Eulogy for Adam Anhang z"l
Delivered at his funeral by his little sister Becky, 28 September 2005
Honored rabbis, dear family, friends:
We are here to honor the memory and reflect on the life of my big brother, Adam.
Adam was a unique and complex person, encompassing attributes that almost never coexist in one individual. He was:
Both a formidable businessman and a remarkably generous friend
Both confident and unassuming
Both a persuasive talker and a phenomenal listener
Both a brilliant student and an exceptional teacher
Both Jewishly rooted and cosmopolitan
Both young and mature beyond his years
Last evening, one of Adam's longstanding friends, with whom he went to kindergarten, told me a story that was quintessentially Adam. In his earliest memory of Adam, the friend recollected how the kindergarten teacher's lesson for the day was learning how to write the number four. She instructed that the easiest way to write a four was to draw an “el” and add a vertical line. She noted that Adam had a quizzical look on his face, so she asked him if he knew a better way. He approached the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and in one sweeping motion from the bottom to the top and adding a triangle, drew the number four without the chalk leaving the board. The friend remembers thinking that this fellow really had his act together - not only did he already know his fours, he knew how to do them a little differently, and had the confidence to express himself to everyone. And that is truly what Adam has been doing ever since.
Adam was born to be a businessman. He brought a briefcase with him to kindergarten. In high school, he was business manager of the yearbook and treasurer of student council, and he carried a pager so that he could be in regular contact with his stock broker. He ran his own business selling greeting cards out of his university dorm room.
He was a prize-winning student at the Wharton School of Business, and each year, when the U.S. News and World Report school ratings were published, he called me to proudly report that once again, the school had made it to the top of the rankings. Adam worked on business deals all over the world, and over the years, ran across many other Wharton alumni who were delighted to work with him, as he had developed a reputation of being a man of both great business acumen and high integrity.
Every academic quarter, Adam traveled back to Wharton to teach classes about his experiences in the world of real estate. The lectures he gave received rave reviews from students. A mere 10 days ago, dozens of students clamored to talk with him during his most recent visit. He often told me that he loved teaching more than anything he ever did.
Adam's business career did not follow a typical path - he had an intensely entrepreneurial spirit, and always wanted to learn and do more than any one day job could request of him. In his mid-twenties, he went out on his own, starting a consulting business in which he helped all different kinds of companies recover from dire financial straits. He was often called in to take on the CFO or CEO roles, and in recent years, served as the CEO of CWC, a company that sells software to online gaming sites. In the past few years, though, the vast majority of Adam's time was spent working on complicated and ambitious real estate projects that were slated to revitalize whole neighborhoods in Puerto Rico. In every business circle that he entered, his brilliance and persuasiveness earned him respect and trust, even among people twice his age. He always worked the equivalent of two or three jobs at a time, often working late into the night, and invariably offering his expert services for free to people who needed help but could not afford it at that moment.
Inside and outside the boardroom, helping people with their problems was one of Adam's major occupations. Indeed, one of the reasons that this tragedy is so difficult to bear is that Adam is not here to help us get through it. Adam was always the first person who people called when they had an emergency or needed serious advice about relationships, business, or anything at all. He would listen with his analytic ear, ask tough questions, and then proceed to use every resource he had to solve the problem, even if it required endless phone calls, plane trips, money or negotiation. If it was the type of problem that no one could solve, he would simply call and call again to check in and offer support.
In addition, Adam was very quietly generous. To name a few examples: he helped one friend pay his living expenses when he was going through school; anonymously paid for the weekly travel of a favorite out-of-town rabbi to Philadelphia so that Penn students could take a class with him; and when another friend told him of his plans to propose to his girlfriend, Adam was so excited that he helped plan every detail of the proposal. He lent the friend his apartment for the evening, and prepared it with lit candles, a set table, roses and champagne. Because he was discreet about these contributions, there is no way to measure the scope of his generosity.
It's likely, though, that his influence was felt all over the world - he was extraordinarily well-traveled, and always had stories to share from different countries. In addition to doing business in each of the places he visited, he also pursued his appetite for adventure, scuba diving into the deep in the Carribean and climbing the highest mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro.
Wherever he was, Adam's Judaism remained deeply rooted in him: he relished a good niggun - a wordless song - and often enjoyed leading davening or reading Torah when he was back in Winnipeg for the holidays. (He was scheduled to read the haftorah on Rosh Hashanah in this very synagogue in just a few days time.)
Although Adam's travels and life experience made him mature beyond his years, he always had a playful youthfulness. He had a marvelous guffaw of a laugh and a great appreciation for practical jokes. Just for fun, he once had a waist-high stuffed giraffe delivered to my office in New York in the middle of the day, much to the chagrin of my colleagues. He enjoyed reporting on the antics of his two cats, Max and Nate, who he referred to as “the boys,” and also loved hanging out with the real “boys:” the many friends he accumulated over the years.
In fact, Adam had more friends than any person I have ever met. He had friends of all ages, professions, and religions. Over the past several days, so very many people have called to tell me that Adam was their best friend and that they loved him like a son or like a brother. Many of those friends have traveled long distances to pay tribute to his memory today.
Adam had a very special relationship with our family, particularly with Zaidy Tully, our 93 year old grandfather. One of Adam's greatest delights was telling good news to Zaidy, and Adam always marveled at how well Zaidy could understand what was going on in his life despite all the things that have changed over the generations. Zaidy, my parents and I were all very proud of Adam, and we understand from others that Adam beamed with pride when he spoke about us.
Yet another friend wrote this week to tell us that when her father died suddenly, Adam comforted her by telling her to honor her father's memory by going on to make him proud.
Adam was 32 years old when he died, but he accomplished more and touched more people in his brief life than most people do in a full lifetime. May his exceptional life be an example and an inspiration for us all. We must go on to make him proud.
click here for the obituary
Unveiling of the Gravestone in the Name of Adam Anhang z”l
Remarks by Becky,
As many of you know, coinciding with today’s unveiling, we are making a siyyum, a completion of learning, of Seder Nezikin, the order of Mishna dealing with criminal and civil law (including the laws of real estate). We selected this section because Adam had studied the mishnayot within it, and their accompanying gemaras, over the years. Today, I would like to share a few words of learning from those mishnayot, and to connect them to some relevant pieces of Torah and some thoughts about Adam.
We’ve gathered today to do something that is difficult – to memorialize someone who died very young and very unnaturally. The Biblical precedent for death and mourning comes from precisely this sort of situation. Just four chapters into the Torah, Abel is murdered. The Midrash tells us that, “Adam and Eve came and sat by Abel’s body, weeping and mourning for him, but that they did not know what to do with his body. A raven whose companion had just died said: I will teach Adam what to do. The raven took his dead companion, dug up the earth before the eyes of Adam and his mate, and buried him in it. Adam said: We will do as the raven. At once he took Abel's body and buried it in the ground.”
When we gathered together 11 months ago, we carried out this tradition of burial in the ground, an imitation of the raven’s action, an essentially animalistic act. It was at that moment that my parents and I were transformed from a state of onenut to aveilut – from a state of grieving, the raw, animalistic state of shock and anguish experienced immediately after a death, to a state of mourning, the longer-term process of integrating and attempting to find meaning in the experience of loss. Today, we gather together at the end of the period of saying kaddish for Adam, and we engage in the essentially human part of burial: placing a monument on the spot where Adam is buried, marking this place with his unique identity, his name, so that we may return to it.
The Mishna in Sanhedrin, one of the tractates that we studied for the siyyum, explores part of the story of Cain and Abel. The Mishna writes, “For thus we find…that it is written: the bloods of your brother cry to me: not the blood of your brother but the ‘bloods.’ Here, the Rabbis are making a distinction between the singular of the word “blood,” dam, and the plural of the word “bloods,” damei. They discuss reasons why the Torah might have used the plural form of the word. One reason proposed is that it is not only the blood of Abel that was spilled, but the blood of his potential descendants.
The Rabbis conclude from this that one reason that all of the inhabitants of the world were created from one man, from Adam HaRishon, the First Adam, is to teach us: “That whoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if he had saved a full world…”
The entire world was populated from one man, the First Adam, and thus to kill a man is to have destroyed a whole potential world. The Rabbis continue by saying that there is another reason why we were all created from one man: “to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, for man stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, stamped each man with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his fellow.”
God stamped out each person with the seal of the First Adam, and we each emerged unique in character. Our Adam also made a unique impression on each of us, and on the wide circle of friends and colleagues who he cultivated over his lifetime.
For me, the unique seal of Adam is that he commiserated with me when I had my first broken heart, helped me write my first resume, informed me that I had cooties every time I leaned in to kiss him (well into adulthood), picked me up and twirled me in his arms at my graduations. He was my childhood partner, my proudest advocate, the person who gave me the confidence that I could be anything I wanted to be.
Because each of us is unique, stamped with the seal of Adam HaRishon, the First Adam, and because each of us represents a whole potential world, the Rabbis continue: “Every one is obliged to say, ‘For my sake the world was created.’" In other words, the Rabbis remind us that just as a whole world is lost when someone dies, there is a unique whole world that each of us creates when we live on.
I began by saying that on the day of Adam’s funeral, we passed from a state of grief to a state of mourning. Today, at the unveiling of his gravestone, we pass from the first year of mourning to the lifelong process of overcoming the devastation of losing the whole world that was Adam, and finding our way forward in the whole world that each of us must continue to inhabit without him. Our job from now on is to find a place of meaning and vision for the unique imprint our Adam left on each of us, the lessons he taught us and the love and the bittersweet joy that our memories of him bring to us.
We are indebted to all of you who have helped to lift us up through the past several months of mourning, and thank you for walking together with us as we attempt to live up to the formidable goal that the Rabbis have laid out, to live as though the world was created for each of us, to recognize the way in which our worlds have been shaped by our interactions with all those we have had the privilege to know and love throughout our lives, especially our Adam.