Eulogy for my dad, Robert Nemes

IMG_6137EULOGY FOR MY DAD, ROBERT NEMES

MONTREAL, CANADA

AUGUST 30, 2015

THANK YOU EVERYONE FOR COMING HERE ON THIS SUMMER DAY TO HONOR MY DAD AND SAY GOODBYE TO HIM.

IT’S RARE THAT WORDS FAIL ME, BUT THIS IS ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS BECAUSE WORDS FALL SHORT OF DESCRIBING MY DADDY’S LIFE AND WHAT HE MEANT TO ALL OF US.

BUT I WILL TRY.

HE WAS KIND AND HUMBLE, SELFLESS AND OPTIMISTIC.

HE WAS TOUGH AND RESILIENT. HE HAD THE STRONGEST WORK ETHIC OF ANYONE I’VE EVER KNOWN.

HE WAS FUNNY AND A GOOD STORY TELLER.

HE LOVED HORSES, AND HE LOVED THE DOGS THAT WERE LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE A BUTCHER IN THE HOUSE.

HE SAW BEAUTY AROUND HIM AND LOVED HIS FLOWERS. HE TENDED HIS VEGETABLE GARDEN AND WAS A PROMOTER OF LOCAL FOOD LONG BEFORE IT BECAME FASHIONABLE.

HE WAS A GREAT DEBATER OF WORLD POLITICS AND HE CREATED A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS WITHOUT GETTING AN MBA.

HE CARED DEEPLY ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ISRAEL AND HIS LOCAL JEWISH COMMUNITY. HE EMBODIED THE PHRASE “THINK GLOBAL, ACT LOCAL.”

HE WAS A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. BUT HE DIDN’T JUST SURVIVE. HE THRIVED.

AND HE ALWAYS GAVE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

MY COUSIN YAEL WROTE TO ME THIS MORNING AND SAID OF MY DAD: “HIS PRESENCE WAS ALWAYS BOTH GENTLE AND FORMIDABLE.”

AS MOST OF YOU KNOW, HE HAD THE MISFORTUNE OF BEING A YOUNG BOY DURING ONE OF THE DARKEST MOMENTS IN RECENT HISTORY. AT 14, HE WAS PUSHED ONTO A RAIL CAR AND SENT TO AUSCHWITZ WITH HIS TWO YOUNGER BROTHERS AND HIS PARENTS. HE WAS THE ONLY ONE OF THEM TO EMERGE FROM THE CAMPS ALIVE.

AS AN ADOLESCENT DURING THE HOLOCAUST, MY DAD WAS AMONG THE LAST SURVIVORS WHO WERE STILL AROUND TO TELL THEIR STORIES TO ANYONE INTERESTED ENOUGH TO ASK. MANY YEARS AGO HE HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING ASKED TO SHARE HIS  STORY WITH STEVEN SPIELBERG’S SHOAH PROJECT, A MONUMENTAL ENDEAVOR TO CAPTURE ORAL HISTORIES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, PEOPLE OF ALL RELIGIONS WHO HID JEWS DURING WORLD WAR TWO, RESISTANCE FIGHTERS, AND MORE. 

I SPOKE TO HIS FRIEND “FOOKSY” YESTERDAY, ONE OF MY DAD’S FEW REMAINING BUDDIES THAT WAS IN THE CAMPS WITH HIM AND IS STILL AROUND TO BEAR WITNESS TO THEIR SHARED HISTORY. HE SAID TO ME, “WE’RE THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS.” AND HE’S RIGHT.

NOW ONE MORE SURVIVOR IS GONE. BUT MY DAD WAS NOT SILENCED. THAT’S BECAUSE THE NEXT GENERATIONS OF HIS FAMILY WILL KEEP TELLING HIS STORY SO THE WORLD NEVER FORGETS.

WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO DO ALL IN OUR POWER TO PREVENT UNSPEAKABLE ACTS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN. AND SOMETIMES THAT MONUMENTAL TASK BEGINS WITH SIMPLE ACTS OF KINDNESS TO THOSE CLOSEST TO US.

HE HAD EVERY REASON TO BE A BITTER MAN BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM AND HIS FAMILY IN EUROPE. BUT HE CHOSE INSTEAD TO LIVE A LIFE OF OPTIMISM AND ALWAYS LOOKED FOR THE GOOD IN PEOPLE.

HE LOOKED AT LIFE AS A GLASS HALF FULL AND HE IMPLORED US TO DO THE SAME. HE URGED US TO MAKE CHOICES THAT RESULT IN ADDING GOODNESS TO THE WORLD.

HE LOVED MY MOM WITH ALL HIS HEART AND THE TWO OF THEM WERE A GREAT TEAM FOR 63 YEARS STRONG. THEY WERE SO INCREDIBLY DEVOTED TO EACH OTHER  THROUGH THICK AND THIN, AND SHE WAS ALWAYS THERE BY HIS SIDE, ESPECIALLY DURING THESE LAST DIFFICULT MONTHS.

IT SEEMS FITTING THAT HE PASSED AWAY QUIETLY ON SHABBAT. HE ALWAYS HONORED THE SABBATH, WHETHER HE WENT TO SHUL IN HIS COMMUNITY OR DAVENNED ALONE IN HIS HOME. MY MOM SAID TO ME AFTERWARDS, IT WAS A MITZVAH FOR HIM. AND I KNOW SHE WAS RIGHT.

I FEEL PRIVILEGED AND HUMBLED THAT I COULD SAY ROBERT NEMES WAS MY FATHER. I WAS SO LUCKY TO HAVE HIM IN MY LIFE FOR MORE THAN A HALF CENTURY.

I’M GRATEFUL MY CHILDREN, REMY AND COLE, WERE ABLE TO SPEND MANY YEARS WITH THEIR ZAIDY. THEY HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE TO GROW UP KNOWING HIM, HORSING AROUND WITH HIM, LEARNING FROM HIM, AND HEARING HIS STORIES FIRSTHAND. HE SHOWED THEM WHAT UNCONDITIONAL LOVE FEELS LIKE.

WORDS, IN THE END, ARE MEANINGLESS. IT’S HOW YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE AND ACT TOWARDS OTHERS THAT MATTERS. MY DAD SHOWED US ALL HOW TO DO THAT.

DADDY, YOU WERE MY ROCK OF GIBRALTAR, MY NORTH STAR, AND THE VOICE OF WISDOM AND REASON THAT HELPED ME THROUGH SOME OF MY TOUGHEST MOMENTS.

MOST OF ALL DADDY, YOU FILLED MY LIFE WITH LOVE AND SECURITY.  I’LL MISS YOU DADDY. I MISS YOU ALREADY. BUT YOU WILL BE WITH ME ALWAYS. 

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