Jeffrey Harrison z”l

November 2, 2007 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

“I feel fantastic. I’m ready for whatever happens.” This was in Jeff’s last Caring Bridge post just a few weeks ago. Then in the next paragraph he goes on to extol the virtues of the political left and why doing what is right is the better way to live. This is an apt illustration of Jeff Harrison. He was complex, compassionate, and shared himself generously.Having a conversation with Jeff was mental exercise. He loved discourse and I must say, I often enjoyed watching him converse with others more than trying to keep up with him (especially if the topic was movies!). I frequently checked his Facebook page to see what issues I should be mad about!

I’m glad to say that I was able to teach Jeff something about Judaism. But as is often the case, this teacher learned more than the student. Jeff reminded me in a very tangible way that Jews are unique. While I often pay lip service to this unique attribute of Judaism, Jeff lived it.

While he politely tolerated it, I know Jeff hated our style of Shabbat worship at Butler Hillel. I really think he indulged me because of Carah. But for Jeff, Judaism wasn’t about worship, holidays or even Shabbat. Jeff’s Jewish soul manifested in intellectual discourse, in pointing out injustice in the world, and in living life a gifted day at a time. And in the time I got to spend with him, Jeff discovered these attributes reconcile nicely with Judaism.

Jeff was among a group of three Butler students I met at my very first meeting with Butler Hillel in the spring of 2002. I have to admit, I was intimidated by Jeff. Besides the fact that he was a good foot taller than I, he seemed to have an air about him that said, “You’ve got to prove to me that I should like you.” Truth be told, it was likely my nervousness at being thrust on the students as a condition of a Federation grant that caused my intimidation. But I learned that what was really in Jeff’s thoughts was concern that I wasn’t coming in to fashion Hillel into something I wanted it to be. He was protective of the students’ vision of Hillel; and rightfully so, for it was his vision too. It was openness seeking openness – Jeff was testing to be sure I was his partner in this venture. I guess my signals were acceptable because we quickly became friends and I’m pleased to say, colleagues.

Hillel at Butler University owes a debt to Jeff Harrison. For while he was not interested much in matters of faith he was committed to Butler having a viable, dynamic Jewish presence. I hope we will live up to his expectations.

Jeff was not merely tolerant of those who were different; he embraced diversity and had a genuine curiosity for “the other.” This is evident at Butler for no sooner did we post the news of Jeff’s passing than I started receiving emails with comments like “he was a remarkable person,” “I am glad to have known him,” “he was wonderful,” “I will miss him more than I can articulate.” And the senders of these sentiments include professors, priests, rabbis, administrators, and fellow students.

I will always remember Jeff’s infectious smile. It matched his infectious spirit. Rabbi Alvin Fine writes, “birth is a beginning and death a destination.” Judaism is clear about one thing regarding death – we have no idea what happens after we die. We do though believe in everlasting life for when we speak of one who has died we say “zichronah livrachah – may his memory be a blessing.” We believe that as long as we remember someone he lives. I can’t speak for others, but Jeff’s memory is a blessing for me and I will truly miss him.

On behalf of the entire Butler University community, I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Harrison family and to Carah Gilbert. There are many current and future Butler University students who will never know Jeff Harrison – and even for them, his memory is a blessing.

Entry filed under: Butler Hillel. Tags: , , , .

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