Friday, July 17, 2009

Dr. Joe Cytrynbaum 1972-2009

"Cerebral aneurysm?"

WTF, G-d?

Joe's parents, sisters and wife, may they be comforted in their sorrow, must be asking themselves that very question, albeit in slightly different form. What did he or we do to deserve this?

I hadn't gone to a memorial service since my father died in 2002. I wanted to go to my high school classmate Kevin Foster's funeral, but it was on a Saturday, so I could not attend. Joe and I had a close friend in common--whom I saw at the service--and I felt like I should attend.

Joe's family's synagogue, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregration, hosted the service. I had never been in the "green synagogue," which opened in this decade. Why is the sanctuary on the third floor? So the view from the seats is the tree canopy? And is the synagogue so green it's not air-conditioned? The lobby felt cool, but people in the sanctuary were using the shiva guides as fans. Yeesh.

I shouldn't complain. Not here--not now. As the obituary in the paper indicated, Joe was quite an accomplished individual who touched the lives of hundreds of people. I was lucky to grab a back-row seat as about a hundred people stood against the walls. "This room has never been so crowded," the rabbi told us.

It feels like G-d slamming the door shut.

That occurred to me as I walked into the building at Evanston's southern border. How could this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people?

It's a great, classic challenge to G-d. We don't know the answer. (And yes, Rabbi Kushner, G-d does control the world, including life and death.) We are mere mortals. G-d's infinite wisdom is far beyond our comprehension. The loss of an infant--a tragedy a friend recently endured--the loss of a child, the loss of a young father and husband in the prime of his life--what is sadder than that?

One of the several qualities I admire about the Lubavitcher rebbe z"l is the potential he saw in every Jew. This leviya service on July 16 served two awesome purposes: it humbled and inspired me. Humbling to see how one person could accomplish so much and touch so many. Inspiring for the same reasons--what Joe had in his neshama, his soul--is in all of us. We are all capable of maximizing our potential and making a difference in people's lives. That would be the best way to keep Joe's memory alive.

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