December 22, 2014

Our Toast to Jacob. On His Bar Mitzvah

Hello and welcome to all of our family and friends that are here to celebrate Jacob today.

This is the part of the speech where we talk about how long we know some of you, the distances that you traveled from to be here with us today, and how special and important you are to us and to Jacob.

  • We are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by four generations of the most warm and loving family that there is.
  • Many of you have known us since we were children, younger than Jacob is today. Look what we did!
  • We are joined by friends of Jacob’s from his early childhood; friends he doesn’t even remember playing with back then.
  • We have people that traveled from all corners of the country, including friends that we met when we lived in Japan.

We’re still in a bit of awe and denial that our baby boy is 13 years old.

But after the stellar job that he did today leading services, reading from the Torah, and sharing his words and insights with us, we can say that the mix of awe and denial has morphed into pure awe and joy.

As parents, it is said that we have two obligations that constantly tug in opposite directions: (1) to guide, change, socialize, and instruct our children; (2) to celebrate them without question.

Today is without a doubt a day of boundless celebration of Jacob.

Our “number one son,” Jacob is the ultimate family man. What he spoke about today in his D’var Torah, that is 100% Jacob in a nutshell.  Jacob has always put family first, and has the most genuine and sincere love of family. It’s a defining quality of which we are very proud.

Jacob is also a child whisperer; he is amazing around children. His true colors shine with absolute softness and sweetness. Ever since the day Lauren was born, he was the most loving sweet proud big brother. And I’ve never seen a kid so proud and enamored of his little cousins. He has even taken friends home after school to play with them.  He also has consistently shown himself to be incredibly responsible when given the chance.

These qualities all make him an extraordinary man.

Jacob is also our Yankees/Giants/Knicks side-kick, Mike’s fantasy football co-GM, a baseball player, soccer player, ultimate Frisbee player, and tennis player. On the field, he may not be the fastest player out there, but he consistently makes intelligent decisions and executes them; he passes, he shares and he is good teammate.

All qualities we admire.

Sure, he can be a bit stubborn, um . . . on occasion.  But we have heard from many of you that this stubbornness will serve him well in life as he grows.  We’re going to hold you to that!

My good buddy - he Tweeted me once! - and author Neil Gaiman wrote that “The fundamental, most comical tragedy of parenthood: that if you do your job properly, if you, as a parent, raise your children well, they won’t need you anymore. If you do it properly, they go away and they have lives and they have families and they have futures.”  It's bittersweet. But more sweet. We’re certainly feeling that today!

Let’s all raise our glasses.

So Jacob, our son:

We offer you a blessing for you to continue to grow as a person and as a member of the world and of the Jewish community.

We love you.

We are proud of you.

We are confident in the man you are becoming.

We are blessed to be along for the ride. And we will always – always – be there with you and for you.


December 20, 2014

Jacob's Bar Mitzvah

Life is lived every day. But marked with moments big and small.

And I think to myself these things expressed here:

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” – Robert Frost

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.” – William Butler Yeats

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” – Emily Dickinson


December 15, 2014

This is What I Said At My Uncle Jack's Funeral After He Passed Away on July 4, 2014

One of Jack’s favorite authors (and mine), Haruki Murakami, said “There are many things we only see clearly in retrospect.”  Luckily for us, the things we saw – and felt – together with Jack were clear the whole time. He had an authentic and deep relationship with each of us. The love was direct and present. The experiences of the relationship varied and delicious.

Jack has always been distinctly Jack.

My Uncle Jack was a unique person – rough and brusque but not at all. He worked hard to cultivate that curmudgeon character. But we know better. If he was teasing and poking and ‘stirring the pot,’ it meant he loved you. The harder time he gave you, the more you knew he loved you. And he loved us all a lot. 

Jack shared with me his love of literature. He showed me the power and elegance of a well-crafted sentence.

He called me Kasdan Major, which I loved. He would describe his feelings and actions as “avuncular” (Which I had to look up).

Jack brought a sense of humor that we hadn’t encountered before and it swept us away. Many of you probably know what I’m talking about – it steps right up to the edge of being wholly obnoxious but at the same time is completely endearing.  And its infectious.

He showed us how to taste life – how to live it – with travel, with music, with food, with drink, with music, with games and with friends.

He was an adventurer. He took me camping for the first time.  Taught me how to play poker.  (He valiantly tried to teach me Bridge, but it didn’t take.)  He introduced me to grappa, and port, and taught me how to appreciate wine.  The Vermont trips that he and Joyce planned became one of the central traditions of my life, as I grew from a 14 year old kid hoping to get to stay up late enough to watch the poker game to well, me, now.

He was a man who knew how to Love.  

He told us he loved us eloquently and often and beautifully.  He showed us, with the words he said and the words he wrote and by his smile and how his eyes would get wet with happiness and pride at family gatherings. Yes, we saw. Always with a love we could all feel.  And that will never go away.

I want to share a few things about that.


As I mentioned above, and as many of you know, Jack and Joyce planned yearly trips to Vermont. Jack’s pub quizzes were a thing to behold.  Multimedia extravananzas of impossible to answer questions spanning all things, with music, video, and cheese/herb/alcohol tasting rounds. But because I couldn’t perform well at them, I apprenticed to be the next pub Quizmeister.  He shared it with me.  Now I do it, and I added rules to set the same tone he did.  (e.g., The Quizmeister is judge/jury/executioner on all challenges). I’ve dumbed it down and I can’t compete with the breadth of his quizzes, and every year I still send him my draft and he replies:  

"It looks lovely, but I'm missing the answers, and you know what I'm like without the answers … I like the 'executioner' part. That speaks well for your attitude. Anyway. I'll say Well Done! And wish you and the troops fun at the gaming table~"


At family occasions – Passover at Jack and Joyces, Thanksgiving, birthdays, etc.  He always took the time to say … He always said how much it meant to him that we were his family, his eyes would get wet during family moments.  His joy at being with family was palpable.  And every time I would think – it’s we that are the lucky ones:

His note from last Thanksgiving/Jack’s birthday captures it well – its one part sweetness and sappiness and one part Jack, like many of his notes:

Hi Guys~

Yesterday was amazing. The food was scrumptious and the people -- family and friends alike -- were loving and kind and creative and all that people should be. However, the song and the book that you created for me exceeded anything that I thought could ever happen. Listening to you sing to me and reading the words you put on paper for me brought up tears and I was happy to shed them. You guys have been, are, and will be wonderful! I love you~

* * *

Now to the realities of life: The clothing you got for me (no more clothes, please! Write me a word or two; take me to the movies; give me a book; take me to dinner, but no more clothing!) doesn't fit! The jacket is 'L' and too small! The sweater is 'XXL' and too big. Lisa could wear the sweater and David the jacket -- or do I have that wrong? Get your money back and do something else with it! I'll still love you! 

And always will.


A note from a prior Thanksgiving/Birthday celebration was similar.  This time, Jack and Joyce couldn’t come out because Joyce was under the weather.

I wrote:

Happy Birthday Jack.  There will be another Apple Cake!!

We hope that Joyce is feeling better -- you made the only decision
that was to be made, and I would have done the same.  But we sure missed you guys!


On Thu, Nov 26, 2009 at 1:58 PM, <> wrote:

Not only is Joyce ill on Thanksgiving (and of lesser import (ahem) alo giornato del natividad del tio Giqacomo)), but now the grossest breach of all is about to be perpetrated: the consumption of the apple cake specifically designed with me in mind will be eaten by everyone else, but not me!? How can in-laws, nieces and nephews, guests and other persons be so blatantly devoid of feeling as to eat that which is not intended for them? I almost came without Joyce so as to lay claim to her portion, but she begged me not to leave her. What's a man to do?

Alas. Another cake given to infidels whilst the intendee is ministering to the needs of a weaker being. I smile as I write, but I am very serious when I send with this jocular piece of fluff my love and real affection for you all. You have filled a gap in my life that had no family prior to you. Now it saddens me when we are apart when we should be together. 

Thank you for all your good wishes and Joyce -- as each of you knows! -- wanted me out of her hair and in yours. It was almost like: 'You owe me this, Jack!' and my answering, 'It's my birthday! I get to choose!' Mark this down in your calendars. She was too weak to win the battle!

Much love to all youse guys!



We love you.  

That uniquely Jack voice – we still hear it in our heads and we smile. And those memories we made together, they’re part of who we all are.

We are infinitely better and fuller and more alive people for knowing you – 

As you said in your note: “Now it saddens me when we are apart when we should be together.”  

Me too.

December 11, 2014

A Friend Shared This Poem With Me On My Fortieth Birthday

Men at Forty - by Donald Justice (b. 1925) (1967)

Men at forty
Learn to close softly ...
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.

They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses. 

December 8, 2014

Jacob's 'I Am From' Poem

I Am From

By Jacob Kasdan

I am from Summit Ave
I am from a nice house
I am from a big red tree
I am from a loving family; some alive and some remembered

I am from Shabbat dinner. Once a month
I am from the New York Yankees and Giants
I am from Mom and Dad
I am from November 24th
I am from almost becoming a Bar Mitzvah

I am from a house with red shutters
I am from baseball, basketball, tennis, frisbee, and soccer
I am from kindness, love, and respect
I am from Judaism