Unless the Deceased Is Jonathan, Eulogized by David

It is also recommended to have known the person well when he was alive, to make it possible to say something meaningful, something of value, when he dies.

When I eulogized Ehud Manor over his grave in Binyamina, at the request of his wife, Ofra, I began by saying "I'm afraid I do not have any big words to lay on this grave, because big words were a weight on him. He spoke to us with simple words. Beneath the pile of words sometimes it is impossible to tell who died, and the dead person who lies here before us was the consoler of our souls."

Ehud Manor was my friend for more than 40 years, before he was Ehud Manor. I eulogized him as a friend. Where does that difficulty of identifying the dead person beneath the words come from? Was there anyone in that cemetery who did not know who was being buried and for whom people wept? I was referring there to the Israeli "culture of eulogy," which is faulty and sometimes even outrageous. There is nothing more natural and human at the time of bidding farewell than to praise the deceased's good qualities and to play down the failures. The custom of "after death speak of them as holy" is a proper custom, which civilized people should adopt even though it is recommended not to be carried away by wild exaggerations.

It is also recommended to have known the person well when he was alive, to make it possible to say something meaningful, something of value, when he dies. That is exactly the problem that fouls the Israeli "culture of eulogy," thereby corrupting it: The eulogizer so often simply didn't know, or barely knew, the person being eulogized.

Thus the commandment of the funeral, which according to the prayer is "something without measure," becomes a commandment for didactic eulogies, and thus the eulogy sounds hollow and meaningless: as it echoes from one end of the cemetery to the other, the dead person loses the character and unique lines of his face and becomes just another glorified dead person, and all of a sudden, all the dead have the same face. A stranger, happening upon the scene would find it difficult to say who was being buried, the shepherd of the generation or just a swineherd - all are outstanding, unique, giants and geniuses for their generation.

True, death is the great equalizer, all are equal before it, but nonetheless, where has the "small difference" gone, that small difference that makes only a very few among us indeed blessed with genius.

And how will we deliver the honor it deserves, if the honor is broken down into small coins, scattered in the fountain for luck and a blessing? The dead may have nothing except their weight - four people at least are needed to carry the dead - but alive, and all their life, they had something unique that should be preserved and noted for what it was without adding or detracting with exaggeration.

"The final path" gets worse when the politicians get on it. How is it that those people who all year round trample over everything as if it were clay, are called upon to deliver eulogies for every person who dies, flitting like wandering birds from grave to grave, to give honor and to get honor. Since the deceased was often a stranger to them, these professional eulogizers have no choice but to use the most hollow and cheapest rhetoric, so the eulogy itself is pretty worthless.

I'll admit, I am among those sinners. When Rehavam Ze'evi was murdered, the speaker of the Knesset asked me to say something about him to the plenum. I agreed. Murderers, no matter what their motive or identity, always are despicable and outrageous, and their murdered victims always inspire deep feelings of identification. In retrospect, it seems to me it was an artificial eulogy: I put on a display of closeness to Gandhi in his death that we did not have when he was alive. I faked it. I am not sorry about eulogizing, but am sorry about the recitation of cliches.

To repair, if only a little, our culture of eulogies, though only as a first step, politicians must be kept away from the microphones at funerals - they have access to enough microphones - unless the dead is Jonathan and they are David. That way, even someone as gifted and charming and gracious as Ehud Manor, our beloved, won't sink into the deep seas of tall tales.