We lost my grandfather almost a year ago, but I’ve had a request to say a bit more about him. I figured the easiest way to do it was to repost the eulogy I wrote here…
The name Kleinman literally means “small man.” And, physically speaking, most of my family lived up to it. My grandfather was not a particularly tall man and he passed his lack of height down to his sons, including my father, Max. My dad occasionally likes to joke that he married my Mom for her height. It seemed to work in my case as at the height of 5’10”, I have achieved the Kleinman dream of reaching the median height for a human male. Grandpa Eli was overjoyed when I finally reached this milestone. “Grossman! Grossman!” he would call me. Which meant, “Big man! Big man!” I always found it a little bit ironic that he said that because, in everything but his height, Grandpa Eli would always be the real Grossman to me.
There are a lot of things I could say about my grandfather. I could say he was a born leader, given his legacy as an advocate and organizer for the Jewish Community, especially Holocaust survivors, and his decades as President of both one of the largest Synagogues in the Bronx and the Garden Cottages community in Monticello. I could talk about his impressive intellect, which he demonstrated with his keen insight into ethics, politics, business, economics and Judaica. I could go to lengths about his limitless compassion for his family and for his community.
But I won’t.
To me my grandfather’s most defining trait was his optimism. As the people gathered here today already know my Grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. He lost his entire family at a very young age and had to work and struggle to stay alive. He endured the absolute worst humanity had to offer. And he emerged unbroken.
He arrived in the United States in 1949 with a wife, an infant son and another son, my father, soon to arrive. He had no job, didn’t speak the language, and had literally nothing to his name. And from that nothing he raised three brilliant, successful children, created Jewish communities in the Bronx and the Catskills and built and sold off two successful businesses. And he did all of it without losing his faith in God and in a better future for his people and his family.
I’m not an optimistic person by nature. I’m prone to bouts of profound cynicism and doubt. I’ve met so many optimists who were dealt winning hands at the beginning of the game of life and never really understood what it was to face adversity. What weight does optimism born from that type of life carry?
But my grandfather’s optimism was different. My grandfather was perhaps the only person who ever told me, “everything will turn out well” and got me to truly believe it. After all he had seen, all he had lost, all he had endured, the fact that he viewed the future with such positivity astonished me.
His life wasn’t a series of unending successes. He had struggles far worse than any that I have ever faced or am likely to face. He didn’t succeed at everything he tried, even if his natural ingenuity, wisdom and tenacity made him a success in the end. Even with the memory of the greatest of evils literally burned in ink into his flesh, he never lost his vision of a brighter future for himself and his family and he never missed an opportunity to impart that vision to me.
“Howard,” he would tell me, “you are very smart and very talented and one day you will be a big success!” No irony, no hints of doubt. Just an unshakeable faith in his grandson, the kind that was infectious and helped me believe in myself.
I’ve had struggles and setbacks in my life. Sometimes it takes more effort than I’d like to admit to get up in the morning and face the inevitable challenges and frustration. But then I think of the example my Grandpa Eli set for me. I think of his faith, of his belief in my potential, and how he approached life with vigor and an open, inquisitive mind. He saw life as a series of opportunities and he helped me to see things the same way.
So if I had to remember only one thing about my Grandfather it would be his faith in the future; that, no matter our circumstances, there will always be better days ahead. And even if he won’t be there to share them with us, it was his resilience, hard work, fundamental decency and optimism that made them possible. And that spirit will be with us always.
As a representative of the so-called “Jersey Kleinmans” I feel compelled to close with a quote from the Bruce Springsteen.
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
I love you grandpa. May your memory always be a blessing.