eulogy for my father, seymour fromer z”l
1922 – 2009
congregation beth el, berkeley, ca
october 27, 2009
Quite a number of people have told me how moved they were by the words I spoke at the my father’s funeral. Some asked for copies of what I said. Still others asked to hear those words for the first time when they read reference to it in an obit somewhere. I don’t think I said anything that anyone didn’t already know. My father, more than anything else, was knowable (though not ‘transparent’). He had very few secrets.
So. When I wrote my piece, all I knew was that I wanted it to be to the point. It’s just too easy to get longwinded about all of his accomplishments. People do that a lot. But that’s not my job. I just wanted to convey the gestalt of Seymour Fromer. From a daughter’s perspective. He liked it simple. I wanted to give him simple. He was all for just giving someone what he called ‘a good send off.’ I wanted to give him that.
Both my parents were under hospice care at the same time, in different rooms of my mother’s house, next door to the museum. The same hospice workers would go from one to the other. It wasn’t really clear who might outlive whom at that point. My mother’s fall had left her with a massive brain injury that kept her inside some netherworld that was hard to penetrate. She did not know that my dad was in the next room. She only knew that he wasn’t by her side. Too weak to sit up, too injured to comprehend, when my father died there was no chance of her being at the funeral.
But on the day of the funeral, I needed to somehow tell my mom that my dad had died. And a strange thing happened. Suddenly, she woke up out of her inaccessible state. Her eyes became focused. She was alert. Briefly.
People flew out and helped me. There was an outpouring of the Jewish community to be there for my father’s ‘good send off.’ It seemed as if everyone was there except my mom.
And so that’s how I began my words:
“My mom should be here,” I said.
When I told her about my dad, she told me to pick up the phone. She told me every single person to call. … and here you are, I said.
My dad had a way of making every single person he met feel important. Except himself. He refused to see the ‘down’ side, and justified his view thus:
“You have no idea of the good someone will bring to the world, or who they will touch, or influence, or change for the better.”
He also saw the value of every single object he encountered (not just Judaica!). Any piece of junk became reason to investigate — and he did just that, investigate, whether it was an old button, or a silver spoon or a ripped old piece of cloth, he saw history unfolding.
He knew the stories of things. He took me on his adventures. And later, I took him on mine. We were both drawn to North Africa. But he’s the one with all the Berber jewelry, not me!
He taught me that everyone should collect something. Anything, it didn’t matter.
And I responded, well, okay, brass trays then, because they’re useful and they don’t break.
But that wasn’t enough, he said. He taught me that everyone should specialize.
And I said, okay fine, then it should be Mamluk Revival. And so he brought me Mamluk Revival. For after all, it was he the real collector.
And yet, he was also the most unmaterialistic collector possible: He felt no attachment to the object, really. His attachment is to the history, the mystery — the story.
And when all the crumbling books and bits of memorabilia did not fit into our spic and span house, he brought it all to his office at the Federation and it filled one glass case and a couple bookcases.
And when it all outgrew that one glass case, my mom and dad and I filled a few rooms above the Parkway Theatre, and pit’om, there was a museum.
And when it outgrew those shabby rooms, there was Russell Street, and the Judah L. Magnes Museum came to have a real home. It was a museum with a strong sense of my father’s vision —rescued fragments of history — not just objects — and not for my dad alone, but for all of us.
My dad’s lesson is pretty simple:
Do the research.
And share the legacy.
For you have no idea of the good it will bring, who it will touch, or influence, or change for the better.
And that’s really all I said.