The other day, I spoke with a seventy-something year old member of the New Israel Fund board, to which Bill and I also belong. This person was particularly close to Bill. He told me that, for the first time in his life, despite having lost many people he cared about over the years, he found himself breaking into tears whenever he thought about the loss of his friend Bill.
I, and I imagine everybody in this room this morning, know exactly what he meant. Bill was like that. Those of us who were lucky enough to know him, really, really loved him.
Bill’s death is a shattering loss for his family, his friends and all of the circles in which he moved. One of these, the circle where Bill and I worked most closely together, and began our friendship, was the New Israel Fund community.
Bill personified and embodied the values we share. He was a modest and self-effacing person (most of the time), but he was also a fierce, passionate and incredibly effective champion for justice, compassion and humanity. He took the work of speaking truth to power and repairing the world very personally.
And his community of peace-makers, bridge-builders and breach-repairers recognized this, and embraced him as one of their own. As one of his fellow Board members wrote to me from Israel, “I felt his deep commitment to universal human values, the values that bring together all human beings from different nationalities and communities.”
That’s exactly right, and Bill is being honored for it by people around the world. In the days since he died, I have received scores of messages from people from all over whose lives Bill touched, who he inspired, and who looked to him for leadership, friendship and support. Like all of us here, Bill’s friends and colleagues throughout the United States, Israel, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and beyond, are stunned and heartbroken.
I want to share with you just a few of their words. I want you to hear just a bit of what he meant to them.
From a former Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Parliament: “I was devastated by the news of Bill’s tragic death. It has been haunting me for the past few days. The loss of a vibrant, kind, witty, humane and wonderful person is always difficult; when it involves a young man with his future ahead of him, it is tragic beyond words.”
From an Israeli colleague with whom he was very close: “It’s been 48 hours since we found out and I am still struggling to absorb the enormity of this tragedy. Bill was an unmatched person in our organization and someone with whom I expected to remain friends for life. It is simply unfathomable that he is gone.”
From a fellow historian in New York: “Bill was wise beyond his years. Being born of privilege in his case, created a sense of absolute responsibility toward the world. A sense of personal and civic duty. Of course, apart from that was the fact that he was a great guy whom everybody loved to be around.”
From an Arab-Israeli NIF Board member: “In my memory, the image of Bill will remain as a fighter for peace, equality and friendship among human beings, especially among Arabs and Jews in our tormented countries.”
From our Board Chair: “We all loved him so much. Our wise, funny, knowledgeable, good-hearted Bill…”
And, finally, from another one of Bill’s fellow Board members, a thought I know we all share: “This is simply unbearable.”
It certainly feels unbearable to me. For, in addition to being a critically important colleague and leader at NIF, Bill was a dear, dear friend.
Our lives were entwined on many levels. That’s not something to be taken for granted for men in their thirties and forties with responsibilities, obligations, and young families. But we made time for our friendship, and it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling in my life.
Our almost-weekly lunches (dim sum or Indian) were a high point not only for me, but also for the NIF office staff. They loved Bill, and always looked forward to schmoozing with him. He loved them too, and so would usually arrive 45 minutes early for our lunches, ostensibly on Board business, but really just to hang out. Our whole community turned to him for his political insights and analysis, and eagerly devoured everything he posted to try and make sense of these chaotic times. All this, despite the fact that in some part of Bill’s mind he still thought he should be seated at the “children’s table.” He couldn’t quite believe we all looked to him for guidance.
Bill and I got together with friends for “boys’ nights out” to eat, drink and talk about politics and life. We even traveled to China together on an epic trip, seeking out both the obscure historical sites nobody else would be all that interested in, and also the best dumplings in Hong Kong and Beijing. We hiked up – and then tobogganed down (yes, Bill Goldman tobogganed down) – the Great Wall of China.
My family adores the Goldmans. My kids love – and indeed babysit – for his kids. We sat together in shul during the High Holidays (and marveled at Bill’s surprisingly-sweet singing voice). They came to us for Rosh Hashanah dinner, and break-fast, and for Seder. And Serra, I want you to know: you and the kids will always have a place at our table. And it is you, George and Marie that I am thinking about now. Dana and I talk about how Bill was the kind of friend who would always be there for you, no matter what, whatever you needed. Those are the kinds of friends we will be for you.
And so Bill, my beloved friend, goodbye. You always encouraged and inspired me to question and fight and build; and also to celebrate and appreciate and enjoy. And so I will keep on trying. We all will. But it feels impossible that we should have do these things without you. It feels impossible that you are gone. A great light has gone out. Zekher tzadik livrakha: may your memory be for a blessing.