But Herb's brand of "religiousness" was rooted in deep faith and broad knowledge and intellectual integrity, not narrowmindedness or blind faith. Herb was a brilliant man, grounded in the world of science (he was an MIT graduate) for whom a life of faith, Jewish learning and practice was the only conceivable way to live.
I've learned many life lessons and insights into Jewish practice and texts from Herb over the years, but today, during his funeral, he taught me one more . . .
Years ago, when Herb and Gloria and I first began to know each other and share conversations, Herb told me that he and Gloria started their married life with little more than their combined intelligence, faith and love. They worked hard. They began life with the meagerest of means. . . . and they were passionately committed to providing their two children, Robert and Elaine, with the kind of thorough, meaningful Jewish education that can only be acquired in a day school setting. The Providence Hebrew Day School made it possible for the Spivack children to receive the education that was beyond the financial means of their parents.
Decades later, Herb would tell me that he was deeply grateful to the Hebrew Day School for their compassion and generosity and commitment to educating any Jewish child who walked through their doors. Herb also told me that he was grateful to God that all these years later he has been able to reciprocate with generosity to the Day School. And he would always tell me about the Day School's wonderful head of school, Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman. And he would tell me, "You should get to know him. He's a wonderful man. and a wonderful rabbi."
I'd always express appreciation for the qualities Herb described to me, and for the esteem in which he held Rabbi Scheinerman . . . but I am a female Conservative rabbi and Rabbi Scheinerman is part of a Jewish community in which . . . well, let's just say I didn't think it was likely that Rabbi Scheinerman and I were going to meet, and if we did meet, it didn't seem likely that we were going to have the opportunity to get to know each other.
Rabbi Scheinerman and I met today. As our communities came together in the same place at the same time to mourn and to laud the life of the same man. I learned from the family that Rabbi Scheinerman was coming to the funeral and would be prepared to speak. I responded that it would be a privilege to call him to the bimah and inwardly hoped that Rabbi Scheinerman would not find the phenomenon of being called to a bimah in a Reform temple (the funeral was held in the Temple Sinai sanctuary since we are rather "between sanctuaries" right now at Torat Yisrael. . . ) by a female Conservative rabbi to be too uncomfortable.
What Herb Spivack taught me today is that there are people within the Providence ultra-orthodox Jewish community who share Herb's own commitment to derech eretz / treating everyone with respect and compassion and to klal yisrael / to considering all of the Jewish community precious in God's eyes and therefore worthy of our own respect and regard.
Today Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman and Rabbi Amy Levin both taught Torah at the funeral of a man we knew to be a deeply knowledgeable, committed and principled Jew. Today Rabbi Amy Levin and Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman each chanted "Eil Malei Rachamim" / "God, Full of Mercy", the memorial prayer, for the elevation of the soul of Herb Spivack. Today Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman and Rabbi Amy Levin stood side by side shovelling earth into the same grave, shaping the final layer of earth into the tradition "areimah" (mound).
It would probably be going a bit too far to say that Rabbi Scheinerman and I are going to be friends, or even colleagues within the same community. But I, at least, had my eyes opened by my friend and teacher Herb Spivack, to the character of a very fine man and a very fine rabbi and a very fine community. I hope that we might continue to build a bridge or two between our communities in memory of Herb Spivack.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.