Jerry Sternberg: June 19, 1920 – July 3, 2012

My grandfather died Tuesday at age 92. Zadie, as all of his grandchildren affectionately called him, was and is a huge influence on my character and personality. He was a hero. I miss him and feel very lucky to have had him in my life for the first 37 years.

I delivered the following remembrance at the funeral ceremony honoring him at Beth El in Highland Park, his synagogue for more than 50 years.

Zadie was a very special person to all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And growing up it was easy to see that he wasn’t just any ordinary Zadie. His warmth and loyalty affected everyone around him, friends, family, community and strangers.

Zadie, my sister Emily, Bubbie and me - Ravinia Festival circa 1983
Zadie, my sister Emily, Bubbie and me – Ravinia Festival circa 1983.

Emily and I were very lucky to grow up just a mile from Bubbie and Zadie’s house on Brittany Road in Highland Park. We were never too far from Zadie’s playful nature — his infectious smile and that laugh… oh yeah that famous Zadie chuckle. Even when we were limited to playing games of “roll the ball” in the living room with Zadie — that was enough.

When my parents went to Israel in 1979, Emily and I spent an entire 10 days sleeping over at Bubbie and Zadie’s in the room in which our dad and Larry grew up. I’ll never forget waking up to the sound of Zadie davvening and walking down to see him focused in prayer, wearing tefilin. I was only four years old but that moment stuck with me as I grew to understand how integral Judaism was to Zadie’s daily life.

That same morning I also came face to face with another ritual Zadie had – and this one I could relate to immediately. Every morning Zadie had a piece of chocolate cake or something similarly sweet. This was something that even Emily, at two years old could get into. It was an amazing ten days.

In later years, Emily and I would play cards when we’d sleep over –- either gin or Bubbie’s favorite, double solitaire. We’d play into the night and Bubbie would get us worked up competitively while Zadie was happy just to see us having fun.

When I was seven I went to a Cubs game — just me and Bubbie and Zadie. I didn’t want to leave early and so we stayed… until we were kicked out because of darkness after the 17th inning of a 1-1 tie. Yes, Zadie was a patient Cubs fan. And his patience and perseverance would only impress me more over the years, as he cared for Bubbie.

Zadie’s warmth, friendliness and his exceptional ability to listen and make people comfortable in conversation are some of the qualities that influenced me most as I was growing up and inspire me to this day.

He always wanted to know what his eight grandchildren — and now two great-grandchildren — were up to and he would always press us for more details on whatever WE wanted to talk about, however mundane.

He also made it a point to spend quality time with us as we grew up – making annual trips to Boston see Ariel, Josh and Yoni and visiting Ben, Joe and Mira in Hyde Park as often as he could.

At my High School graduation - Ravinia Festival
At my High School graduation – Ravinia Festival

He even came to Iowa City for my college graduation and flew out to Durham for Emily’s. After college, Emily and I each remember having regular one-on-one lunches and dinners with him, at one of his favorite spots – either Walker Brothers or Next Door. He’d crack jokes with us and show support for our plans for the future with his infectious optimism.

Looking back, Emily and I realize that many of our close friends were fond of Zadie and we always wanted our best friends to get the chance to know him.

To put it simply – Zadie was the man. In so many ways, Zadie was the patriarch of our family, having passed on so many positive attributes and nuances — spiritually and personally as well as physically — to each generation.

Zadie had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. A decade ago I walked over to the library with Zadie and introduced him to the internet. Zadie picked it up quickly, started communicating with his friends from his hotmail account and browsed the internet regularly.

Zadie will always inspire me for a multitude of reasons: His commitment and loyalty to his beliefs and his community, including this congregation and as a volunteer at the hospital; his warm, gentle spirit and likeable nature; and his values — to honor family and tradition and to never speak ill of others; even his chuckle and laugh and what us grandchildren might call Zadie-speak.

Zadie had a habit of starting sentences with complex adverbs like “incidentally” and “evidently” — a unique detail that we all got a kick out of. One Sunday Ben, Joe and Mira were in Highland Park for brunch with Zadie at Walker Brothers and after Zadie finished an anecdote that evidently was full of “evidently”s, Ben asked, “is ‘evidently’ your favorite word?” Zadie quickly replied: “Evidently… it is” and smiled. And then… that chuckle.

Me and Zadie circa May 1987
Me and Zadie circa May 1987 (click to embiggen, view as slides).

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