Speeches: Birthday Tribute

          When I think of George M, my dear friend of more than 25 years, I'm reminded of a bit of Hebrew wisdom:
The source is the Mishnah, Pirkei Avot (sayings of the fathers) Chapter 4, section 1.
Here is an English translation:

from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mishnah/Seder_Nezikin/Tractate_Avot/Chapter_4/1.

Ben Zoma says:

Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, "I have acquired understanding from all my teachers" (Psalms 119:99).

Who is the mighty one? He who conquers his desire, as it says, "slowness to anger is better than a mighty person." (Proverbs 16:32).

Who is the rich one? He who is happy with his lot, as it says, "When you eat [from] the work of your hands, you will be happy, and it will be well with you" (Psalms 128:2).

Those are the ideals that George has tried to live up to, as long as I've known him.  Of course, mine is the biased perspective of friendship.  You will soon hear other points of view from his family.

But George, through our many philosophical discussions, has come across to me as a man concerned with self-knowledge, self-control, and becoming a mensch.  If you do not know what that means...it is, roughly speaking, a fully realized, virtuous human being.

Another, Hebrew word that occurs to me in connection with George...is tzadik -- a righteous man, a holy man. 

No, I'm not talking about a man who, as far as I know, spends a lot of time praying.   And no, I'm not talking about a St. George -- like all of us, George is a work in progress, and, as I say, you'll soon hear the areas in which he needs to improve.

But he has done what I would consider holy acts:

  • his contributions to Jewish organizations and Judaism worldwide…and his generous support of Jewish refugees;
  • the love, care and concern with which he has raised four outstanding kids (though I wouldn't be surprised to find that they have their faults too);
  • his tireless work on behalf of his clients, the individuals and the families whose lives, as he has explained to me, are literally in his hands.

It would appear that George has found his true calling, and I applaud him for it.  Yes, I know there was a brief stint as an engineer…and a summer spent communing with shepherds and sheep in Spain -- George, what exactly was that about?  -- but George has found his niche, a place where he can both help and prosper.

The huge portion of George’s life devoted to service exemplifies the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam, “fixing the world.”  George has done better than most people I know, when it comes to improving the world.

And finally, I think of George as a true citizen of the world.  Years ago, he left the tourist trail far behind...and has schlepped to remote countries that I would want to watch on TV, but that’s about it. 

He actually goes abroad – far abroad, by my parochial standards – along with his intrepid family.  So they’re citizens of the world as well. 

It certainly helps that George and Ann command perhaps 10 or 12 languages between them. Kudos to them for raising a multicultural family that will be at home in many places around the globe.

George, you have crammed as much into 60 years as anyone I know.  I can only imagine what you’ll accomplish in the next 60.  May this be one more milestone in a long life of health and happiness.

Let’s drink to George!