Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rafi Randy Novick, Of Blessed Memory

One of the nicest things to get used to, living in the Jewish homeland, is that so many of the people in my daily life – almost all, in fact – are Jewish. Neighbors, shop owners, gardeners, the guys who came to paint my house, assemble my IKEA furniture, install my shower doors, the dentist, the contractor, the barber, the exterminator, the roofer, the electrician.... You get my point.

Many, if not all of these people also live here in my community. Which means we have kids in school together. We bump into each other in the grocery store. And at weddings. We pray together. And so, the relationship with most of them is more than just about the task at hand – we talk and share – over clogged drains, with Mr. Thirsty in our mouth, with dryer parts disassembled all over the floor....

And so this is how Rafi Novick, z"l came into our lives, seven years ago when we arrived in Israel with American appliances and really, without a clue. (Israeli’s don’t have hot water pipes connecting to their washers?) He’s smoothed out life’s bumps for us so many times along the way I’ve lost count. Rabbi Riskin pointed out that one cannot live a purely spiritual existence. We are on the ground, holy as it may be. We need to wash our clothes and cook our food in order to be able to devote our efforts to loftier pursuits.

Rafi understood this more than anyone – he never met a repair challenge he didn't embrace. Even if embracing it meant sending you to a different repair man with a specialty. And then following up! The last time he was in my house, just last week, he was so excited I’d found a clue in the ongoing mystery of “My oven always shorting out” (clue was ‘steam’) that he offered to take home the manual and try to figure out the component most likely to be affected by steam. And all that was only a side conversation - he was here fixing my freezer!

A man so brilliant, he had encyclopedic knowledge about countless topics from Torah to government to rock ‘n roll to DNA. In Rabbi Allan Greenspan’s words, "To be with Rafi was to be a student."

Brilliant yet humble. He would listen to you speak and truly learn from you. Even if he was just learning how you think or feel about something. Rav Oren said it perfectly. Rafi wanted to know and understand everything in a very clear way.

I never met a person like Rafi before. Genius. Humble. Hilarious. Interesting. Interested. A student of life and a keen observer of human behavior. He once clocked me as a person who is always cold and hadn’t been opening the windows much. It’s true but how did he know? He pointed out the delicate vase I had sitting right in front of the kitchen window. He said he can always tell who’s cold by what they keep in front of their windows!

Rafi was a lover of Eretz Yisrael. He recently shared with me a treasured memory of laying down to block the road with Nadia Matar and other supporters of Women In Green in order to pressure the government to open the Tekoa –Yerushalayim Road. He told me how much he respected everyone who fights for Eretz Yisrael. He told me how much he respected me because I take women to Hebron. I never got to tell him that my Hebron ladies prayed so hard for his refuah last night in Maarat Hamachpela.

Instead I woke up to the inconceivable news that Rafi was taken from us. As if he were ours. As if anyone or anything is actually ours. It's all a gift. Every moment, every encounter, every experience. From the hespidim, we know Rafi lived his life with this awareness. Appreciating every moment with his beloved family, never squandering an opportunity to help someone and simultaneously learn something. Or teach something.

Rav Oren invoked the words of Or Zaruah in describing Rafi.
Or zaruah, latzadik, ul’yishrei lev simcha. (Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright at heart.)
Rafi was both – a Tzaddik and Yeshar – righteous and upright and he touched the lives of so many people.

"He always helped me, even if I was having a rough time and couldn't pay right away - he never left me without a working oven for Shabbat, always just told me to "pay when you can".  He was so kind, so generous. We were so comfortable with him. He could come into my house with the code. My kids all knew him. They can't believe he's gone." (long time customer from the Geffen)

"We always used him to fix our appliances. Somewhere along the way he said, 'you know, you can tell when people are your friends. guys are my friends.' He was generous with his time and knowledge. He fixed little things without charging us, because he said 'this isn't a job, it's just friends helping each other out.'" (long time customer from the Dekel)

"He had such a special presence. He was patient, kind, honest, with wonderful midot, always greeting everyone with a smile. Truly a fine and true person on all levels. It such a loss to our people. He had such pride in his wife and son." (long time customer from the Zayit)

“Rafi was an excellent professional technician and trustworthy, honest, sincere, and reliable. But, so much more than that…we would discuss, while he was working. He was not just Rafi the technician but he was also an historian, a political analyst, a psychologist, a philosopher. He had such interesting opinions and insights and anecdotes to life and everything going on in the world. It was always a pleasure talking with him. He was informative and gave me new insights into the different things we discussed and all this while being so dependable in his line of work. He would be there to help and I cannot emphasize enough – his honesty, sincerity, good nature, and sense of humor. He was a wonderful, kind, sweet human being. He will be so missed.” (customer of many years, also from the Zayit) 

His friend Eliyahu Grossman described Rafi:
“Rafi would be embarrassed by all of the attention... Despite not wanting to be at the center of attention, he was quick to help anyone in need. Whether it was Erev Shabbat or Erev Chag, something in town was bound to break and people would panic, and he would always make himself available. He loved 70s music and often would tell me stories of some of the bands, and more than once he would tell me about Bruce Springsteen. He will be missed.”

Rav Reuven Rosenstark, quoting the Mishna on Perkei Avot asked, "Who is a respected person? One who respects others." Rav Reuven knew Rafi as a neighbor, as a fellow congregant in Shul, and as an appliances repairman. In his words, "Rafi gave everyone respect. Even though he knew so much more than most people he met, he treated everyone as an equal. He always wanted you to understand." The Rav spoke about Rafi's legendary honesty and integrity. And his yesharut (literally, uprightness). Rabbi Riskin said Rafi and his wife were such partners that he took on the characteristic of her name, Yeshara.  If he did a job for someone who had done him a favor he wouldn't take money – as a hakarat hatov. 

Shmuel Bowman said every time with Rafi was like a meeting at the Rebbe's tisch. Comparing his repair visits to shiurei torah, he noted "Rafi came to remind us of and connect us to the Geula."  Rafi's deep understanding of "vehahavta lareacha kamocha" let him synthesize friendships and professional relationships, getting deep inside the questions asked of him. “Who's gonna remind us of the Geula?” Shmuel asked. “We will need to remind each other.” 

Rafi's beloved wife described him as her best friend and soul mate with whom she shared everything. With his "bizarre sense of humor" (her words!), his job in his family was to make his two sisters laugh. She described Rafi as a private person and a loyal friend who strove for shalom with others. She spoke about his special relationship with Netanel and about his love of life and Eretz Yisrael. And of course, she mentioned his work ethic. “Rafi cared deeply about his customers and went above and beyond for them. Often. Usually. Always. He would be honored and amazed at how many people are here and he would say ‘Wow! All that for me?’”

I can hear him saying it. Can’t you?