On March 3, I lost a friend. So did hundreds of other people. Many were closer. But Rabbi Martin Weiner (z”l) will always hold a place in my heart.
Carolyn and I met Marty in 1985 when we joined Congregation Sherith Israel. Seth, then nine, entered religious school. Yosi and Aaron followed. Every Sunday morning—rain or shine—Marty stood outside the synagogue to welcome every kid.
Before their b’nai mitzvah, Marty took each child down to Fillmore Street for a doughnut and a talk. My kids and hundreds of others remember their doughnut walk.
When Seth went to Washington High School, he played jayvee basketball. The coach refused to excuse Tuesday evening absences for religious high school. Marty, who played at Washington (he claimed size, not skill) adjusted Seth’s schedule for the season.
During one High Holy Days service, Marty asked worshippers to dedicate themselves to attending one Friday-night service a month. Carolyn and I had been Friday-night regulars at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio, so I did. Soon, I was attending every Friday night. That has continued for decades.
The consummate pastor, Marty visited the house after the deaths of Carolyn’s father and, several years later, mother. He could have called. They were not Jewish. But Marty’s style was deeply personal.
I became more involved at Sherith Israel and often worked with Marty, who retained an old-school formality. One day, he said, “Call me Rabbi in public but in private, Marty.” The relationship enabled me to write articles for the old newsletter and become active in adult education. I lead Torah Study from time to time and recruited Marty for the few Saturday mornings left before his retirement in June 2003.
Marty was honored by a retirement dinner at a downtown hotel. In addition to speeches, a video offered comments from family, colleagues and friends. Marty asked me to conduct a number of those interviews. The video needed a script and editing. He asked me to do that. And since a narrator hadn’t been provided for, I did that, too.
In thanks, Marty and Karen took Carolyn and me to lunch downtown. He also gave me a Torah translation and commentary by the remarkable scholar Richard Elliott Friedman. I’m reading it during this current Torah cycle—the fifth or sixth time.
I’m vain enough to say that Marty supported my writing. He reviewed portions of God’s Others, offered valuable comments and blurbed the cover. He read all my novels.
Over the past years, we met for coffee every few months. Marty started reading an early draft of my upcoming novel, Lola Flores, and continually asked for more chapters. Each get-together, he’d pose question after question about the novel’s protagonist, the plot’s twists and turns, and how I researched the historical elements. Later, I updated him on changes made in subsequent drafts.
I wish I possessed Marty’s incredible skill of asking other people questions and getting them to talk. He did share details of his own life, particularly about movies and classes he was taking, but his focus always remained on the person he was with. Remarkable.
Pirke Avot (Wisdom of the Fathers) 1:6 cites Rabbi Joshua ben Perachiah: “Find yourself a teacher. Get yourself a friend.” I found both in Marty Weiner. I miss him.
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