My brother-in-law Herb Zaks (z”l) died on July 27. Married to my sister Kay for 61 years, he was 85. But this isn’t the end.
We met when Herb was 21, me 13. He became a big brother, always supportive. We loved sports and went to Yankees games with my father’s weekend and holiday tickets. Later, like his father Fred (z”l), Herb worked as a security guard at Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium then Citi Field. He brought me into the venues and put me in season-ticket-holders’ vacant seats. He gave my son Seth and me a tour below Shea’s grandstand where we met a few Mets.
Herb, also a union official, met thousands of athletes, entertainers and politicians—plus a pope.
Long ago when Kay and Herb lived in Rego Park, we played softball at P.S. 174. Herb, a catcher at Brooklyn College, was a terrific hitter and ferocious competitor. He helped me work out at first base, throwing short hops and balls to either side. I fondly remember Herb teaching me to drive his circa 1957 white-and-blue Mercury convertible—a classic with a push-button transmission.
After I enlisted in the army, Herb sent clippings from the sports section of the New York Post. This continued while I lived in San Antonio then over my decades in San Francisco. My last envelope came three days before he died.
We’re all sad, including Herb’s children, their spouses and two grandsons. Carolyn and the rest of the family, of course, as well as friends. But Herb isn’t gone.
As to heaven, purgatory or hell, I have no idea. Judaism is all over the map. Torah only mentions Sheol below the earth where the dead go. What do they experience? Torah says nothing.
Later writers of the Hebrew Bible address an afterlife—kind of. Ezekiel recounts a vision in which the House of Israel’s dry bones spring back to life: “I looked and there were sinews on them, and flesh had grown, and skin had formed over them; but there was no breath in them” (Ezekiel 37:8). God commands Ezekiel to prophesy. “The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude” (Ezekiel 37:10).
Some of Isaiah is believed to be written in the second century BCE—a time of faith-shattering turmoil in Israel—such as, “He [God] will destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:8).
The Book of Daniel, likely second century BCE, offers: “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 12:2).
The kingdom of heaven became a matter of faith for Christians, most of whom were Jews knowledgeable of these texts. Judaism, though not universally, and later Islam adopted belief in heaven.
For many Jews, the neuroscientist David Eagleman says it best. In Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife, he takes a very Jewish position that we only truly die when no one is left to remember us.
So here’s to you, Herb. A week ago, I helped settle you into your grave according to Jewish custom and sat shiva. Over 60 years ago, you settled into a place in my heart—and you’ll be remembered as long as I live.
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