Zecharyah Ben Dov Aryeh (z"l) (Stanley Gartenstein)
My father (a"h, z"l - upon him peace everlasting, his memory a blessing) left this world on April 30, 2020 (thank God he did not suffer the ravages of COVID-19). He was buried next to his mother, Basya Mindel, in New Montefiore Cemetery. I would like to share my hesped/eulogy from his funeral. My father asked me to share the story I begin with at his funeral. He is speaking to all who read it through this account -
On a cool evening in Brooklyn when I was about 8 years old, my father took me shopping on Avenue J. We went for our classic dinner at Garden of Eden: Greek salad and delicious warm rolls (with plenty of butter).
We returned to our car to find a policeman, satisfied with himself for his last catch of the day, writing our car a ticket for an expired meter.
Haughtily the officer started to discipline us about parking rules. Mid-sentence, the officer noticed the dashboard. It dawned upon him that he was ticketing a Supreme Court Judicial Hearing Officer of New York State. Horror struck his face, maybe even a tinge of shame. He gestured to rip up the ticket, apologetic towards my father. Firmly my father held the man's gaze and said: "You recognize that I am a judge and as a response, you propose not holding me to the law? It should be the precise opposite, if anyone citizen is accountable to you, it is me."
My father does not believe in taking advantage, ever. His transparency and sincerity radiated out of all of his actions. He embodied the advice the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave to him: "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" "Justice, Justice you shall pursue." (Devarim 16:18–20)
His soul chased justice, an emboldened and impassioned justice, but imbued with love. When my father said these words to the policeman, he was blunt and warm simultaneously. Often, during my childhood, he made a point of gesturing at the cars of government officials who parked illegally. He would use this as a teaching opportunity to assert that nobody should ever take advantage of power.
That is my father, a true Jew. In Bereshis 32: 22-31 Yaakov wrestles with an angel before receiving his second name - Israel. The Jewish people are Benei Yisrael. We are marked by Yaakov's fight. And as the famous saying goes, two Jews, three opinions. That is the heritage of the Talmud, which my father completed and celebrated with immense joy. We are a people of struggle and despite how small of a people we are, we stretch ourselves to accommodate immense diversity of perspective. It creates much to grapple with. One of my father's favorite phrases is: "It's a struggle." As a child, I would have the honor of "playing hookey" - as he called it - and skipping school to watch him on the bench in court. Each morning as he walked into the regal Supreme Court on Sutphin Blvd. in Queens, the court officers would say "Good morning judge, how are you?" and in a sarcastic tone he would say "It is a struggle."
But in all seriousness, my father has lived his life by holding matters seemingly at odds in tension with one another. My father taught me that no heart is too small for the immensity of feelings and ideas our world contains. He is a true mystic. He faces paradox head on and captures meaning that is both within and beyond the opposites. As long as Hashem is in the quest, right or left, up or down, a seeker is finding God.
A legal giant, my father sought to put religious and secular law in conversation with one another. He stimulated monumental discussions on the topic of divorce [Rubin vs. Rubin mentioned in many religious works]. He is a legal genius and an exquisite writer. I am enraptured as I read through his decisions, captivated by his words. Yet simultaneously, he understood how rotted the bounds of language can be, and when asked what his primary value is, he said: "love." He held this in equal esteem to justice and intellectual precision.
Boy does my father love. Unconditional love, boundless and infinite, right from the Ein Sof - the infinite light of God Himself.
The Rabbis say that Moshe Rabbenu (Moses our teacher) was like a flame. The giving of his light never diminished as he passed his wisdom on to others. My father's selflessness and humility resemble everything I have learned about our archetype Moshe. He is a flame that only gives and continues to give.
I refuse to use past tense when talking about my father, because his effect on this world is an everlasting ripple. The world is at a terrible loss of his physical presence, but his deeds, his soul, his light, they burn fiercely with a power that is inextinguishable. But to be unable to hear his voice, his witty humor, to hold his piercing gaze, to be held in his enveloping hugs, to touch my forehead to his, to sing songs with him as our voices became one, this is a weight that will get heavier and not lighter in time. Each moment away from him is an eternity.
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