Thank you, Zoe. I just got back from his funeral. It took that long to get the body back from Egypt. He was cremated, and then there was a memorial service today.
It was a pretty amazing service, for an amazing person.
He was one of those rare people that everyone seemed to love from the first time they met him. He was intelligent, full of humor, and extraordinarily kind. I knew he was extremely likeable, but the extent of his force of personality came as a bit of a surprise to me today.
He was in Egypt helping with humanitarian work. During a brief visit a couple of years ago, he became friends with a rather poor family in Giza whose house was in severe disrepair, so when his grandson wanted to do a good deed for his bar mitzvah, he suggested that he try to raise money to repair this Egyptian family’s home. They ended up raising so much money that they decided to build a new house altogether. It was on this trip that he died.
It’s a little ironic that he was involved in fundamentally religious work - a Jewish bar mitzvah aiding a Muslim family, since he was at least agnostic, and perhaps atheist, but he loved people. He loved laughing and talking and making friends, and nobody was immune to his charm. The people in the village called him “Mr. Mustafa,” for no reason other than they liked him and they attached that nickname to him. The children would greet him with shouts and hugs. He was proposed marriage at least once by an aggressive Egyptian woman.
During a break from the work, they decided to take a trip to Mt. Sinai, and climb to the top. Their tour guide, who had fallen under my uncle’s remarkable spell after knowing him briefly, tried to talk him out of it, since he was 70 years old, but my uncle would not hear of it. They made it to the top, and watched the sunrise, then walked back down. My uncle was in sight of St. Catherine’s monastery at the bottom of the mountain when he fell over dead. They tried to revive him for half an hour, and they sent runners to the monastery to summon help, but it was too late. He had simply ceased living. Thankfully, there was no pain.
There was a huge turnout for his funeral. I mean, family trucked in from all over the world. The family alone filled half of the memorial hall. His tour guide - the man who had carried his body from the lower slopes of Mt. Sinai to the monastery - climbed aboard a plane with the family and flew all the way to Georgia to attend his funeral, and was treated like family himself.
The tour guide spoke at the service. He quietly spoke in a heavy Arabic accent, relating how my uncle had touched his life and changed him. He choked up a little himself, and told a story of how when he was 11 years old, he saw a funerary party walking by carrying a casket. They were walking very fast. He asked his father why they were hurrying. His father told him that they walked fast because the man in the casket was very righteous, and that the angels had taken his soul to heaven, making the casket very light and easy to manage.
He paused for a moment, and with tears in his eyes, said, “I carried Mr. Mustafa down from the mountain. He was very, very light.”
I’ll never forget that. My uncle was not rich. He was not powerful. He was not a diplomat, nor a businessman, nor a politician, nor a religious figure. He was…a retiree. An ordinary American retiree who loved to travel, and to meet people, and to make friends, and to help people out. He was tall, lanky, and had deep-set blue eyes. He smiled a lot, and he would do absolutely anything for you.
A remarkable, amazing person. I am richer for having known him, and the world is a little dimmer for having lost him.