This entire day has been a total loss. Literally. I received a call from Israel this a.m. (my time) from my cousin (his niece), telling me that my Uncle Jack had passed away this morning (Israel time).
I had a close relationship with Dod* Yaakov (at least, I thought so), even though we had not spoken very frequently since we left Israel from our last visit almost exactly two years ago, March 2008, for our older son's wedding. But whenever we talked, even if it was months apart--it was as if we were both of us in the same room, sitting on his sofa and chair in his living room in the moshav which he helped found, philosophizing about family, life, G-d, values and Judaism.
Since we saw him last, he had had a quadruple-bypass operation, and initially, I thought, had been doing well.
He later apparently developed internal hemorrhaging (I don't know the full story), and the doctors were trying to combat that. Two and a half months ago or so, something deteriorated cognitively: he started to lose control of his thoughts-to-speech, and the sentences which came out of his mouth were not the fruition of his thoughts. His doctors did not know why this was happening: was it the steroids he was taking? Was it a mini-stroke?
At the same time, in a different area of his brain he was very mentally aware of this, yet couldn't control it; consequently, this caused him to be very upset. I tried calling him about a month or so ago, but he was unable/unwilling to talk. I said that I loved him, but I don't know if he heard before he hung up.
That was our last conversation. . .
Shortly after that phone call I was in touch with his daughter (my cousin Michal) and tried to help by sending her some deep spiritual, calming music by our friend, Torah teacher and musician Rav Michael Shapiro, in the hope that it would quiet the cacophony in Uncle Jack's head.
He died before she had a chance to load it onto an MP3 player.
I am too drained to say much more, except that my Dod Yaakov accomplished a great thing in his life: he was a part of the clandestine immigration movement of Jews to Palestine, and helped save Jewish refugees from the Sho'ah* by bringing them to Eretz Yisrael "illegally," against the British (who had the mandate over Palestine) quota of 2,000 Jews per month (-while hundreds of thousands of Jews were in displaced persons camps in Europe), on the ship named Medinat HaYehudim.*
Here is a quote from my uncle about his volunteering on that ship (emphasis mine):
"I still remember the faces of the Holocaust survivors," says Jack Yeriel, a native New Yorker who served on the ship The Jewish State before immigrating to Israel in 1947.Later in life my uncle experienced great tragedies, with the untimely deaths of two of his daughters--but he persevered.
"What struck me was their courage. I remember this young couple that broke into a smile from ear to ear when they boarded the ship.
"I thought, `This is why I'm on this ship, this is why we need to build a Jewish country.' I thought, `There but for the grace of God go I.'"
Dod Yaakov, I love you. . .and miss you. . .
ה' נתן-ה' לקח יהי שם ה' מבורך
*Dod: Hebrew for "uncle"
*Shoah: Hebrew for "Holocaust"
*Medinat HaYehudim: state of the Jews