Marty and me – Circa 1995
My wife Barbara and I returned late last night from San Francisco to attend a memorial service for our dear friend and my mentor, Rabbi Martin S. Weiner, who died this past week.
It was a sad return to a congregation I served so happily during my first years as a rabbi from 1979 to 1986. Marty was then a 41 year-old gentle giant standing six feet two inches, and that image of him never left me even as Barbara and I saw him last week in a farewell zoom call somewhat diminished and weakened from the cancer that had, after twenty years of living with it, suddenly spread throughout his body. Yet, Marty’s beautiful and sweet face, his characteristic humility, interest in us, and his remaining mental acuity, was all there for us to see as he whispered his final appreciation for us as his friends, and we were able to tell him how we felt about him. We had done this many times over the more than four decades of loving him, but we wanted him to know it all yet again this one last time.
Marty’s son Danny, who followed him into the rabbinate and serves with distinction as the Senior Rabbi of Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, spoke magnificently about his father as did his youngest daughter Liz and one of his six grandchildren Julie. Marty’s successor Rabbi Jessica Zimmerman Graf also spoke of the kindness and gracious nature of this extraordinary leader and mensch of a man. Jessica grew up as one of his kids in the congregation and became a rabbi as did eight other young people including Danny, perhaps a record for any rabbi in the country inspiring young people to serve the Jewish people as he did for so long as a rabbi in Israel.
The love and admiration of hundreds filled Congregation Sherith Israel’s historic and magnificent Sanctuary (built two years before the 1906 earthquake) because Marty was able to touch the hearts and minds of so many for so long. He was a rabbis’ rabbi – hundreds of rabbis called Marty their mentor (people might say I exaggerate – but they be wrong) as did so many adults and children who grew into adults who will always regard Marty as their rabbi.
Marty’s gentle but strong and clear voice, his life-long commitment to social justice and peace in Israel, his love of movies and ability to tie in Jewish themes through his favorites from Casa Blanca to Raiders of the Lost Ark, his leadership in the interfaith community of San Francisco, in the American Jewish Committee nationally, in J Street on our Executive Committee of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet, and as a past President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis were remembered fondly.
For me, I lost my first rabbinic boss, my mentor, my dearest of friends. For Barbara and me, Marty and Karen were our most important rabbinic couple role models. I cannot count the number of times when I faced difficult congregational, pastoral, and life challenges that I asked myself ‘What would Marty say and do?’ If I figured it out, I’d say and do that. If I couldn’t, I’d call him and he would respond wisely and lovingly.
I had no idea in 1979 when I first went to work as Marty’s assistant rabbi that he would come to mean so much to me as a rabbi, a man, a husband, father, and grandfather. As Danny noted in his tribute to his father, Marty mentored rabbis from their first years and, in my case, into retirement. Because my own father died when I was nine years-old, without realizing it at the time, Marty became for me a father-surrogate. No one could have a better second father figure, and my own was a wondrous man. To have two men like this in my life has been a blessing beyond any I could have hoped for.
In listening to Danny, Liz, Julie, and Jessica speak, they all touched on the essence of the man who was their father, grandfather, and rabbi. It was so familiar sitting again in that glorious sacred space recognizing that the hundreds in the room and so many more watching on YouTube across America and beyond that we were all there to honor Marty’s life and memory, but it was also so difficult to recognize that he would never grace that space with us again.
Marty loved Shakespeare ever since studying it at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, and these words express so well how so many feel about him:
“Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 2)
Marty was one of our g’dolei dor (great ones of our generation). And so I say of him: “Eich naflu ha-giborim – How the mighty has fallen” (2 Samuel 1:25)
Zecher tzaddik livracha – May Marty’s memory abide among us always as a blessing.
The entire Memorial Service was recorded on YouTube and can be watched here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZ_Xuv-pQ7Y
This blog also appears on the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/rabbi-martin-s-weiner-a-loving-tribute/