Eulogy for Neil Goren

by Rabbi Leonard Gordon
January 22, 2004

        At funerals, I often read a passage from the Book of Ben Sira that captures so much about the mystery of death and how we move forward in our lives in the face of loss. But today, the line that stands out for me the most is where the teacher says, “for we have been shown more than we can comprehend.” Almost a year ago to the day, Neil began a slow recovery from a car accident. For a while he lingered between life and death, and then for months he endured the challenges of finding appropriate institutional settings to nurture his recovery. Eventually complicated interventions were required to get Neil into proper care and to ensure that he received the attention which you were always sure would enable him to return to a fuller life. There was much to return to – family, sports, work and community -- and there was much to hope for.
        Eventually, this past July, Neil came to live with Cherie and Joe in Philadelphia and continue his recovery. These past months included increased physical vitality, work on the treadmill, greater engagement in the world, attendance at the Germantown Jewish Centre where I met him on Shabbat mornings, and recently a holiday visit from his daughters, Lea and Naomi. As Cherie and Joe's good work was paying off, Neil found himself in pain and it became clear, only weeks ago, that Neil had a fast growing cancer that had already compromised his vital systems.
        And so instead of celebrating his ongoing recovery, we are gathered here today to mourn and share in the family's sorrow. Truly this is a family who has been shown more than they can comprehend.
        But today we are also here to remember Neil's life and recall happier times and the promise of a young man. Neil shared a birthday with his mother, and Cherie, you both continued to share a lifelong bond. Like you Joe, Neil was creative, always a tinkerer. And like his sister Ellen, he was bright. Neil was also empathetic, understanding of others; and he was a fighter, he did not give up. Neil overcame childhood illnesses to become a long distance biker, inspired by Lance Armstrong, who overcame disease to become a renowned international cyclist. His life was not easy and his education and career track were unconventional. Neil learned by doing and his innovative ideas, particularly around uses for computers and the internet, were often ahead of their time.
As a child Neil and his family joined the Germantown Jewish Centre. Cherie, you followed Rabbi Charry, who had officiated at your own confirmation in Indianapolis. At Germantown and through the Zionist Habonim movement, Neil developed a strong Jewish identity and a commitment to Israel made most manifest during and after the Yom Kippur war in 1973 when he volunteered and worked in Israel. Neil began school at Philadelphia College of Textiles and then moved to California where he developed a new and health-oriented lifestyle that included long-distance cycling into the mountains, organic food, and interest in the beauties of nature.
He was a devoted father, developing his work life around the needs of his children and taking leadership in his daughter's Jewish education, including preparing Lea for a bat mitzvah that included active participation from family and community. He cooked, took care of pick ups and drop offs, and was there to assist with homework.
        While he worked professionally with computers, developing a sales-oriented web site, he also volunteered to help create community service bulletin boards and even offered to create internet environments for discussions of cycling during the Olympic games. Recently he shared with his parents his thoughts about moving on to other ways of serving others, perhaps studying psychology as a way to give back to others.
        As we reflected on this past year, the question arose – why? Why had Neil survived the accident only to die so soon of illness? Was there some unfinished business in his life? The answer seems as obvious as the question: during these past months Neil was able to reconnect with his parents, share love with them, share the pleasures of one another's company. Together these past months Neil brought his love of Shabbat dinners, fresh orange juice and ground coffee, and even of going out shopping.
        Cherie, you are a strong person, and you have needed every bit of that strength this past year. You do not accept “No” as an answer – and your persistence facilitated Neil's remarkable recovery and granted him these months of a good life. I know you and Neil's entire family will miss him. Be comforted in the knowledge that you had him with you for this special time, that your family will continue to preserve his memory, and that you did so much to care for Neil during his time of need.
        Parting under any circumstances is, by its very essence, a sad occasion. But, there is a comforting note. Time will drive our sadness away, and time will also bring with it memories, and memories are truly our most genuine possessions. Over the years to come, Neil will be well remembered.