Today I buried a friend and former congregant, one of the lamed vavniks, the legendary 36 righteous people for whom God keeps the world spinning on its axis, according to Jewish tradition. His name was David Oser and he was one of the finest, kindest, most empathetic people I was ever privileged to know.
In the course of this difficult day, it suddenly dawned on me that my late friend’s last name held special meaning. The word for helper in Hebrew is ozer, strikingly similar to Oser, in fact, virtually indistinguishable.
Now, I long ago stopped believing in coincidences but David Oser was the consummate helpmate, a man who lived as if his mission was to help others through life. Although he did not consider himself Jewishly educated , he was in shul every day, waiting to pitch in whenever help was needed, even if the help involved shlepping. For instance, when we needed Torah scrolls transported from Phildadelphia to Brooklyn for repairs, he volunteered immediately for the onerous, time-consuming task.
“Rabbi,” he said to me. “I might not be able to write a big check but this I can do.”
David Oser. David the Helper.
K’shmo kein hu; as his name, so he is.
The sun rises, the sun sets and the world loses an ozer -- a man who was a helper to all, who built and nurtured community. The 700 people at David Oser’s funeral paid tribute to his important place in the kehilla.
And as I stood, grief-stricken, amid the mourners, I felt the sharp juxtaposition of the lovingkindness David Oser brought into the kehilla with the violent hatred that fueled the massacre of innocent Sikhs in the midst of prayer in their kehilla, several states away.
As shocked as I was upon first hearing of the murder spree in Milwaukee, the true horror of it only struck me at David Oser’s funeral as I processed the fact that the killer brought a weapon into a house of worship with the intent to take life.
A house of worship is where we hold prayer books and prayer shawls and one another.
It is where we come together to seek God and learn how we can join as God’s helpmates in the awesome and important job of Tikkun Olam.
We need our houses of worship to be filled with more people like David Oser. We need people who lift their hands to help, not to inflict harm.
David Oser left this world too soon, but I am comforted by one thought. As we were filing into the funeral service, someone commented that it was especially strange not to see David Oser standing in the back of the sanctuary to greet people because that was precisely what he always did.
And so, I make my own midrash to make peace with the impossible news that my friend has been taken from our midst. And in my midrash, David is in the great sanctuary of heaven, his warmth and caring helping to welcome the victims of the Milwaukee massacre into the Afterlife.
As this image filled my mind, I realized that it was not such a stretch to think of David doing this in heaven.
In my remarks, I quoted the famous passage in Micah 6:8: O man, what is good? And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
This verse describes my friend David Oser, David the helper.
May our houses of worship host those who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God, seeing themselves as helpers of humankind, helpmates in the task of eradicating hatred from our homes and our communities.