One day, you will ask me who the man in this picture is, and I hope that I’m able to tell you everything I knew about him. I hope I’ll be able to paint a picture of him with my words so that he is as real to you as he has been to me for the last quarter century. I hope so. But just in case time picks and chooses which memories and images to hoard preciously, and which to fade and glean from my mind, I thought I’d do my best to answer that question for you today.
This man, this special man, was your Great Great Uncle Monty. A relation that probably sounds too distant for you to even contemplate. He was my grandmothers brother, one of twelve siblings, the baby of the family by some years. He was born in 1934, was evacuated, moved back to London, went to Hasmo just like your Daddy. He grew up, went to Gateshead Yeshiva, became a Rabbi, and got married. He lost his wife, too young, my dear Auntie Adele, and never really got over that loss. He volunteered tirelessly for Jewish Care, raising tens of thousands of pounds for the Ella and Ridley Jacobs home in Hendon, especially with his famous Opera evenings that in later years, were in memory of your very own Zeida, my father. He was a husband, a brother, an uncle, a son, a friend to so many, and a Rav.
He captured everyone he met with his enthusiasm and sense of humour, always ready with a joke and a smile, loving life for its very essence. He had a close and rare relationship with your Zeida, more like brothers than uncle and nephew, sharing so much more than shabbat meals and private jokes and phone calls and nights out can ever tell. He grieved with me when I said goodbye to him, before you were even thought of, my son and his namesake.
For Uncle Monty, as he was known by nearly everyone, family or otherwise, ego was simply not a factor in his life or his decisions. He did what he knew was the right thing, by the Torah, by Hashem, and by his own heart. He lived simply and without fuss, enjoying simple pleasures like a bowl of Haagen Daaz, a Lager and Lime, or a new DVD of a favourite Opera. His memory was legendary, almost photographic, and he knew every capital of the world, every fact about the history he had learned in school, and every pasuk in the Torah, off the top of his head and with little or no prompting. He was often asked to speak at merely minutes notice, and would unfazed, deliver a sermon that someone with months to prepare would surely be envious of.
Uncle Monty was a huge influence in my life from an early age. Every week, I would go with your Zeida to his flat in Hendon, and we would have egg and chips and jelly and ice cream, and I would draw with Auntie Adele and make daisy chains in the garden. As I grew older, I moved on to watching Fawlty Towers with Uncle M, and discussing Torah and family together. Sometimes a man of few words, his house was always comfortable, even in silence.
We spent Pesach together as far back as I can remember, and I don’t know a family occasion of ours where he wasnt asked to speak. He spoke and danced at mine and Daddy’s wedding in Israel, and even walked me to the chupah in place of my own father. He was overflowing with love and pride for us both.
If I could give you a memory of the last 16 months, a great contender would be you being held in his arms, having opera sung at you, and being bounced up and down on his lap, his face filled with happiness. He held you for your Brit Mila, he played the same games with you as a baby that no doubt he did with me, and although he only got to know you for just over a year, you brought him so much joy.
Last night, during the early hours of the 5th of Adar, your Great Great Uncle Monty, Rabbi Aaronberg, left this world in peace and dignity, after a lifetime of only Chesed- kindness. It is a true merit to a man who has no children of his own, that he was surrounded by family members who wouldnt have had a second thought about being anywhere else but holding his hands, trying to return just a small amount of the kindness which we have been blessed with being in his life.
He will no doubt be given only reward and bracha in the next world, because I never knew a man who trod so lightly on this earth, and who did everything so clearly for the good of the many many people who loved him. He helped shape the life and the choices of not only your Zeida, but Daddy and me also, so although it is with deep regret that you will never remember him, know how much we all have to be grateful for, that he was our Uncle Monty.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet.