THE BLOG

The Light and Wonder: A Tribute to Mark Sternlicht

I discovered yesterday that Mark was the inventor of the portable flashlight; a tool to illuminate the darkness. In my mind, as we have heard today from so many heartfelt tributes to him, his discovery embodies the essence of his life. He was a man born into a time of darkness and evil in the world who survived by the grace of God and mustered the strength and spirit to infuse his new world with love and light. 75 years ago he never could have imagined the legacy and the impact he would forge; a legacy for which we are all eternally grateful.

Mark is a model for all of us and represents the essence of humanity which is to emulate God. The book of Genesis describes the world as being born in chaos and darkness. The first act of God is to create light. To infuse chaos with order and darkness with light.

In his years during the war, Mark saw how human life meant nothing. Yet, he was able to love and extend his love to people. Perhaps, as Andrew suggested to me, his joy in life was even greater since he experienced so much misery. He found a way despite the challenges and tragedy to believe in life anew. He wanted his family to be happy, he wanted others to be happy and it gave him so much joy.

He always enjoyed life and was so full of life. Life he felt was for the living.

Mark knew how to bring light.

The light to family and friends. The light of faith. The light of a brighter future.

The love and light he showered in his family knew no bounds. He was a model husband. On my annual trips to Florida I would always pay a visit to Mark and Harriet and saw how he treated her like a queen. He would prepare the coffee and snacks. Just yesterday, Harriet shared with me how he wanted to show her the world... he was the quintessential gentleman. If Harriet was late, he was worried and on occasion called the police. He loved being with her. For so many years at Smith Barney, they were together day and night. He brought me lunch. As Harriet shared, "he was all heart".

Harriet, the pain you feel is so deep but know the love you have for each other is one the Sages describe as a transcendent loves with shared ideals and as two souls... it is one that will endure forever...

In my numerous conversations over the years with him, I know how proud he was and is of his boys. He loved spending time with each of you... whenever I saw him we spoke about the boys... Andrew, Barry and Russell. What made his most happy was when you each realized your potential. He pushed you because he loved you. You remember like yesterday, Barry, his words to you -- "do you want to sit in front of a green screen your entire life "and they live in you.

He did his best to shut out the tragedies early in his life so he would fill your lives with his love... In the hospital almost two weeks ago, when sitting with you Russell, you shared with me about the first time he took you to a Yankees game, Your Dad, did not know Derek Jeter from a deli sandwich... you cried as you sat in the back of the car... as you had an insight of how fleeting the moment might be... we both cried in thinking about the words of Luther Vandross song -- will I dance with my father again...

Back when I was a child
Before life removed all the innocence
My father would lift me high
And dance with my mother and me
And then
Spin me around 'till I fell asleep
Then up the stairs he would carry me
And I knew for sure
I was loved
If I could get another chance
Another walk
Another dance with him
I'd play a song that would never ever end
How I'd love love love
To dance with my father again

But all of you will dance with your father again... His words, his wisdom, the sheer joy of your shared experiences... a ride in one of his borrowed sports cars, a game, time with family... will not only remain with you but G-d willing, will inspire you to live and love as he did...

His light extended to his sister, his parents, and his in laws, grandchildren... for whom he had an open pocket and loved with such passion. They could do no wrong..he spoke to me about each of you... with such pride... he and Harriet served as surrogate grandparents for Michael and Lisa... and many others... I received an email from Elissa and Claudia formerly Kraut who shared their thoughts about Mark.

"Mark was the ultimate family man. You could tell by the love he showed his own beloved wife and sons, and also by the attention he paid to other people's children. During a friend's long-term illness, Mark made it a point to visit, year after year, sharing his trademark charm, good humor, and sparkling intellect. It didn't matter to Mark that the visits and comfort could not be reciprocated. He was on the spot, for whatever his friend needed, be it simply telling a good joke to lift his spirits or being his support at his daughter's wedding, not only playing chauffeur, but using his own deep knowledge of Judaism to help his friend navigate the Chassan's tisch. He was truly a mensch.

He was gracious, warm and welcoming, always inviting people in, including members of shul who ran by his house on their jogs, despite how profusely they may have been sweating."

For Mark, some of his greatest moments of joy in life were when the light of family merged with the light of Judaism. He loved our shul... when we met one of his fist questions was "Rabbi, how is the shul?" He could not be happier when he was joined by his boys in shul. His smile would light the room. As I stood on the bimah, I could sense his expectation for their arrival. As past president of our shul from 1979-1982, he was proud of his and Harriet's life long history here... celebrating Bar Mitzvahs on a Sunday Rosh Chodesh and weddings... This sanctuary was and is his second home... I know that his spirit will always be present here and be a source of inspiration.

He loved Passover... Every year, I would look forward to seeing him at the fast prior to Passover and know years ago he brought Andrew too. He loved the seder. Perhaps it was for its messages of family, tradition and faith in our future. A year and a half ago, my family had the privilege of hosting Mark and Harriet for seder. It was a night our family will never forget... we ended at close to 1 AM... he shared stories of seders past and his own history, then we sang... he loved to sing and especially singing with his boys... those memories lived in him... as if they happened yesterday... he would want nothing more than the family to continue to do seders together. When I visited during the winter, he would always pine for his boys to be together for the seder.

When I think about Mark and his light, I will always be moved by his optimism and his faith in our future.

One of the questions we are asked when meeting our God at the end of our lives is did we improve the world, did we leave a mark, did we do the best we could every day to bring more light. I know Mark can answer with a resounding yes. He did so for his family, his friends and our community.

I began by reflecting on his invention of a flash light as being emblematic of his life. I end with the name of the company -- Wonder. This was mark's greatness. As Barry shared with me, "everything for my father was with a sense of wonder. He never got spoiled and was always full of joy." He gave us all that gift... it was his twinkle in his eye and smile.

It is amazing the impact of one smile, twinkle and thumbs up. Mark was one the first people I got to know when I arrived as Rabbi of Agudath Sholom ten years ago. I will never forget after my sermon on my first Rosh Hashanah, he gave me a smile and thumbs up. It was a boost I needed and one I cherish. Every year I look to Mark for his smile... we all do... he was that kind of person.

Little did anyone know last Rosh Hashanah would be his last one physically in this world. He and Barry received aliyot (called to bless the Torah) and Andrew and Russell lifted and wrapped the Torah. It was moment of ultimate joy for Mark and Harriet. However, I know that as hard as the upcoming high holidays will be, he will live on. When each of you and all of us embody his light and shed his light, his love of family, menshclechkeit, love of Judaism, his songs, believing in our future as Jews, Israel and the world... he will be elevated and he will live on.

Mark's light infused all of us with the light of faith and hope...

There was a twinkle in his eye... because he saw light and he gave light... he never lost faith and neither must we... he was all heart and so must we be..

When I was with him and Russell in the hospital, we sang one of his favorite songs with him, Adon Olam, the concluding song to the Shabbat morning service. It is an affirmation of God as the master of the world. The concluding words are "in his hand I place my soul when I awake and when I retire... God is mine and I will not be afraid."

For Mark, God was personal. He was not afraid for he knew God walked with him and guided his life every day.

I loved him and always will... we all did... We were all blessed with his holy soul on this earth and it is our responsibility in his memory to carry his spirit forward... as loving spouses, parents, grandparents, friends to give light and never lose our sense of wonder... you will dance with him again...he will always be with you and you will feel his presence. We can each pay tribute to him, wherever we may be, to spread some light in a world of darkness.

He was a giant man and I hope and pray that Mark, Moshe Aryeh ben Yaakov, will always be a source of great blessing comfort and inspiration for many many generations to come.