Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Jeff Celnick
From Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (Jeff Oboler):
After hearing the sad news from Reuven, I wrote to him:
"I do not have the words to describe my shock and sadness. Jeff and I had a beautiful and loving soul connection, and I feel like I lost a brother. I read your obituary, and started to read the others, but I then had to stop and cry. Jeff's Jewish name is "Zeeskind" - Sweet Child. This name is fitting, for we experienced the sweetness of his soul."
I first met Jeff during the period when I worked as the director of the Martin Steinberg Center for Jewish Artists, which was sponsored by the American Jewish Congress. Reuven spoke about Jeff's Jewish outreach at the Rainbow Gathering in 1984. I would like to share with you a little-known story of his Jewish outreach at the Rainbow Gathering of 1983. Before he left for the Gathering, Jeff and I discussed the possibility of him doing some outreach to the Jews at the gathering.
Within the Rainbow Gathering, there were various groups which were referred to as "families." On the last day of the Gathering, there was scheduled various skits, performances, and other presentations by each of the families. During the Gathering, Jeff was surprised to meet a young man who was dovening with talis and tefillin. After talking with him, Jeff discovered that he was a musician. Jeff then spoke to him about organizing a presentation of the "Jewish family" for the celebration on the last day. Jeff also went to the head organizer of this gathering, who was Jewish, and asked for permission for the "Jewish family" to be included. The organizer told him that he was very pleased that that there was now a Jewish family at the Gathering, especially since a good number of people at the Gathering are Jewish.
Jeff and his friend found a few other Jewish musicians to join them, and they began to prepare for their performance. They also wondered how the people at the Gathering including the Jewish participants, would react to the Jewish family and their performance. When the last day arrived, and after a number of skits and performances, the announcer said, "And now for the Jewish Family." Jeff and his chevre then went into the circle and began playing lively and soulful klezmer music. Suddenly, people started to enter the circle and dance to the music. The dancing became an incredibly high experience, and many people later told Jeff that they were Jewish and that the inspiring performance of the Jewish family had aroused their sense of Jewish identity. There were also a positive reaction from people of other faiths and traditions.
It is customary to study Mishnah in memory of the "neshama" - soul - of the departed, as within the Hebrew term Mishnah, we find the Hebrew letters for neshamah. Given the theme of the above story, I will conclude this letter with the following Mishnah:
""Hillel says: Be among the disciples of Aaron. Loving shalom, and pursuing shalom; loving human beings and drawing them closer to the Torah." (Pirkei Avos 1:12)
Be Well, and Shalom,