Our community recently sustained a huge loss with the passing of Mendy “Robert” Klein.
When Mendy Klein died, something profound died in this community.He was, on the one hand, just a guy. Just a guy in shul. The candyman, yes, but mostly just my friend’s father. He was neither old nor young: 65. A regular guy. My father-in-law’s friend. He could have been anyone’s father. And when he died so suddenly, I think we all thought: That could have been me. That could have been my father. That could have been my father-in-law. G-d forbid.
The regularness of Mendy, and the shock, made everyone pause, stricken.
On the other hand, Mendy was a legend. A true rags-to-riches story with a spiritual twist: former taxi driver grows up into world-renowned philanthropist. Like a novel, only true. He was larger than life. His heart was enormous, big enough for everyone’s pain. The mentally ill. Those who could not afford to celebrate Passover. Our drug-addicted youth. Those with cancer, and their families. He was passionate about drawing our community together over common causes. Over Torah.
He wanted to fund not schools, but children; not causes, but people; not organizations, but pain.
The bigness of Mendy made the shock almost as searing as his regularness. How could this larger-than-life character die? How could this mitzvah machine run out of batteries?
I found out via text message on a group chat (where were you when you heard Kennedy died?):
I am so sorry to have to say this
BDE* mendy klein
A few minutes ago
What???? That’s so terrible
Wasn’t he getting honored next week
(Here’s me): What on earth
What on earth are you talking about? Mendy Klein doesn’t die. Mendy Klein lives on, retires, continues his incredible tzedaka projects, travels with his lovely wife, and eventually gives the reins over to his children. Then, when he’s 90 or 100, he dies.
Is that okay?
Because if this man, this regular and uncommonly compassionate and generous guy, can die, then what’s up with all of us? What makes our lives worth living? Life is painful and also beautiful; what are we doing about it? Do we know when we will have our last conversation with someone we love? Who knows what his legacy will be? Why, oh why, do we procrastinate life’s beautiful moments until some unknown day?
As I sat there through the funeral, tears streaming down my face, I looked around at my community. At the thousand people sitting there. At the widows, who understood this brand of pain. The ones who suffered through months of illness and comas; the ones who were shocked at sudden deaths like Mendy’s. The teens whose education he funded. The young parents whose jobs he created. The Federation employees with whom he collaborated. Everyone, in shock.
That Mendy lived changed all of our lives for the better. That he died will remind us, loudly, to be like Mendy. Have that heart. Have that compassionate. Be your regular you – but also, be uncommonly amazing.
We will miss you, Mendy.
May your soul find peace in the next world, surrounded by all the sparks your good deeds have created, and all the future sparks you have inspired.
*BDE is an acronym for “Baruch Dayan Emes – blessed is the true Judge,” a traditional Hebrew phrase meant to be uttered upon hearing especially bad news.