In memory of my father, Robert Krishef, February 11, 1931 – November 19, 2015.
At the opening and closing of Parshat Vayetzei, Jacob encounters God, angels. My father encountered angels. My father was the kind of person who you wouldn’t expect to encounter angels. His father was not particularly observant, not a synagogue goer, and for the most part, neither was my father. He was a rational, clear, thinker. But my father had amazing stories in which he was directed away from dangers by a force that he was absolutely convinced came from outside of him. And my father had an encounter at night, like Jacob’s night encounter, that gave him the strength to make it through his father’s funeral. More on this in a bit.
When my father needed to think, he would go into the basement and sit at or near his typewriter. He was a person of the written word. We used to joke that my grandfather was a man of very few words. My father, though by no means a chatterbox, was the kind of person who would be the center of any room. People lined up to speak with him. People were drawn to him because like a good journalist, he could talk to anyone.
My father was the smartest person I know. It’s a kind of a family joke that he was never wrong. But the amazing thing is that was so rarely wrong that that it’s best to assume that he was in fact always right. He wasn’t arrogant about it. He was just the kind of person who can converse about just about anything and you’ll know that his analysis is spot on. He admitted when he didn’t know the facts of a situation, but his grasp of the principles behind the facts was truly astounding.
My father was the kind of person who could engage anyone in an interesting conversation. He can sit down at a party and people will come to him to talk about politics, sports, business, or anything else on their mind. Basically, he understood people – how they think, how they act, how they react. It doesn’t matter whether he was analyzing a political debate, a B’nai B’rith board, or a sports team – he knew people. Because of this ability to analyze, he had an instinctual understanding of basketball, baseball, and football. I’m not sure about hockey, but he watched anyway. My father was drafted to serve in Korea, but because of poor depth perception, could not shoot a gun effectively. Nevertheless, those eyes could watch a pitcher throw a ball and identify a fast ball, a slider, a curve ball, a breaking ball, and probably a knuckleball as well. He could call balls and strikes accurately from any seat in the stadium or in front of the television. He could look at a runner and tell you if he was going to try to steal. He could look at the arrangement of football players on the field and tell you run or pass, to which side, what kind of play it will be, and how the defense is getting set to react.
My father used his ability to analyze as a journalist as well as in his chosen career, public relations, drawing on his deep insight into what motivates people. I like the idea that he was not in advertising, which is a more of a kind of manipulation of the consumer. Rather, public relations is the art of getting information about an event to the people who already have an interest in being a part of that event. It requires an understanding of the kinds of publications people who are interest in X read, and placing an article about X in those publications.
He wrote books, he owned and edited a country music newspaper. He was a columnist and the editor of the American Jewish World. He loved words. And when his father died and he didn’t think he was going to be able to make it through the funeral, he went to the place where he created words. That’s where his encounter took place. He felt a tap on his shoulder, a glow poured over him, he asked Pop to give him strength, and he got it.
I’ve always drawn my strength from my father. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. On the way into town last night for the funeral, I took out my laptop and started writing. I reread the transcript of some of the stories I recorded, his encounters with guardian angels, that he told me just 8 days ago, the day after we heard the final diagnoses. I told him then that the only way I was going to be able to get through the funeral was with his help. Sharing stories was his way of giving me, his children, and God-willing his grandchildren, a bit of his wisdom, humor, intelligence, strength, and insight.
The last story he told me was of a prayer after a less than successful date when he was in his late 20’s. Praying was something he only recalled doing three times between his childhood and this moment. He wanted to meet and fall in love and have children. He prayed that he would have children who would turned out to be better than himself. He prayed that they would have children, his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so forth. He prayed not for children who would create some magic formula or become president of the United States, but just to be good, compassionate people, to make a difference in other’s lives, to contribute somehow to society.
This was his final message to me. I offer it to my children Zachary, Solomon, Sarah, and Harrison who are watching from home, as well as to Jared, Alyssa, Jack and Alex, and I offer it to you. If we embrace that message and become 1/10 of the mentch that my father was, then his memory will indeed have become a blessing. Y’hi Zikhro Barukh.