Eulogy for Friend


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Eulogy for Friend


Three days ago I was working on a lecture dealing with a prominent figure on the French literary scene who happens to be a Sephardic Jew. He pictures the Jew as essentially a wounded man, one racked by his Jewishness. The world for him is a desert, and God is enwrapped in silence. For him the keynote is exile, the stuff of his writing a kind of brave despair. The news of Hays's death broke into my thoughts on this, and it occurred to me that his philosophy of life could be expressed by reversing this writer's terms. The one saw the Jew as a wounded man; the other saw in the Jew, rejoicing in his Jewishness, the acme of spiritual health. The one saw the world as a desert, the other as an orchard. The one saw God as the God of silence, the other saw Him as the God of communication, one with whom you could stay in touch. The keynote of the one was exile; while the other saw in the combination of Judaism and America the best of all possible worlds.

It is deceptively easy to say, why not? Was not Hays one on whom fortune had smiled, one who had every reason to see the world in a positive light? Yet the very fact in itself can be burdensome. His father had set him a very high standard. Solomon Solis-Cohen combined the sciences and the humanities and community service in a way which is hardly possible in our complex age. Hays hewed out his own path. In his lifelong professional growth as a man of the law, he acquired a reputation for probity second to none. Even those who disagreed with him on this issue or that had to concede that he was a man of conscience, and for him principle came first, and no claim of expediency could make it take second place.

Hays took to heart the moral of his father's best-known poem, and knew how quickly love can pass by if it is not grasped and cherished. He loved much and well. He loved America with a passionate devotion. When my son was born, he wrote to me, pointing out the privilege of being born an American citizen. He loved the ideals and traditions of Judaism, and always found them in harmony with his Americanism. He loved his grand-children, and a special warmth came into his voice when he spoke of them.

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His image will, I know, be a continuing inspiration to them, and a warning too, not to depart from his stern ideals and vision of right and wrong. What the loss of a singularly precious one of them meant to him we can imagine but not fully know. To my dear friends, his children and their spouses, I can only say, grieve, yes, but follow it with rejoicing that to the last you assured him of your devoted love and support. And what shall we say to his life's companion, his beloved wife? Rooted deeply in the east, he took a partner from the west. Immersed in the high conservatism of Mikveh Israel, he joined one reared in the tradition of classic reform. East and west, tradition and innovation met in beautiful harmony. The complementation was perfect.

Institutions too, felt the outflow of his love. Dropsie University, Gratz College, Thomas Jefferson University, Mikveh Israel, the Federation, were all the recipients of his time and his substance, and aside from these, there were the acts of charity done without fanfare and known only to the beneficiary.

Hays is not only a loss to his family and the institutions in which he interested himself. He was part of a vanished breed, an authentic Sephardi Jew. Sephardi Jewry had a knack for harmonizing, synthesizing, melding the best from wherever it was to be found. This type of personality fares ill with our modern need for typing, systematizing, homogenizing. Hays was his own man.

The life he led was full, long; spent among the places, insitutions and people that he loved. He died at the emotional peak of the Jewish year. As the closing Atonement prayer, the Neila, was uttered he drew his last breaths. The blast of the ram's horn, which signaled for us the closing of the gates of Heaven, signaled the opening of another gate for him through which he gently slipped. To him, as he approaches the throne of glory, we can say in the closing words of the Atonement service:

Go eat your bread with joy; and drink your wine with a merry heart: for God has already accepted your works.


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