Eulogy for Mr. Jerry Green

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Enid, Sara, David and Shani, Max, Shirley, Perry and Gloria, Jack, Jordan and Ruth, family, and friends.

Today, I mourn with all of you the passing of your husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, and dear friend to myself, my family and our Alaskan Jewish community. 

From the day Esty and I arrived in Anchorage, Mr. Jerry Green became like family to us.  From our very first Shabbos, we would spend almost every Friday night dinner and Shabbos lunch together for many many years. 

He was like a local grandfather to our children. 

I remember, one time at shabbat community luncheon Jerry sat down in the place where our son Levi always liked to sit, which was right next to me. Little Levi, who was then 3 or 4 years old, came over and stamped his foot in protest that Jerry took away his seat. Jerry got such a kick out of it that he never let us forget and would always joke about it.

He would call our daughter Rivky, “The Baker.” Since as a little girl she started a business, making challah and selling them to the community. Jerry would make business deals with her, buying wholesale, getting discounts and would give her lessons on how to run a business.

Jerry was more than just a good friend. From the day Esty and I arrived in Anchorage, on the shlichus mission of the Rebbe, the spiritual giant and leader of our time and nation, Rabbi Schneerson, with the goal to warm up Alaska, Jerry became our ‘partner forever’ in this mission.

He was one of those people who understood the Rebbe’s vision, to be there for every Jew and every person

and make Judaism available to everyone on each level, way before it became popular, not only in the Jewish world, but even in Chabad.

Jerry merited to see the Rebbe twice, once with Rabbi Leviton in the 1980s and a second time with myself in the early 90s. As you’re going to hear later from Mrs. Leviton, Jerry was very dear to the Rebbe. Three weeks after Jerry visited the Rebbe, Rabbi Levitin got a call from the rebbes secretary, that the rebbe is asking: “What was Jerry’s impression from the farbrengen that he attended in 770.”

From the day we arrived in Anchorage, there was not one milestone that he was not involved with. When we purchased our first house/chabad house, which served as a synagogue, preschool, social hall, and a home for our family; or when we purchased the property for our mikvah, and finally when we purchased the property for the Chabad Lubavitch Alaska Jewish Campus and Museum.

In all of these milestones for the Alaskan Jewish Community, it was Mr. Jerry Green who was one of the greatest supporters and pillars of all these historic accomplishments.  

This morning I was thinking, how does one capture the life of an outstanding man like Jerry?

How does one summarize the life of Mr. Jerry Green, the Alaskan pioneer, businessman, philanthropist, community leader, and above all, the loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and dear friend. 

The Talmud tells of the great sage, Rabbi Meir, who would always point out, that in a person’s name, you can find their personality, character and a reflection of their life journey.

Hassidic philosophy explains that the Hebrew name of a person is the divine channel through which G-d gives them their life.

By divine providence, Jerry’s Hebrew name is Yakov and Yisrael.  There is nothing that can describe Mr. Jerry Green’s life better than the story of our forefather Jacob.

Jacob had to flee Israel for the city of Charan, located in modern day Turkey. As he left his hometown, he prayed that he would return peacefully to his parents’ home. 

The Torah tell us, that after 20 years in exile, ויבוא יעקב שלם Jacob came back ‘complete’ to the Land of Israel. What does the Torah mean by complete?

The Talmud explains that he came back complete with his children, complete with his health, his body, complete with his Torah and Judaism, and complete with his possessions. 

Before Jacob left the holy land, the land where Abraham and Isaac raised their children, and went to Charan, in modern day Turkey, which was at the time a place of evil and unholiness, he was very concerned about his safety, his health, his spiritual life, and of course about the spiritual life of his children.

He worried that his children would not continue in his footsteps as a result of being in an unholy place. Like Jacob, Jerry was also concerned about living in true exile, so far north in the wintery, dark, and cold state of Alaska, and decided to move to Israel in the early 1970’s.

He gave up on the comfort of his parents’ business and decided to make Aliyah and live in Israel, speaking Hebrew, and raising his young family with a modest lifestyle. However, after a very short time, he felt the calling to go back to Alaska to continue the great tradition of the Green family in bringing Judaism to the far north.

The Greens of Alaska have become a legend all over the world. In the Jewish Museum of Alaska you will find a picture of the legendary Golda Meir together with Jerry and Perry Green. How in the world, you ask?

As a foreign minister of Israel, Golda Meir was on a trip to the far East. The plane stopped in Alaska to refuel, and there were some mechanical problems, causing her to stay overnight in Alaska. Where would she stay, of course, at David and Ruth Green’s home! This story says more than anything else about the Greens in Alaska and their staunch support of Israel and the Jewish world.

Jerry who received his Jewish education here in Seattle, was not trained as an official Rabbi. However, he rose to the occasion and took a leadership position in the community. He taught Hebrew school, prepared children for their bar mitzvah, lead services at the Elmendorf air force base, and conducted Passover seders at his home.

When the Rebbe sent the first young Rabbis and Rabbi Levitin to visit Alaska, Jerry opened his home, the store, and his heart to the Rebbe’s mission, and together with his brother Perry, became a founding member of congregation Shomrei Ohr, the first orthodox synagogue in Alaska. 

Like Jacob, today Jerry is coming back home ‘complete’. He is ‘complete’ with his Torah, ‘complete’ with his Judaism, and ‘complete’ with his children.

When our forefather Jacob’s children gathered around his deathbed, he asked them ‘Are all of you, my children, complete in your faith in G-d?’ they responded to him together, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One.” And the Shema prayer was born.

Jerry, like our forefather Jacob, merited to see all of his children and grandchildren walking in the way of Hashem.

Like Jacob, Jerry was a great family man, a dedicated husband and father. He made it a priority to give his children a Jewish education. He sent them all the way from Alaska to Jewish camps, day schools and yeshivas.

And like Jacob, Jerry carries both of his Hebrew names, Yakov and Yisrael. Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy explains that the name Yakov is from the word “eikev” which represents the heel of a person’s foot, and the letters of Yisrael also form the word “rosh”, which means “the head” and the word “sar”, which means “a governor and ruler”.  

These two names represent two different qualities in the way we relate to the world.

Jacob is the type of person who is like a heel, someone who is very humble, simple, modest and serves others. Israel is the type of person who is like the head of a body, a ruler and leader of others.

Like Jacob, Jerry had both of these qualities in him. On one hand, he was the most humble and kind person. He welcomed everyone, he helped out every stranger who walked into shul, he always had a good word to say to every individual. At the same time, when it came to important issues like humanity, Israel, and the Jewish community, he fought like a leader.

Jerry had the ability to see the importance of one small community, one isolated event, and one individual.

I always thought of Jerry as the “Jewish Family Service” of Anchorage. If a youngster needed a job, Jerry would find a wall in his house that needed to be painted – even if it was already painted for the third time within the last six months. Just ask Enid, she will tell you all about it.

 

When two Israeli girls were stuck in Kodiak in the middle of the winter because their idea of making money on a fishing boat fell through, it was Jerry that made sure they got a return ticket home.

When a woman arrived in Anchorage and had no job to support herself, she did not know the language and had no papers, it was Jerry who hired her as a cook, then also hired her husband to work in his shop.

He was the kind of guy that could never say “no” to a person in need. At the same time, he was able to see the big picture of the Jewish world.

In the early 90s, when the Iron Curtain came down and Russia opened up, the Jewish Federation in Seattle went on a special mission to far east Russia to establish a Chessed House, House of Kindness, in the cities of Valdivostock, Chabarabsk, and Berabijon.

At that time Alaska Airlines used to fly directly from Alaska over the North Pole, straight to Russia. The Federation turned to Mr. Jerry Green and invited him to join them on the trip.

However, Enid would not hear of it. She wasn’t excited about going to an undeveloped country, especially to far east Russia where the governor’s house in Berabijon had no running water, and where a guard was needed at all times to protect the American delegation wherever they went. Enid definitely had a point.

Jerry asked me if I would like to join him on this mission. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, I was very happy to go, since Chabad wasn’t yet in those three cities, and I knew that there were thousands of Jews there who have not been connected to Judaism for 70 years.

Jerry and his brother, Perry, asked me to put together a huge box with all sorts of Judaica materials that they sponsored, such as tallis, teffilin, and mezuzahs, and to take it with me to Russia to give out for free to anyone who would ask for them.

On this trip to Russia, I had the great opportunity to learn more about Mr. Jerry Green and get to know him better. We shared the ‘same room’ for the entire 10-day trip.

 

I was so impressed to see how proud he was of his Yiddishkeit. Although none of the other members of the delegation were orthodox, he proudly wore his tallis and teffilin and davened (prayed) each morning, no matter what, and everyone around would watch him in awe.

I also got to know Jerry’s rebellious side. In Chabarask, we were told not to go anywhere without our guard.

But Jerry, who was fearless, told me “I don’t care, I’m going to have my morning walk.” And without thinking twice, we were on our walk at the nearby park.

This is the kind of man Jerry was, like Jacob, he was a man of truth, with a combination of kindness, humility and at the same time, he knew how to stand up for his beliefs. I remember once he told me how he went into the bank to take out a big loan for a project.

It was during the time that Israel was in the news regarding some big conflict in the Middle East. The banker started to talk to him about Israel and put down the Israelis for how they treated the Palestinians. Jerry just stood up and walked away and went to another bank to take out the loan. He didn’t care that he could have gotten a better loan with this banker, if someone speaks against Israel, he was not doing business with him.

Like Jacob, who was known to be a man of Torah, Jerry was known for his quest for knowledge and study. His house was full of books and videos on any subject you could think of.

Jerry was a true, “Ish ha Chessed,” a man of kindness, one of the most generous people I know.

One of my fond memories is of Jerry sitting at his desk in the back of the David Green Fur Store, watching him go through the mountain of envelopes from Jewish organizations around the world requesting help. Unlike most of us, he actually read each request letter ‘in full’ and he sent every single one a check, big or small, but everyone got something.

He was not only generous with his checkbook, he also gave generously of his time and space. He welcomed community people to his home for Rosh Hashanah dinners and other occasions. If a member of the community got sick, he would always make a point to go visit them. If someone passed away, you knew that Jerry would be at their family’s home for a shiva call.

But more than all of that, he was generous with his soul. Jerry would fondly speak of a gentleman in his shul in Seattle who was kind and welcoming to him as a child. He used to show him where the service was, which page to turn to, and make him feel at home.

Jerry was also that kind of a guy. Whenever a stranger would come into our shul, it was Jerry who went out of his way to make them feel comfortable. He respected everyone equally, young or old, regardless of their status.

At the bar mitzvahs in our synagogue, we have a tradition that Jerry or Perry would present the bar mitzvah boys with a book on behalf of the congregation. It was always moving to see how Jerry would put his hand over their shoulders and talk to them like a true grandpa that talks to his own grandchild. He would smile at them and praise them on the beautiful job they did and tell them how he and the whole congregation were proud of them. He would invite them to come back to the synagogue and always feel welcome at shul. In fact, the last event Jerry attended at our shul in Anchorage was a bar mitzva where he presented a gift to the bar mitzva boy.

King David says in the Book of Psalms, צדק לפניו יהלך “Righteousness (tzedakah) will go before him…” Jerry’s chessed and tzedakah, his outstanding support of the Rebbe’s vision in Alaska, Seattle, and everywhere else in the world, will no doubt lead him straight into the Rebbe’s Chamber in heaven, in Gan Eden.

Enid, Sara, David and Shani, Max, Shirley, Perry and Gloria, Jack, Jordan and Ruth, family, and friends:

 

I know you will all miss Jerry very much.

May you find some comfort in carrying on his beautiful legacy, and may his rest be peace, Amen.

Founder and Pillar of Chabad Lubavitch-Alaska Jewish Campus and Museum

by Rabbi Yosef Greenberg

Tuesday, June 28, 2022