Irwin Herschlag was my get up and go. If he called and said: “I’m coming to Boston,” I would reply: “What time am I picking you up at the bus?” The last time he visited we went to a LIPSTICK meeting in Grove Hall run by my fabulous friend Jacque Furtado. They hit it off at once and Irwin said: “Oh I love it! It brings me back to the old days!” He was talking about his work as an attorney fighting The War on Poverty, for civil rights, and the Longshoreman’s Union.
Eating dinner together Irwin advised me, as always, on a delicate family/homicide case, my refugee trauma work, and encouraged me to work on my book. I couldn’t help but ask: “Irwin how old are you!” “86,” he said. Youza, I thought, he’s full of vim and vigor.
In this video Irwin’s the guy not dressed in black, sitting down taking in the life of his nephew Yonason.
In a distasteful book called Jews Against Themselves by Ed Alexander, which should be called: Jews against having any insight, Irwin responded:
“The history of your outlook and that of some of the responses show how badly you need the rest of us. To translate the Yiddish of your intellectual and spiritual predecessors: We did not get to Israel on the “paper bridges” we were told to wait for and have been far more significant than the role of “water carrier” to which they assigned us. Isolating us also isolates you. This can only lead to another Masada.
Can’t Am Yisroel just agree to disagree and survive together?
Then my get up and go got up and went, so long its been good to know you Irwin. I Love that guy.
Here’s his grandaughter Merav’s amazing eulogy:
Merav — Papa’s Ears
When I think about Papa, the first thing that comes to my mind is — his ears. Papa had the biggest ears, and when I think of those ears, I think of their two main functions: wiggling and listening.
The first function, wiggling, was one of Papa’s well-known talents, one that he was very proud of. That talent got passed down from him to my Eema, and finally, after years of practice, down to me. The day I discovered my special talent, I was so excited. I may have even called Papa, but I was pretty young so I can’t remember. It is now this weird thing that we all have in common and I don’t think there was ever a time I wiggled my ears and didn’t subconsciously think about Papa.
The ears’ second function, though, is more important. Papa was the best listener. He was truly interested in everyone and made them feel special by just letting them be. Papa listened not only with his ears, but with his whole body and heart. His real talent was that he just knew when someone needed to be listened to, needed advice or just a good word.
When he gave me a massage once, he said, ‘’Ohhhhh, I can feel your pain. Your back must hurt so much, it’s so tense.’’
So I asked, ‘’Can you really feel back pain?”
“Maybe,’’ he answered, ‘’but it makes the massage so much better when your pain is acknowledged.’’
I can’t believe I am writing about Papa in the past tense. We were supposed to be spending time together in Tel Aviv right now. Just half an hour before I heard the news I was telling the kids that I work with how excited I am that my grandpa is coming and they will get to meet him.
I imagine his last thoughts were about the trip, the Israeli tomatoes he loved so much and how excited he was to see his family in Israel. I hope those thoughts made him go happily.
Papa, I admire your great compassion and willingness to help anyone in any situation, your way of turning anything complicated into something simple — in a second. I’m awed by your humility, your intelligence, your humor. I love your big ears. But mostly, I love your big heart.