he would join their business if and when they started one. Joe told them yes. When they returned he was asked to join. It meant for him a major pay cut and risk but he kept his word and joined his brothers. His word was gold. As Jim Benjamin shared with me, "In all of my conversations with him over the years, I never heard him say a harsh word about anyone - and BOY - did we speak about a myriad of subjects and the people he interacted with over his 10 decades."

Joe climbed the mountain. He recognized the shem - God's presence in his family and everyone he met. Len wishes he could be here today and shared with me how Joe was the glue that held us together. The love he had for you Jerry and Kathy and Jason, Elizabeth and Jessica was extraordinary. The love and respect you showed him gave him so much joy. He would do anything for you and I know you for him. As we say in the prayers, you gave him refuat hanefesh - healing of the soul that lifted him. He in turn lifted you. I know how blessed you feel and how fortunate to have had him in your life. Although you felt he would live forever, the depth of your relationship will you to feel his presence forever. He lives in you and through you.

Joe to his credit felt this way towards everyone he met. He was selfless. His generous spirit, care and tolerance of others were second to none. He could almost never find fault with anyone. Even if people did bad things, he did not curse the darkness but did his best to bring some light.

He really loved everyone who came in contact with him. He never stopped smiling. Joe lived his life reflective of his values. There were no airs about him. He was a wonderful man. On Shabbat, when I let the shul know he was in the hospital, he was flooded with visitors. He welcomed over 35 friends to his room on the last day of his life. People loved him. His last day was as he would have wanted. It was a high point. He will fully alert, with joy, surrounded by those he loved.

One of his hallmarks was that he knew people names - their shem. Daniel Krauss remarked that when he visited on Shabbat, Joe asked about the kids name by name. Another congregant wrote me - whenever he saw me, even this year, he always remembered my name and always had something sweet today. He was a warm and caring human being and always wore a smile. I believe that everyone here would say the same about Joe. He was a VIP because he loved people yet who walked in a humble way. I did something which I never did before last Monday when I saw him the hospital. After my visit, I walked to the nurses' station and told them there was dignitary on the fourth floor as Joe had received our Chai award, a lifetime achievement award at our synagogue.

Joe climbed the mountain. He stayed there.

He was present and in the moment. In my mind, his ability to rejoice in every day was one of his greatest gifts and legacies. When I think of Joe Gold, I think of the statement in the mishna, "Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. "His personality was synonymous with Chaim - Life. As a lifelong member of Agudath from birth until today spanning almost a century from the roots of the shul on Grey Rock to Grove Street to today, Joe possessed a simchat Chaim, love of life second to none.

As I shared with Joe last spring, it was meant to be his Hebrew name given to him by his parents, Rose and Nathan with Divine Inspiration was Chaim Yosef. Almost 100 years ago, little would anyone know other than G-d that he would receive the Chai award at Agudath Sholom. It is an award that lives up to his name and more importantly the way he led his life. I told him then and we say to Joe now - You led a life in the pursuit of life every day. As your second name attests, Yosef, you understand there is always more to accomplish. We say to you Joe, Chaim Yosef- you added life not only to your own but to our shul and the world. Just this morning, someone reflected, "Joe Gold - he came into the world crying and he left the world smiling". His smile will light our lives always.

Finally, Joe climbed the mountain and never lost faith.

Many years ago, when I visited Joe one of my winter trips to Florida he shared with me what I consider the secret to your longevity. It is lesson for each of us. First and foremost, he told me that if not for the grace of G-d, he would not be so blessed. There were numerous times in his life particularly when he served in World War 2 that he intimately sensed G-d watching over him. He lived with that awareness and urgency to appreciate the gift of life and make the most of every day.

He lived with purpose and passion. He shared with me how he does it. "Every day, Rabbi, " he said with his big smile ," I am sure to do two things. I play my violin and lay my Tefillin'. Joe, I say to you today, you brought music to the world and dedicated your life to G-d. In spirit, we can be moved to do the same in our lives. To bring song to the world and deepen our relationship to G-d every day.

This morning, I watched the Joe's performance at the dinner and listened to his remarks. I want to share them with you today. First, he said, "Well, Rabbi Cohen, after your introduction, there is not much left for me to say but what he told you about me is true".

He the reflected on going to Hebrew school at Agudath Sholom where he shared that he learned many things he did not appreciate. As he got older, he realized the values he was taught particularly of ethics and prayer. He remarked that his faith served as a great source of strength for him throughout his life. He final words were about the most meaningful prayer to him. They are the final lines of the Adon Olam. "And with my spirit, my body, the Lord is with me and I will not fear."

Joe was not afraid and lived life every day with joy, love, integrity and a smile. Jason told me yesterday that his grandfather was the master of the Jewish goodbye. I think you meant that in a Jewish goodbye it never truly the end and it is not final. We live with the person and the person lives with us because of the emotions and love shared. I have to say that we will never forget grandfather because of the souring of his soul, the strength of his spirit and the warmth of his smile. We will not fear as he did not because G-d walks with him and G-d will walk with us as we carry Joe's love of life forward.

At 98, we all thought Joe would live forever. Yet, although he died his soul endures. His smile, faith and gentle spirit will endure in our hearts and actions for now and generations to come. May Joe's memory always be for a blessing.