A Shvache Agnostic

Thursday, 27 December, 2018 - 8:23 pm

This past week I was inspired by several things associated with the loss our community experienced with the passing of Joseph Konopny. When you know a person for over 25 years you come to take some things for granted. Reflecting on them after he passed away last Shabbat morning and on into the funeral on Sunday, I arrived at a fascinating realization.

Joseph was a person who often professed an agnosticism toward religion. Yet somehow he was in Shul at least once a week for years, and celebrated Shabbat almost every Friday night of the last quarter century. He owned a pair of Tefillin. He could make Kiddush. He was at Chabad for every holiday, faithfully making sure to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, be at a Seder on Pesach, say L’chaim on Purim and Simchas Torah, and hear the 10 commandments read on Shavuot. He studied Torah regularly and rigorously. When the time came to make final arrangements for himself, his instructions were clear that my father’s directives were to be the ones followed. In Yiddish we would say “a shvache agnostic” – or not much of an agnostic. Standing at the funeral, as the final clods of earth were shoveled onto the casket by members of the community, I realized that it is a mistake to underestimate the power of a Yiddishe Neshama. Who would have believed that the “skeptic” would get, not just a halachic burial, but a “Mehadrin.”

The other thing that inspired me was how the community rallied together to see him off with dignity. It wasn’t always easy to get along with Joseph and he had high standards regarding the company that he kept. But when a fellow Jew, a member of the community, passed away with nobody to mourn him, we became his family. As Rabbi Nemes so eloquently declared during the funeral service, we are all his family. Friends and associates shared memories on our Chabad WhatsApp group. We were worried about having a minyan at the funeral, but a nice crowd turned out to escort Joseph on his journey to the next world. May the memory of Yosef ben Avrohom be for a blessing and may Hashem bless our community to be able to come together only for Simchas.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Comments on: A Shvache Agnostic

Emily wrote...

Not a week goes by that I do not miss Joseph.
Ironic to the core, one of his greatest gifts was forcing us to question our processes. He did not have an easy life, in fact, he overcame many difficulties in the first decade of his life. Sometimes the people who are hardest to love are those who need it the most.
If Joseph's sister or nieces ever read this, please know he loved you all as best he could.