February 7, 1938–April 10, 2016
Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg delivered the eulogy for Rabbi Arthur Z. Steinberg at Ohef Sholom Temple. An abbreviated version follows
Heart-broken and sorrow filled, as we gather to remember our beloved Rabbi Arthur Z. Steinberg, we reflect on the prayer from the new Reform Rabbis’ Manual, L’Chol Z’man v’Eit, For everything there is a season and time. May we take comfort in the message of this prayer, which reminds us that love is, indeed, stronger than death. It is love that sustains us. It is our Arthur, Otts, Pop, and Rabbi Steinberg, whose light and warmth will always be with us bringing us comfort, strength, and, one day, even peace.
“Mourning is the price we pay for having the courage to love others.” If there are two words that could define the remarkable and full life of Arthur Zanville Steinberg, they might be courage and love. For all of his 78 years, Arthur was a man of courage and conviction. Informed by his Reform Jewish upbringing, he believed in the Biblical Prophets’ call for fairness and justice for all; and he never wavered. And it wasn’t just about having his name on the long and distinguished list of social service, civic, Jewish and interfaith clergy boards on which he served that were recalled in his beautiful obituary. No, Arthur Steinberg was a man of action. To him, God wasn’t simply a supernatural being in the sky; rather, plain and simple, to Rabbi Steinberg, God was the work of our human hands. Indeed, he taught his family and community, by example, that to be a Jew was to do. “That’s what a Jew does,” he would say, “we do.”
He walked the walk. You all know this because he treated every single one of you with the same kindness, compassion, respect, dignity, friendship, and, always, humor…regardless of your degree or station, color or creed.
He was a rabbi for 50 years. And he was incredibly intuitive, wise, and well-spoken, yet in the teaching and giving of sermons that he loved so much, he touched our minds and our hearts, without ever preaching or speaking down to any of us. Through kindness, humor, and gentleness, he showed us, with his characteristic modesty and humility, that we could be and do better, that we could better our world.
He also had the courage to love.
We know he loved Reform Judaism, our imperative to do justice, and as a Rabbi and human being, he strove to teach this truth to his congregations from Miami and Corpus Christi to Toledo and Tidewater.
He especially loved children—engaging, teaching, and entertaining his own kids and grandkids; the youth of his synagogues; and the Jewish children of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana, where he taught each summer.
He loved his country, serving as a Navy Chaplain, stationed in Norfolk for six years.
He loved this community, truly an extended family of friends, for 36 years, first as Rabbi of Temple Sinai, and then of Ohef Sholom, where we fell in love with him anew.
He loved the people of Hampton Roads and Portsmouth as chaplain for Old Dominion University and its Hillel and for the Portsmouth Police Department.
Calling himself a Religious Humanist, he loved all people, especially, the stranger in his midst, advocating for the homeless and hungry through Oasis Social Ministry.
Indeed, he loved all those who were discriminated against, actively working for full and equal rights for LGBTQ people to love and to marry.
In truth, he loved all who were hungry for love and friendship; he and Kitty opened their home to anyone in need and, throughout the past three decades, many, many men, women, children and animals were beneficiaries of their openhearted generosity.
Truly, nowhere was Arthur Steinberg’s courage to love fiercer than when it came to his family, who included his late parents, Bernard and Louise, and his brother Steven, all of blessed memory; as well as his sister-in-law Eve and niece Rachel.
But the sun truly rose and set with you, Kitty. You were not only his beloved, but also, you were, as he told me many times, his best friend. It wasn’t just that you enjoyed doing so many things together from travel, theater, and opera to eating good food, entertaining, and living Judaism. It was that you respected and revered one another in every way. You were a team, partners in all things, and helpmates in the sense of being sounding boards against which you could measure and better yourselves and each other; truly you were soul mates. We knew it from the way he treated you, talked about you, and, wisely, deferred to you. We also saw it in the way he looked at you, when he thought no one else was looking.
There was nothing the two of you loved more than your family. Gretchen, Jennifer, Jill Bari, Jon and Emily, what a wonderful childhood you had growing up together. Describing your life as a sitcom, your house was always filled with unbridled laughter and with unbounded love.
Performing his magic shows at every one of your birthday parties (and later at those of his grandchildren), he called himself, “Zanville, the Pretty Good,” because, he didn’t want to be accused of false advertising.
At parties, he told people he was a “Pool Table Salesman” or in “Women’s Lingerie Sales” because he didn’t want to miss any of the dirty jokes.
And, even when he knew he was correct, he’d say to anyone who offered an opinion contrary to his own, “You could be right,” which we all heard many a time.
And just as he loved his own children, he also adored Rob, Beth, Tom, Leslie, and Mark,—his children in love—delighting in each of you as individuals and as his children’s soul mates. Not surprisingly, Pop was born to be a grandfather and he always seemed to have bottomless love to share with you—Harry, Caroline, Ally, Marisol, Jake, Chip, and Zach.
Personally, he also loved all music from Gilbert and Sullivan and Golden Oldies to folk and, especially, classical music. Many of us remember that, for 11 years, Arthur Zanville hosted a Classical Music program as a parttime DJ on WHRO.
He was a collector of bow ties and, except for when he was dressed casually in one of his many Hawaiian or zany tee shirts, who among us can recall him without one of those bow ties adorning his lapel?
He read voraciously, especially mysteries; loved the classicist poets Gerald Manley Hopkins and William Butler Yeats and rabbinic stories from traditional midrash.
And he thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Greater Carolina Association Interfaith Institute in Wildacres every year for the past 25 years.
He also loved other rabbis; he was a “rabbi’s rabbi,” a mentor, a tried and true friend who stuck by you when the going got tough, and a confidante and wise counselor to all of us, his colleagues, gathered here and to the many more who wrote beautiful letters of their profound admiration and loss.
Our Pop, Arthur, Otts, Rabbi Steinberg had the courage to love. And he did it without judgment, always saying, not simply “I love you,” but “I love you for who you are.” It is no wonder he touched so very many lives. The world has truly lost a beloved rabbi, teacher, and friend; a devoted husband, father, and Pop; a humanitarian and community activist; a force for righteousness and good in our midst; a mensch.
Zichronch Livracha. May your memory, dear Arthur, the memory of the righteous, be always for a blessing. Amen.