The challah is churning in the breadmaker for a neighborhood Rosh Hashanah celebration this evening and I’m about to light a yarzheidt candle. I can’t help but think of 6 meaningful Shabbats shared with my friend Jeffrey at JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, countless High Holidays listening to his dad in our synagogue choir, confirmation class shenanigans, and an adolescent friendship that meant so very much. Thirteen years later, all I can do is repost this and say, Jeffrey, we’ll always miss you. Not just on 9/11, but every day.
Jeffrey B. Gardner died 6 years ago today when the World Trade Towers collapsed. I had known Jeffrey for as long as I can remember, growing up in the same town (Livingston NJ) and attending religious school at B’nai Jeshurun together.More than a boy I grew up with, Jeffrey was a dear friend throughout my high school and college years. We were both socially conscious teenagers and active in our temple youth group and in JFTY, the Jersey Federation of Temple Youth.Like all of the people who have signed his guest book, I can attest to Jeffrey’s special qualities–his goodness, kindness, wisdom, and sense of fun. I can also recall his pride as he listened to his father sing in the temple choir on the high holy days, his clear affection for his siblings, and his love for his mother.Jeffrey and I, along with 20 other Jewish teens, spent a special summer together in 1982. As part of the JFTY Urban Mitzvah Corps, we lived in a fraternity house at Rutgers (later Jeffrey’s alma mater) and volunteered for various organizations in the New Brunswick area. We worked with the elderly, disadvantaged children, and the disabled. In the evenings we studied and played, enriching our Judaism and bonding as a group in a way that is immeasurable. Jeffrey lived his Jewish values and he taught us how much fun (and mischief) we could have within the limits of a moral, thoughtful life.My father had a special place in his heart for Jeffrey. Not just because they were in the same business, but because Jeffrey was respectful, forthcoming, and friendly. In business, my father could count on Jeffrey, just as I could count on him as a friend.Since Jeffrey’s death, I’ve learned that he continued to live those values for the rest of his far-too-short life. He read the Christian Bible and the Koran in order to understand other people’s belief systems. He volunteered with Habitat for Humanity throughout the hemisphere. He worked hard at his career and prospered.In his obituary, his sister Amy noted that he had a sun tatooed on his ankle because “a good day was as bad as it got. ” Jeffrey shone like that sun. Even when we weren’t in touch for a long time (we hadn’t spoken for about 3 years before his death), I felt his presence and the mark that he made on my life.On that perfect sunny September morning, a day eerily like today in Chicago, hatred hilled Jeffrey. The irony that intolerance killed a soul who embodied tolerance is not lost on me.I dedicate today to Jeffrey–as sad as I am for his loss, I strive to live a life of which he would have been proud, to be tolerant and kind and strong as a tribute to his memory.Rest in peace, dear friend. You are indeed Z”L (Zichrono Livracha), of blessed memory.