Yesterday was the start of a Jewish period of mourning that lasts for 3 weeks—it starts with a fast (the Fast of Tammuz 17) and ends with a fast (the Fast of Av 9). I went to the funeral of Michael Nowak, husband of our student Nancy to be with her and to honor Michael. I left with great inspiration. There is a famous quote from the book of Kohelet-Ecclesiastes: “Better is it for one to attend the house of mourning than to attend a festivity—for this is our common end.” Is this the musings of a melancholic preacher or sound advice for the soul?
I don’t believe King Solomon (the author of Kohelet) was moribund in his approach to life—though Kohelet is filled with fatalistic philosophy. Funerals, as was Michel Nowak’s, are often the one time in a person’s life that they hear from those who knew them best how much they meant to them—how celebrated a life they lead in the eyes of others.
Those family and friends that spoke about Michael did not speak in grand brush strokes, rather they referenced a point, a small dot of paint that illuminated for them his personality and how he affected them. Tears came to me as I listened to one of his daughters recall a small gesture that “filled my heart and broke it at the same time.”
My one encounter with Michael was when he came as a guest to our Space class to add to our discussion of the Tree of Life and architecture. Michael was the architect of the Goldberger Center and was kind enough to share his experience of designing the building that is now our home. We had all sorts of questions for him including what “Area of Refuge” meant. What will remain for me though is his describing his decision to pitch the roof and give our learning room on the second floor its volume. He explained that he felt the room was missing something and so he wanted to add dimension and make the room look more like a house. From now on when I enter the building I will say hello to Rabbi Goldberger z”l and when I sit down to teach, I will say hello to Michael z”l.
I want to also say hello to Nancy, his widow, who has been a sparkling example of what we strive for here at Kabbalah Experience— a woman filled with courage, with wisdom and patience and a generosity of spirit that inspires me to want to be a better person and teacher.