Sunday, May 1, 2011

Professor Zev Naveh, z”l

In marking my father in law’s shloshim (30 days since his burial) I would like to share the following remarks:

Twenty-six years ago we came into each others life. We looked at each other at the fist introduction on erev Pesach – each assessing the other. At the time I had no idea what impression, if any I made on Zev, Saba Zev but the impression he made on me was remarkable. If his daughter, Semadar was a whirlwind who blew me away with her charm and persona, Zev, Saba Zev was a tsunami, a man larger than life, a man of gravitas, an aura of dignity enveloping him as his shroud does today.

Over the years as I became more perceptive of his fine qualities as a husband and father he influenced my own understanding of manhood and fatherhood. He was unabashed and at the same time unassuming. Comfortable in his own skin, proud of who he was and what he was made him an outstanding husband, father and paradigmatic model for me. Passion was his middle name, and infused it in everything he did-making him a wonderful husband who loved Ziona deeply and profoundly. His passion was infectious, transmitting to his children a zest for living, curiosity and the compulsion to explore the world we inhabit. His passion for travel was so apocryphal that he would have traversed life with both feet off the ground, save for Ziona who managed to keep him grounded. His love of knowledge was infectious, curiosity never abandoned him and both Semadar and David are the better for it and the fortunate beneficiaries of such an unusual man. These and other gifts are part of his legacy his grandchildren, Keren, Inbal, Nili & Tami are benefitting from and will continue in the years ahead as they establish their own households.

He was a student of science and a master of the humanities. He didn’t just love the humanities, he lived it by loving people and his preoccupation with their welfare. In living it, he became larger than life. While some people fill a room with their sheer volume or ego, Zev, Saba Zev, filled space with his compassion and love for people. He made everyone who came in contact with him comfortable and at the end of the encounter, they were both enriched, uplifted.

He was a 19th century enlightened intellectual, an intellectual for all times, all seasons. He was this towering intellectual, spanning the centuries that prompted me to embrace him not only as Zev, but Saba Zev. For decades I flirted with calling him Abba. I felt so, so close to him and loved him like a son loves a father. But I couldn’t bring myself to utter the word Abba and every time I tried I stumbled. How can a son have two fathers? So I began calling him Saba Zev – I never knew my grandfathers.

He wasn’t just Saba Zev to me – he was “Saba Yisrael” (Yisrael Saba). For those of you familiar with rabbinic literature, the sages referred to the generations of sages preceding them as “Saba Yisrael” (Yisrael Saba). “Saba Yisrael” (Yisrael Saba), the rock of ages, unmovable, grounded in values, with principles running so deep and wide that they cut through the sediment and detritus that befuddles and confuses the essential truths and core values that ought to be crystal clear and that which govern our lives. This was Zev, Saba Zev, a man of values, pristine, principled, informed and willing to put forth his vision even when unpopular for those seeking a better, more just world. To borrow from the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel, “he was a most unusual man”.

I am honored and one of the most fortunate to have basked in his presence, taking shade under his expansive branches of love, compassion and wisdom. At some point, Zev must have intuited that his labor here, with us, was coming to a close. His cup was full; it was overflowing. He had a charmed and blessed life: He had loved Ziona deeply, had brought forth, loved and nurtured two amazing people, David and my soul mate, Semadar; was the grandfather of wonderful and devoted granddaughters, Keren, Inbal, Nili and Tami. He committed his wisdom to the books he authored as well as completing his autobiography. And while he reared generations of student they will never be able to fill his shadow. Mi Chamocha, Saba Zev? Who can pick up where you left off? There are no more Nifilim, giants in the land. You were the last of a very special breed of unique men sent here to guide us. You will always be Saba Zev to me but you have subtly, sublimely and most assuredly transitioned into Yisrael Saba, assuming your place of honor and with the greatest of dignity, alongside the sages of Israel who have come before you. May you be a source of continued blessing to all of us.