Yoseph ben Shaul u-Peshe

June 15, 2011

Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel
Rodfei Zedek, Chicago

We gather together this morning to lay to rest a beloved and unique individual, Joel Allan Rich, who was a true friend to all who ever knew him. Joel's sudden and unexpected death brings home to us the terrible words in the Book of Proverbs: "You know not what a day may bring." Yet all find comfort in his having lived his life so as to bring meaning and blessing-and life-to each and every day that he lived in his seventy years.

Joel was a beloved son to his parents Saul and Pauline. He appreciated his dad's hard work as a pharmacist and his mother's involvement in the synagogue and Hadassah and with Jewish music. He appreciated his mother's talents for cooking and growing things, especially figs, which he loved. He was close to his half-sister Francine, and to her son, Andrew, and his children, Angela and Dawson. He also kept up with his many cousins and their families.

Joel had fond memories of growing up in Yonkers, and of attending P.S. 13, Hawthorne Jr. High and Yonkers High. A good friend who thrived on friendship and made good friends, Joel had several good friends with whom he could reminisce about those days, throughout his lifetime, beginning with Madeline, whom he knew since age five, and Irv and Jeannine.

Joel chose to know about his religion, and became active on his own at Temple Emanu-El in Yonkers, from bar mitzvah preparations through high school. While in high school, he, Irv and Jeannine explored the academic world together, taking courses at New York University in a program that prefigured the advanced placement classes of a few years later. Then Joel chose to attend Syracuse University where he majored in philosophy of religion. He then came to the University of Chicago where he finished all but the dissertation in the study of philosophy, earning a hefty and substantial masters degree.

Joel chose to write from an early age, and was already publishing poems and essays while in high school. He also participated in the high school band, enjoying the camaraderie of that activity. He also took up golf, a life-long interest. In the college years, Joel traveled with friends, and always with Irv, making their way through Europe and making a point of spending time in Israel.

He was a born teacher. He did some odd jobs as a youth and in between college and graduate school, like driving a cab in Yonkers. But mostly he taught. While at U of C he gladly gave courses at South Shore Temple, and began almost immediately teaching in the University's adult education program in the basics of the liberal arts, something that he did, and did well and engagingly and conscientiously, for many years, until age 60.

He taught philosophy at Columbia College Chicago and lectured on Proust at Newberry Library. He was also skilled at managing educational programs.

He and Madeline were married young, and established a warm and loving home, open to family and to friends, to culture and to new thinking, to art of all kinds and to passionate exchange of ideas. He and Madeline knew each other for sixty-five years, since first grade, and through marriage and divorce remained dear friends. Joel remained close to Madeline's brother Stuart and his wife Betty and with their children, Lisa, Michael and Jennifer. Early on, Joel and Madeline hosted fun and fascinating Passover sedorim each year, often being the only Jews there, but delighting in teaching interested and interesting friends about the meaning of Jewish observances and liturgy.

Graduate school days brought Joel and Madeline the blessing of new and lasting friendships, which they had always cultivated. They shared the married students housing with young couples like Earl and Beverly Tinsley and Esther and Francis Idachaba, and became close to their children. Francis spoke for all of Joel's friends and family and students when he expressed his admiration for Joel's erudition, his ability to recall and to draw upon quotations from Plato, Aristotle, Proust and so many others, and to utilize those quotations, concepts and ideas to bring depth and perspective to daily conversations.

As regards the families of these young couples that Joel and Madeline met at graduate school, it was often the children who made sure that their parents remained connected with Joel and Madeline. The Idachaba's eldest daughter, Achenyo, got in touch with Joel and Madeline through the Chicago Alumni Magazine after her parents had long lived in their native Nigeria, and began a tradition that made Joel and Madeline the "American parents" of the six Idachaba children, Achenyo, Omada, Ile, Ojoru, Ojochide, and Uneku. Indeed, it was Joel who, by virtue of having a car, took Esther to the hospital when she gave birth to their second child, Omada, during their graduate school years. In 2000, he went to Nigeria for the marriage of their daughter, Ojoru to Adeboye.

Madeline began to teach public school, and Joel soon found himself as director of continuing education for the Chicago Association of Realtors and its licensing department. To this, too, Joel brought much thoughtfulness, spirit and enthusiasm.

In 1999, after being divorced for several years, Joel married Nancy, whom he had met on the internet, and who came to Chicago from Albuquerque, New Mexico, delighted to bring her character, skills and concerns to the network of Joel's friends and interests and talents. They shared thirteen good years, and remained friends until Joel's unexpected, sudden death.

Throughout the years, Joel continued to think and to rethink and to be creative. Each year he delivered a major lecture for the adult education program at the University of Chicago. That lecture was always an event. In more recent years, since 2004, Joel became fascinated by Proust and totally immersed in Proust's work, and spoke about many facets and aspects of Proust's writings. Before that, he had treated such figures as Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf, Herman Melville and Jean-Paul Sartre in arresting and even uplifting ways.

Joel had always experimented with the arts, with many kinds of arts, for which he had a natural and noteworthy talent. He especially excelled at sculpting, and had taken courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Being near Lake Michigan, he took up sailing, and had a little boat for a while. He had always enjoyed fishing, and continued to do so, even while becoming a vegetarian. He also loved dogs, most recently his dachshund, Reggie.

Joel made sure that he was a witness to history. While in grad school, he got a job driving legendary Alderman Leon Despres, and he and Madeline made a point of seeing for themselves the chaotic events, enflamed by frightened and ill-prepared authorities.

All of Joel's experiences and interests became an inspiration and a delight to others because of his warmth, enthusiasm, passion and zest for life and for knowledge. In Pirke Avot, the Talmudic compendium of the epigrams of the Hebrew Sages of old, we are told that God loves the person in whom other people take delight for their kindness and goodness, helpfulness and all-around pleasure to be around. Joel Allan Rich was such a person. May he rest in peace, even as we affirm in our faith a life beyond this earthly life, in God's eternal presence. May his memory be a blessing, always. Amen.