We all knew that this day would come. Man does not live forever, and nothing can stop the inevitable processes that are the end of us all. Even as in the middle of my writing of this hesped, my daughter Ashira gave birth, and once again brought to mind that “Dor holeich v’dor ba” – generations come and generations go, and the world goes on. Even the most alive, passionate, successful, and thriving people eventually go to the Olam HaEmes. The slow approach of the end has been apparent for years, as his strength and health deteriorated, and activities were slowed and curtailed, although his iron will made him continue as much as he could. Most of all, with the passing of his life partner Jean a”h, his magnificent life slowly approached closure. But it still seems unfathomable that Eugen Gluck, that larger-than-life towering personality, is no longer bein ha’chayim (amongst the living).
Eugene and Jean built a legendary empire of chesed, giving, and philanthropy that benefited Judaism, Torah, the world in general, and especially Eretz Yisrael. I have no doubt that the incredible generosity and concern that they showered on so many important causes and institutions the world over will be duly noted. But I want to share the impressions that I had of a man who was my congregant, confidante, and inspiration, and how he modeled so many beautiful and rare qualities that made him truly unique and singular among the pillars of Torah that I have had the privilege to know.
The trait that I would choose that – to me – most exemplified him – and which he personified more than any other – is anavah – humility.
Humility is a much-misunderstood ethic. It does not mean having low self-esteem, nor feeling lowly or worthless. The most humble person in history, Moshe Rabbeinu, had a tremendous sense of self-worth, as we are reading throughout Sefer D’varim, especially in Parshas R’ei. Moshe knew full well that Hashem was willing to start the Jewish people anew from him and that he had the privilege of experiencing things that no other mortal ever had or would undergo. But yet – he was the humblest of men. This was possible because he knew that although he had been given tremendous gifts and talents, they were not a reflection of his personal grandeur. Rather, they were a challenge – a reflection of his responsibility to use them for the good of the community. He had no ego, as he knew that all of his many accomplishments and possessions were a gift from Hashem and that he had a special purpose to fulfill that could be done by no one else.
Mr. Gluck was truly humble. Not in any way meek or self-effacing, he was gregarious and passionate and outspoken and confident. His greeting and signature handshake to one and all was strong and self-assured. He was not afraid to be center-stage, to be the Grand Marshal of the Salute to Israel Parade, the huge Hakafot Shniyot in Jerusalem, or the center of attention at the massive Annual Bet El Dinner that he sponsored. The names of Jean and Eugen Gluck adorn countless buildings in Bet El, Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, Young Israel of Forest Hills, Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, and many more that I am unaware of. He was a man of obvious wealth – the type of wealth that our society associates with celebrities, fame, and fortune.
And yet, he was the simplest and most approachable of men. He would greet everyone – famous and unknown, celebrated and simple, rich and poor, learned and ignorant – with equal friendliness, interest in their well-being, gracious kindliness, and concern. There was never the slightest whiff of arrogance or haughtiness. Never did he make anyone feel uncomfortable with being with him; he was always searching out for how he could make the people in his life feel better, happier, and more fulfilled. When asked for a favor, or to wield his considerable influence to help someone, he jumped at the opportunity to serve and to help immediately, with as little delay as possible. He saw himself, and all the talents and resources that he had been blessed with, as a servant of Hashem, whose greatest calling was to find ways to properly serve klal Yisrael.
As his rabbi, he was the ideal congregant. This was not just because of the incredible financial support that he gave to the shul. It was not only because of his seriousness about davening, and Torah – he was one of the most regular attendees of all at my shiurim and often contributed important insights to the study. It was not only because, as a Holocaust survivor of Mauthausen (one of the cruelest of the concentration camps, if one could say that), he was an inspiration in his love of Hashem. His can-do attitude about building Torah was infectious, even more than it was before the Nazis, yimach sh’mam, tried to destroy us. Rather, it was because of the tone he set for decency, humility, and service that were an example to all.
Without fail, every time that we would have a conversation, he would end the conversation by saying “I hope you don’t mind if I give you a birkas hedyot: Remember that Chazal have said, “Al t’hei birkas hedyot kalah b’einecha–Let not the blessings of a simple person be unimportant in your eyes.”
Lonni and I often said to each other after such an encounter, “He is no hedyot. He is a prince – a touch of royalty. He is everything a Jewish lay leader ought to be, as he sets an example for being a true servant of Hashem and the Jewish people.
I miss his sage advice, his friendly questions about the well-being of my family, and the many times that he went out of his way to show not only kavod haTorah but pure mentchlichkeit. There were so many examples – the night that he came out in the bitter cold to personally deliver a gift – always with a beautiful, warm, hand-written note – and climbed the stairs to my home when it was already difficult for him, to show his concern and love for my family – was just one of many.
Chaval d’avdin v’lo mishtak’chin–Woe to us for those who have been lost, and there is no one who can replace them.
May the inadequate words of this hedyot be in some way expressive of a small amount of the kavod that he deserves, as he goes now to rejoin his beloved Jean, in their well-earned special place near the Holy throne.
T’hei nishmaso tz’rurah b’nafshos ha’chayim.
By Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer