Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Gravel-Voice LarryWe got the bad news this morning concerning Gravel-Voice Larry.

I’ve written about Larry here before. A former Miami cop who found renewed faith after the loss of his father, Larry was a regular at Morning Minyan. During Shabbat services, he was one of the Gabbaim, standing at the left side of the reader’s table, announcing the page numbers and verses of the reading and correcting the readers when they made their inevitable minor errors. Larry looked and sounded like the rough, tough policeman he had been, but everyone knew that his health was fragile. So many of his joints had been replaced, so many back surgeries had he suffered through, that we referred to him as “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Despite the pain he endured daily, however, he was at Minyan every day, occupying the Left Field position in the front row, attending the Rabbi’s study sessions, and up to his neck in volunteer work teaching kids to read.

Back around the time of Hurricane Katrina, Larry suffered a mild heart attack. Afterwards, he was beset by one health issue, one crisis, after another. Every time he would take one step forward, he would take two steps back. In the last few weeks, things took a decided turn for the worse, with the loss of his ability to swallow...and then, pneumonia.

At our post-Minyan breakfast this morning, we got the sad news that Larry had passed away last night.

I remember the first time I saw him, almost eight years ago. He had delivered a fiery d’var Torah - a sermon - railing against intermarriage, in a gravelly voice that would be perfectly appropriate in a Mob bill-collector. Strong opinions, strongly expressed, were a trademark of his. The Missus and I looked and listened, wondering, “Who is that guy?” Yet several years later, he was a driving force supporting the International Federation of Men’s Clubs Keruv initiative, which recognized that intermarriage was an issue that had to be dealt with without driving intermarried couples away from Judaism. Larry was practical, when it came right down to it.

When I started going to Morning Minyan regularly, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I approached the post-Minyan breakfast table at the Local Smoked Fish and Bagel Emporium...but it was Larry who welcomed me and made me feel right at home. And it was Larry who would always select, from the refrigerated case, the choicest piece of sable or baked salmon for a shared platter, with orders to cut it just so. Serve a dry piece of fish - or, even worse, a dry piece of challah French toast - and you would risk incurring the Wrath of Larry.

Oh, yes - Larry had a temper. He was a stickler in Matters Religious and Ritual, and he loved arguing the fine points with anyone who would listen. And when Larry got fired up about something, look out. And yet, no matter how worked up he might get, he always would listen to another point of view, always be amenable to anyone who wished to exert a calming influence. He could get angry, but he never would stay angry long. Doing the right thing was important to him. He was, in every respect, a mensch.

Larry was a take-charge guy, always. He was the man behind the scenes who got things done, whether it was sending out yahrtzeit reminders for our synagogue members, reviewing Men’s Club scholarship applications for congregants’ children traveling to Israel, or making sure our Shabbat-morning Kiddush Club was properly supplied with Adult Beverages. Whatever needed to be done, he was right there. Not just supervising: doing.

The Mitzvah of Tefillin - wearing phylacteries, little leather boxes containing small pieces of parchment upon which are written words of Scripture - was very dear to Larry’s heart. Once a year, when the International Federation of Men’s Clubs would have a World Wide Wrap - several hundred chapters around the world, simultaneously instructing children about this important ritual observance - Larry would be in charge of the program. His eyes would shine with happiness as he would recount the story of a father and son who came to the World Wide Wrap last year. Larry showed the young man how to put on the tefillin, and the lad proceeded to do so flawlessly. And then, after putting his tefillin on, the son showed his father, who had never worn tefillin before, how to do it. To Larry, this transmission of Jewish tradition between the generations was a singularly precious thing.

It’s said that the correct way to wear tefillin is the way your father teaches you. Well, my Dad never wore tefillin, so I always wore them in the style I had learned in Hebrew school years ago. Larry showed me how he wrapped the leather straps around his fingers one day, and ever since then, I’ve used his method.

And so, every weekday, I will have a physical reminder of Gravel-Voice Larry upon my hand, as I wind those leather straps the way he showed me. I’ll sit in the chapel, in the spot where he used to sit.

During Shabbat services, I will stand at the left side of the reader’s table where he used to stand, performing the duties of the Gabbai in his stead. And as I announce the page numbers and verses, I will be hearing Larry’s voice in my head.
Eil maley rachamim, shokhein bam’romin, ham’tzei m’nuchah n’khonah tachat kanfei ha-sh’khinah, b’ma-alot k’doshim u-t’horim k’zohar ha-rakia maz-hirim, et nishmat Lev Baruch ben Sarah she-halakh l’olamo, b’gan eiden t’hei m’nuchato. Ana, ba’al ha-rachamim hastireihu b’seiter k’nafekha l’olamim, utz’ror bitz’ror ha-chayyim et nishmato, Hashem hu nachalato, v’yanuach b’shalom al mishkavo, v’nomar amen.

Exalted, compassionate God, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, among the holy and pure who shine with the splendor of the firmament, to the soul of Lev Barukh ben Sarah, who has gone to his eternal home. Master of mercy, remember all his worthy deeds in the land of the living. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life. The Lord is his portion. May he rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.
Godspeed, Larry. We’re going to miss you.

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