Editor’s note: The following was delivered as a hesped at Harold’s funeral on Friday, March 1.
It is difficult to fill in the blanks when there really aren’t any blanks.
My relationship with Harold was different than family and yet it wasn’t. Yesterday felt very strange from the moment I heard the bad news. In an effort to confirm what I could not believe, I tried to reach Rabbi Rothwachs and then the shul, but could not connect with either. I decided to reverse course, get off Route 4, return to Teaneck, and go straight to Harold’s home.
Gloria opened the door and really didn’t have to say anything. Her expression said everything I feared. Minutes late she used the term “surreal;” the news obviously had not yet been absorbed. It appeared to me that there immediately was a cloud over Teaneck, a very dark cloud. I do not ever remember receiving as many phone calls, text messages and emails in a single day as I did yesterday. Just this past week, probably because it is within my line of work, I read an academic study attempting to understand longevity. Its findings were surprising to me in that the factors we all would imagine rating highest, such as diet, exercise, marriage, family, etc.were not. The most important factor was friendship, as defined by having someone to confide in, someone to provide a loan, a car for an emergency. That was Harold.
Susie and I enjoyed 30 years of pleasure, virtually to the day, with Harold and Gloria. So many happy times. I know many people here today knew Harold longer, and I am certain that if you are in this room today, you too saw the same qualities of outreach, friendship and loyalty that we delighted in.
Typically, although on time for the beginning of davening, Harold didn’t get around to putting his tallis on for 10 or 15 minutes, until he had personally walked to the four corners of the men’s section and greeted everyone. I recall asking him, “What exactly is that about?”
He responded by simply pinching my cheek. Somehow I understood. He greeted new faces as well as helped others navigate the shul. Harold had this keen awareness of being in the right place at the right time. He used all his skills of salesmanship and fellowship to build his legendary relationship with the police and fire departments as well as the ambulance volunteers. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. His generosity was obvious, both financially and with his time. I have little doubt that some time next week, I don’t know which day because I never knew his route, but one day next week a bank teller, a gas station attendant, or a postal carrier will realize that they didn’t receive their usual pastry delivery from Harold. I asked him about that too, and again, all he did was pinch my cheek.
Two weeks ago today, late in the afternoon on erev Shabbat, Susie called to say she thought she had a flat tire. I met her at the Shell station on Cedar Lane, the one that Harold favored, and the new owner, not the owner that Harold had cultivated for 25 years, heard us mention Harold’s name, and he said, “I’ll get right on it.” He went on to say, “Harold....you can never hope to meet anyone like him! Even if he is not dropping off a danish, he will stop by with a smile to say hello!” Who does that?
Harold set the standard for friendship by his example. We heard Benjamin earlier
tell us how Harold snow plowed his entire block, not just his own sidewalk. Rise reminded last night that in the early days of this shul [Congregation Beth Aaron], Harold hand-shoveled the sidewalk outside this building. He was successful in making shidduchim because he cared about people and understood people. Who does that?
He began a new habit ten or fifteen years ago that I referred to as his accountability. He would call us erev Shabbat if he and Gloria planned to be away, so we would not worry about their absence. And he expected reciprocity! Last night I was reminded by Rise that Harold had the same arrangement with her family.
In the past 24 hours, numerous people were overheard saying that they lost their best friend. Imagine! How many people considered him to be their best friend?
So many of Harold’s friends here with us today joined him in his pride for his children and grandchildren. But few of us can compare to Harold’s smile and sparkling eyes when he spoke of his family. He glowed when describing their achievements and would often repeat to me that Gloria, his children and their children “were his life.”
“Marvin,” he told me often, “This is what we live for.” In many ways I thought of Harold as the man’s man, but when the conversation shifted to family, he always became emotionally grateful to Hashem for everything he was granted and never took anything for granted.
Harold and Gloria, ever the generous soul of their many relationships and the virtual glue that bound all of us, were busy making arrangements for their 50th wedding anniversary luncheon in their home next Shabbat. Imagine, they felt that their simcha was not complete without their friends. And I secretly planned to describe in painstaking detail the well-known and long story of how they first met.
Gloria, Jonathan, Jessica, Benjamin, and Allison, we are all mourning with you even as we understand that your grief cannot be measured. On behalf of the huge circle of Harold’s countless friends, I am humbled to have shared these minutes with you and hope that we can continue forward by following the road of values that Harold paved for us. Parshat Miketz will never be the same!
For those who feel devoted to spouses, children, career and community...Harold was all the above and so much more.
By Marvin Ammer
Marvin Ammer is a longtime resident of Teaneck. Among the numerous “new” friends my family has made over all the years here, we felt like we knew Harold Gellis all of our lives.