Our view of the Galile

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Holy Shlepper- Bob Ross 9th cheshvan 5772

Hashem’s “Holy Shlepper” Yerachmiel Nachum “Bob” Ross

I have known Bob for what I and he might consider most of his “life”. It was with my family that Bob first celebrated what he called his first “real Shabbos” I was at his “Bar Mitzva” at age 54, I was with him when he layed his first pair of Teffilin-Phylacteries, I joined him on his first trip to Israel and held his hand as he cried on the ancient stones of the Western Wall and as we traversed the land together. I was at his bedside with his first “almost death” and miraculous survival. I was with him as he inspired his older brother Bruce to put on his first teffilin. Not much  later in one of the most pivotal moments in Bobs life  he traveled to his grandfathers grave in St. Louis together with Bruce to be the first one in over 85 years to recite Kaddish for his grandfather on his Yarhtzeit. The trip which miraculously yet tragically ended with Bruces sudden passing-meriting and affording him a Jewish burial of which he otherwise would have never had. Our weekday Minyan In West Seattle began with Bob sitting Shiva for his brother in our home. Bob’s resolve to dedicate the Ross-Pechersky Sefer Torah in his brother and grandfather’s memory followed a and was  incredible financial undertaking that not too many “shleppers” whose meager salary from the Best Western Hotel would ever even consider undertaking. Yet for Bob it was his legacy and his families legacy he was restoring and there is no price tag that would ever convey the true value of his gift. As we danced under the Chuppa with Bob holding that Sefer Torah so close to his heart  as we brought it to its new home, I will never forget the tears that rolled freely down all of our faces in the presence of  his shining countenance reflecting an aura of someone who had truly come home.
When Bob’s daughter gave birth to his first grandson we were blessed to have him share his simcha with our shul. And when he finally met his Bashert. Roberta. Whom he described to me as the soul-mate he had been seeking all his life it was I who was privileged to officiate, dance and celebrate with my holiest of Shleppers. After his tragic accident when we thought we had lost Bob once again and all Doctors and prognosis seemed hopeless. Our Holy Shlepper, Bob once again pulled through. For two more years and one day according to the Jewish calendar from his accident and two years and a month from his wedding anniversary, 5 years and a month from his brothers passing and his Torah dedication we had our Yerachmiel still with us….
We thought it would be longer… We thought that you still had more time in your holy Shlepper satchel… We needed to see you fully recovered… We wanted you to come visit us with your Bashert in Israel, the land of our forefathers, the place where your soul was ignited and where all holy shleppers need to be. There were so many plans you had for your newest life together. So much you still wanted to give back to your wife who didn’t leave your side for the past years… So much love you wanted to share with your children, your grandchildren, your friends, your colleagues, the world… and even with me your simple Rabbi who was privileged to know you…love you… and have you as part of my family for too short a time. I feel I know you for your whole life… but that life of yours and those accomplishments and souls you touched were all in less than 10 years…. A ten year lifetime with accomplishments, miracles and inspiration that most people cannot hope to have in a 100 year lifetime. Yet yours was still too short…It felt like it was just beginning.
What is a shlepper? What made Yerachmiel the holiest one I knew? A shlepper in Yiddish is someone who shleps-obviously… a mover, a baggage boy, perhaps one of the simplest jobs around. Bob, who worked as a concierge for the Best Western Hotel schlepping luggage and bringing its guests to and back from the airport, was not the type of person you would have expected to take on such a career. After all he was college educated, an excellent speaker and educator and was one of the most knowledgeable and engaged people I knew. In fact in his previous life had been involved in public office and even part of a lucrative business yet when he realized that there were things that were going on that were somewhat ethically questionable he left it all behind in order to engage in a simpler, yet certainly less lucrative and more strenuous career. Yet, as he told me once, his body may ache more but the weight on his soul and conscience is much lighter. And after all isn’t that what really counts?
But why a shlepper? Sometimes in life we find our career. Other times it finds us. Bob had an innate talent and gift to connect with strangers. To not only ease their weight and welcome them into a delightful hotel where they could enjoy their pleasurable vacations, but to make them smile and make them feel warm and welcomed. This past week and the coming week we read in the Torah portion about the role model that Bob lived up  to and emulated. Another shlepper; none other than the Father of the Jewish people- our forefather Abraham. Abraham the Torah tells us also was a shlepper. He had a way station for travelers whom he would wait for greet, feed. The ultimate concierge. The Torah portion this week even tells us how he waited outside his tent after his extremely painful and difficult circumcision surgery at the age of 99 trying to find guests to greet. To his delight he found three arab wanderers (who turned out to be angels sent by God to fulfill Abrahams need to welcome guests) who he runs after and prepares for them.
 I remember Bob after his surgeries and heart attack similarly always being concerned that those who came to visit him were seated made comfortable and greeted with a smile and with a question first always about how his visitors well being and families were doing. His doctors and nurses and even cleaning staff and fellow patients were amazed how someone who suffered so much and was barely just recovering was able to place his first thoughts about them to the extent that they were the ones who felt cared for by him.
That is how our Yerachmiel became a Shlepper. Perhaps even the prince of shleppers. But how does one become a holy shlepper… Once again we turn to the Torah that Bob treasured so much. And to our forefather Avraham. Avraham we are told did not just satisfy his drive and desire to do kindness with others by merely schlepping, clothing and caring for the so many guests that he came in contact with. Avraham had found, on his own,  a truth about the world. Rather than the idols and false gods that the entire civilized world at that time was worshipping, Avraham took a look at the world and realized that there was something greater that must have brought this world in to existence. That cared for it. That planned it. And that was in control of all that we see and experience. In the words of the medrash the tower has a builder and the builder and master cares for His creation. Avraham became the father of our people because unlike others who may have recognized that truth and went to bed and woke back up the next morning and chose to live in their illusionary “real world” He chose to share that truth with the rest of the world. For someone who is dedicated to a world of kindness is there a greater kindness then telling someone he or she has a Father who cares about them? That they were created with a purpose? That their life was meant to have eternal meaning? Avraham that first holy shlepper, not only schlepped peoples luggage he schlepped their souls. He brought mankind home  to their Father. He breathed that spirit of life once again in their souls.
And that, my friends was what our Yerachmiel did as well. He like our forefather Abraham was raised in an environment whose values were not focused on the spiritual or even with the values of the significance of Jewish continuity. The old world had been destroyed by the Holocaust and the new world had no room of the Judaism of old. The idols of his youth in the 60’s and the ever changing values and solutions in the years up to his new life were embraced by the world as the answer to all of  “history’s problem”. But Yerachmiel/Robert much like Abraham was a man of truth. He was not only able to see past contemporary societies mistakes, but was able to make changes and start to live a life based on the principals of our over 3000 year old heritage. Whether it was making the Sabbath the focal point of his week, praying daily and developing his personal and beautiful relationship with Hashem and doing his utmost to overcome the challenges that seemed never to stop coming his way, Bob recreated himself and with that of course the world that he encountered.
I cannot count the number of people that our holy soul shlepper brought into our shul. There was no one that was Jewish that encountered Bob that was not “fair play”.
 “What you’re Jewish? You’re a member of the Tribe?.. What are you doing for Shabbat this weekend?  I’ve got a great Rabbi that I think you would love to meet… and his wife is a great cook too… Do you have plans tonight? There’s a great Torah class I think you should come to. Sure I’ll even give you a ride…”
It was an almost weekly ritual my erev Shabbos phonecall with Bob.
“Hi Rabbi, Have I got a Jew for you…But don’t worry tell the Rebbetzin that I’m bringing over some extra food for dinner. Although I’m sure she’ll have enough.. You always do.”
And thus the West Seattle Torah learning Center or as we fondly called it “the TLC” was built. person by person… Jew by Jew… soul by soul mostly by our expert holy soul shlepper Yerachmiel Nachum/ Bob Ross. By our last year in Seattle before Bob and I left there were regularly 20-30 people each Shabbat joining us for meals. Jews who had chosen to reconnect to their heritage because they felt Bob’s true love for them and his sincere caring to share with them all that had meant so much to him. They wanted to get close to him and they wanted to taste and be part of that inspiration that made him who he was.
Bob, sadly did not leave any biological children. He however did leave many many orphans and mourners. He leaves his adopted family Desiree and Nona from his first early life in Seattle who he loved and cared for and took pride and joy in and the grandchildren they bore him and that he prayed for each day.
He leaves the angel of his life. Roberta. Who just as Abraham merited to have angels come take care and be there for him. Robert, who in his unassuming self deprecating way could never understand how he merited to be blessed to meet and marry. I call Roberta an angel and I do not exaggerate even a slight bit… As Bob gave life to so many, she in turn gave him his life these past few years. Her love, dedication and sacrifice for him is incomprehensible to most of us. Endless nights at the hospital, the doctors, the rehabilitation center and at home, she never left his side. Yet for all those who know and love her and Bob. There is no doubt that they were made for each other and the love that they shared for too short a time is something that not only will give her comfort but will forever serve as an inspiration to what true selfless love is all about. Roberta’s family became Bob’s family and the love that he shared and gave to them was so beautiful and yet once again too too short lived.
Yet Yerachmiel our holy prince of a shlepper also leaves behind as well all those in Seattle who feel orphaned without him. As the Torah tells us when Avraham left his home to go to Israel he took the souls that he made in Charan with him. Bob as well as he comes to the heavenly gates  with the souls he made and restored to our Father. There he is assuredly being welcomed by our forefather Abraham and Bob’s grandfather Nachum who he is named after, as well as the generations of ancestors that he reconnected with in this life in his restored his family line which will live forever in the Torah Scroll he dedicated . The Torah he shared will always live on. The Shabbatot that he sacrificed his livelihood so many times for will forever be an inspiration to those that shared them with him. And the individuals who he drew closer to our heritage with- the beauty of our holidays, the joy of traditions and the everlasting truth that we have one God in heaven who looks after and cares for us, will always live true to his legacy that in our fragile limited existences on this glorious planet Hashem created for us we are charged to make the world a better place.. a more loving place…a holy abode…
And then there is me. His simple Rabbi who feels he has lost his father, his brother, his friend, his partner and his greatest inspiration with the passing of Yerachmiel. To my children and wife he was our family and zaydie when everyone else lived so far away. Each Shabbos he would have a different treat, Our Purims were filled with his fun and costumes. Our shuls in Seattle (of which he was a pillar in all three transitions) were forever filled with his singing Friday nights during services, his insights into the Torah portion and his smile and good word to everyone. Our Shabbos meals in Israel still miss the heated discussions about everything from politics, sports and generally Judaism and Torah of which he was always the center. There is a hole in my heart and my soul without Bob, one that I need him so badly to fill in the way only he could. In my times of challenge he was always there for me as he was for so many. And now as we enter a new world without him. I know he is looking down upon us and will be praying to the Almighty once again to finally bring peace solace and comfort to the so many who are in pain and mourning from his departing.
I would like to conclude with an E-Mail I received from Bob after our first High Holidays together as we began our shared adventure of his new journey in life. It is from the holy Bob that not all were lucky enough to see.  It is a letter written to me but in truth I feel it reflects the deepest yearning of Yerachmiel Nachums soul.
My Beloved Rabbi,

No words can express my very first High Holy Holidays ( all 12 hours of soulful prayer) under the WSTLC tent. This last year was a test of my spirit and survival as a Jew. First, the Israel trip which connected me to the land of my forefathers, the marriage of both my daughters, the birth of my grandson Brock, the upcoming birth of my granddaughter Ayala, a heart attack in September 2005 and an emotional and exhausting divorce after 20 years of marriage.. On September 4th I discovered my grandfather's resting place in St. Louis after 89
years. Nachem Pechersky passed away on Sept. 25, 1917 and I, and my brother Bruce, will be the first to daven for his eternal soul.
I ask myself would my grandfather be proud of his Jewish grandson? There have been few mitzvahs that I have held in very high esteem yet I recognize that I have returned and that the gates of repentance and hope are slightly open. Today I felt that I, the grandson of Nachem Pechersky, held the keys for generations of Jews seeking to return to "Our Father, Our King." For nearly 60 years I have squandered my heritage and my self-worth and now I stand at the crossroads. During the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur I couldn't stop sobbing for my grandfather who I never met. Somehow he was calling for me, pulling me, begging me to be the grandson he has prayed for to Hashem. With the family lineage nearly extinct Nachem waits for me, alone, in St. Louis for kaddish and a glorious 'world to come'. This experience has touched my soul that I can only describe from the second blessing of  the Shemoneh Esrei: /Who Is Like You, O Master of Mighty Deeds and Who Is Comparable to You, O King Who Causes Death //and Restores Life and Makes Salvation Sprout!/

Nachem...you have not been abandoned! Hashem will restore Life and Make Salvation Sprout. I will return to you as I have returned to my family at Sinai. We will be together as we share the eternity of Torah.

Robert Nachem Ross.
Yerachmiel, have you come home and made your Zaydie Nachum proud. We look forward to that time that you quoted from your daily prayer. When we will all be united once again.
With love from your humbled rabbi,
Ephraim Schwartz

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