My dear friend Herb died unexpectedly this weekend at 66. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
He was like a beloved uncle or a second dad, the one who teased me unmercifully but would drop everything to help if I needed anything.
Born into an Orthodox Jewish family, Herb was ordained an Orthodox rabbi at 18. He converted to Christianity late in life and was painfully shunned by his family and community, the same community described by Chaim Potok in his book “The Chosen.”
He found a new family and life with his wife Kathy and the homeless men and women he encountered through his prodigious work with the Rescue Mission.
That’s where I met him, as a young newspaper reporter for the Merced Sun-Star in California.
Herb was truly a force of nature. Much too smart for his own good, he could talk circles around the most learned scholars. We had splendid discussions and he took great delight in baiting me and getting my dander up.
Although no longer Orthodox, Herb still abstained from eating pork. But that didn’t stop his friends and family from filling his office with every bit of pig-related paraphernalia you can imagine. He loved it!
Herb talked a mile a minute and always seemed to be thinking of ten things at once, but he was also exceptionally observant and a good listener. If you even hinted at a need in your life or someone else’s, he was already on his phone taking care of it. He would not take no for an answer in seeking help for others, always managing to find clothing, food, money, shelter, and jobs for them when no one else could.
Most of all he loved his family, his friends, his God, and anyone in need. Even total strangers were simply friends he hadn’t met yet. Herb loved as he lived: confidently with utter devotion and an uncanny ability to overcome obstacles. He was like a hedgehog, seemingly prickly on the outside but an absolute teddy bear inside. I shall miss answering my phone and hearing him say brusquely, “What do you want?” 🙂
Herb called me the day he died, but I was too sick to answer and planned to call him back the next day. I was heartsick to know I’d never have that chance. So I cried, aching for Kathy, for Herb’s step-daughter and my friend Lisa, and grieving the loss of Herb from all our lives. Then I got a little smile as I remembered that Herb believed in heaven and was up there having the time of his life wishing the rest of us would hurry up and join him already! So I wiped my tears and asked God if he could please pass on a message for me, then said all the things I didn’t get the chance to say.
I am so grateful to have known this man. My life is better because he was in it, and I miss him already.