Losing a congregant is one of the most difficult things any rabbi can experience. Losing a congregant who has been at your side for over 37 years and has become a close friend and confidant is beyond painful. It is agonizing and tormenting.
How can I eulogize my dear friend Dr. Tali Skoczylas z”l – a distinguished and extraordinary individual whose permanent seat in our shul was immediately to my right, ever since our k’hilah was established?
HaRav Meir Simchah HaKohen of Dvinsk, author of the Meshech Chochmah on the Torah, observed that when Yaakov Avinu passed away, all the Egyptians cried for him. When his funeral procession arrived in Canaan, the crying was accompanied by extensive eulogies.
Why, asked the Meshech Chochmah, was Yaakov eulogized in Canaan and not in Egypt? His insightful response is the key to understanding why I am standing before the casket of my longtime, dedicated, and devoted friend, Dr. Tali Skoczylas z”l.
According to the Meshech Chochmah, the Egyptians only cried because they were not truly acquainted with the greatness of Yaakov Avinu, while the people of Canaan know his background and history and recognized his noble character, heritage, spiritual greatness, and overall benevolence.
Similarly, I stand before you today to pay homage to a kindhearted, pious, and truly noble personal whom I have been privileged to know for a long time and who has tragically left us at a young age and in an untimely manner.
Like David HaMelech, I proclaim: “Tzar li alecha, achi” – I am sorrowful for you, my brother Tali. You were very dear and precious to me. “Eich naflu giborim” – How have the mighty fallen?
I am not only eulogizing you, Dr. Skoczylas, as your rav, but as your intimate chaver, a friend who has respected and valued you for the past 37 years. I admired the humility with which you conducted your professional and personal life. More than most people, I knew your kindness, generosity, tz’dakah and chesed, dignity and respect. I watched you greet people with a warm smile and kind words. I heard your equal concern for the wellbeing of g’dolei Yisrael and ordinary Jews. I knew the endless hours that you devoted to sharing your medical expertise on behalf of patients both locally and in Eretz Yisrael.
I was privileged to know you well and to gain your trust. You personified the essence of a ben Torah, and I was fortunate to learn from your example how to maximize mitzvot she’bein adam l’chaveiro in the most gentle, authentic, and selfless manner.
Many stories are and will continue to be told about you – stories that are rarely told about others. While some may be tales and anecdotes, I know facts and evidence of the colorful tapestry of your unique lifelong saga as a proud and caring Jew and as a professional, faithful, and compassionate physician.
Permit me to share a few insights about Dr. Tali Skoczylas z”l.
This morning, his son, HaRav Yaakov, shared with me an amazing personal “secret.” HaRav Yaakov told me that ever since he arrived in Israel, his father continually encourage him to pursue his talmud Torah. “Instead of telling me, ‘Enough. I supported you for so many years. Now is your time to earn a living independently’ – my father always told me: ‘Go ahead; continue your avodat Hashem. Continue learning, teaching, and promoting Torah. Don’t worry; I am totally behind you!’ That’s how great my father was!”
How fortunate is a family that has such a loving and dedicated father! How blessed are children who have an unwavering father willing to accompany them through thick or thin, in injury and in health! How consecrated is a marriage with a husband and wife living in such harmony, fondness, and devotion such as the marriage of Tali and Dvora Skoczylas!
Standing here today, I recall a memorable statement that Dr. Skoczylas once told me upon his return from Israel. It was approximately a year before HaRav Yosef Elyashiv zt”l passed away. Dr. Skoczylas described to me the circumstances behind his response to a request by the Elyashiv family to review the medical records of the hospitalized Gadol HaDor and to consult on the treatment that Rav Elyashiv was undergoing.
Dr. Skoczylas was almost trembling when he told me: “I can’t fully express the z’chut I felt when I entered the hospital room of the critically ill Rav. All I can tell you is that my entire 40-year medical career was worth the brief time during which I stood at his bedside and tried my best to help save his life!” I was in awe to watch Dr. Skoczylas at that moment and to listen to the emotional reverence in his voice. I will not forget it.
“Tzar li alecha, achi” – I grieve for you, my brother Tali. My grief is unbearable.
Dr. Skoczylas never boasted, but I knew the potential, the talents, the vigor, and the vitality that he possessed. I can attest to the fact that Dr. Skoczylas gained his attributes and energies from his boundless ahavat Yisrael, ahavat Torah, and yir’at Shamayim, and from his effusive ahavat Eretz Yisrael. These evident virtues, along with his unconditional love for his wife, children, and grandchildren, radiated from his charming personality and compensated for his humble demeanor and modesty.
Shlomo HaMelech wrote: “Dodi yarad l’gano...lilkot shoshanim” (Shir HaShirim 6:2). Dr. Tali Skoczylas cultivated a beautiful gan shoshanim, a beautiful rose garden. His magnificent roses included Moshe, Yaakov, Avner, Eli, and Racheli – and towering above them, of course, were he and his eishet chayil Dvora. No words can describe the fragrant aroma that emanates from this exquisite rose garden and that surrounded him during the months of his deteriorating illness. The self-sacrifice of unwavering and hopeful wife and children during the last five long, agonizing months was extraordinary and most commendable – until “Dodi” – G-d Himself – decided to pluck the “Tali-rose” and place it on His Shavuot throne in His Heavenly abode.
Our Congregation Ohel Yitzchok lost its founding pillar, our graceful Mizrach- rose. From now on, Dr. Skoczylas will no longer be with us to place his always winning bids for his favorite Yom Tov Hagbahah and G’lilah. You see, he bid and outbid everyone for these honors but never kept them for himself. Our anonymous “winner” always instructed the gabbaim to distribute these kibudim to others who could not afford to bid for themselves.
Such a “beautiful rose” is worthy of being praised and eulogized for inspiring us to emulate him. His legacy deserves public acclaim for he was an ish shalom and an ish emet. His distinctive virtues earned him our appreciation for enhancing our shul, our Kew Gardens Hills community, and the greater Torah community, both here and in Eretz Yisrael.
On everyone’s behalf, I extend condolences to Mrs. Dvora Skoczylas – his admirable and devoted wife, to his dedicated children and their spouses, to his loving grandchildren, to his bereaved siblings, and to his parents-in-law. All of us are confident that our admired and esteemed Dr. Tali Skoczylas z”l will serve as a meilitz yosher, a faithful advocate for his entire family, individually and collectively, and will utilize his heavenly proximity to Hashem to channel blessing on all of them, on klal Yisrael, and on toshavei Eretz Yisrael whom he cherished throughout his life.
T’hei nishmato tz’rurah bitzror ha’chayim.
By Rabbi Shaul Arieli, Congregation Ohel Yitzchok, Kew Gardens Hills