What started out like an ordinary Tuesday in the times of the COVID-19 quarantine turned out to be unlike any other. This particular afternoon I typed away on the couch surrounded by a mess of Post-It notes, a half-empty glass of iced tea, and a rambunctious puppy destroying an old blanket. Seemingly normal — given the circumstances — and somewhat productive.
That all changed with a phone call. The moment I heard my co-worker’s voice I immediately knew something was wrong. “Bob passed away,” she said. Her calm demeanor, albeit poignant, was remarkable. I, on the other hand, screamed, ‘WHAT?’ and went into a state of disbelief and distress.
Bob was not just a coworker. He was a friend, a mentor in many ways — someone I could perpetually count on. Sporting his signature red t-shirt and black leather jacket — hot cup of coffee in tow, he came every Friday afternoon to say hi and sat at my office while waiting for his 3:30 p.m. student to show up.
“Anything new?” He’d ask.
Almost every time it was immediately followed by a few other notable questions like “Where is Cantor Gurney today, is he coming in because I need to talk to him,” or “Where is Cantor Peicott? She is not in her office, she is usually here today.” The care he showed for everyone around him was endearing and his enthusiasm for sharing updates about the kids he worked with was contagious. I eagerly looked forward to these animated exchanges.
Our eclectic conversations came to life with Bob’s candid commentary, witty delivery, and spot-on judge of character. Oftentimes we chatted about current events, history, the Cold War, and the time he spent in Romania researching his book. We shared all sorts of personal and professional tales, and turned to each other for sound advice.
His love of teaching was palpable, and his innate ability to bond with teens and adults alike was admirable. Many of his students overcame fear on the Bimah thanks to his patience, encouragement, and individual dedication. A true cheerleader, Bob brought out the best in them — boosting their confidence along the way.
A brilliant writer and thinker, Bob was a veritable scholar — a walking encyclopedia, yet incredibly humble and unpresumptuous. He dealt with adversity and pain throughout his life, and showed a tremendous amount of empathy and vulnerability for those facing injustices. That’s the Bob I knew and adored.
My dear friend, this is one bittersweet goodbye. Your beloved persona, loyalty, and kindness are second to none. You challenged me. Your lessons are aplenty. And you transformed people of all ages.
Often explosive and always entertaining — our work dynamic was one of banter and bickering. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am a better person for having known you.
Bob, you most likely think I’m exaggerating and making too much of a big deal — but it’s the truth. You are larger than life. Thank you for your friendship and sincere character. You inspired generations and you will forever live in our hearts.