REMEMBERING RABBI DAVID MONTAGUE, z'l
Dance of Connection
by Joy Krauthammer
Dance of Connection
by Joy Krauthammer
Rabbi David Montag, z'l greeted me always with a big smile wherever we came upon each other, when our paths crossed in joy at whatever esoteric place of Jewish learning or Renewal event or Orthodox Happy Minyan simcha or Shabbat. David stood out, tall, centered, wearing a black leather vest or jacket, glasses, head covered over dark bristly hair, and curly peyis / side curls hanging halfway down the side of his face, right next to that open smile filled with words of welcome. What a grand greeting ambassador, always making me feel good. (Wasn't that Reb Shlomo's z'l way?) He let me know how wonderful it was to see me, "Sister Joy." Why did I deserve such a great greeting from someone I hardly knew? And to receive his blessings, and condolences. Because this came from David's immense neshamah / soul. David was connected to The Source of All Blessings.
David was not my rabbi, nor a close friend, but always offered joy in the moment; that amazing spirit of his, filled with wonder. Yes, child-like delight, not jaded, not taking for granted, but in awe and in gratitude. Whether it was at Sgulah, School of Mystical Thought, a little Jewish store front of learning and art that newly opened on the second floor of a building in Sherman Oaks, and with lectures by Israeli renowned Kabbalist authors, Rav Matityahu Glaserson and Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, or on a grassy green slope by the water's edge at another rabbi's (Ed Zerin) home gathering, meant to bring together and strengthen the bond of Renewal Jews, or at the last shul sponsored event in a condo's recreation room where I saw David, he was bright and cheery, even late at night. His joy was spontaneous in the moment and his joy was everlasting, both b'simcha and gila. This was David's gift to us, friends and strangers.
David, last summer, loved listening to the live music of Bruce Brill, at a west Valley synagogue's Malavah Malkah / post Shabbat celebration. David recalled the stories about how he had spent joyful times in the presence of this Israeli musician, who was here visiting his sister, Rachel. For David, it was how the souls would touch.
When I met David's son, Daniel, years ago at a Pesach experience, I was thrilled to know that this lovely young man was David's son, especially when I had a lovely younger daughter. I told David about my meeting his son. David loved that the world was small. So many friends have now shared with me the stories of how David, filled with mitzvot / good deeds and compassionate caring, had made a major difference in their lives.
I first met David around 1990. It was either in Rabbi Joshua and Lilliane Ritchie's Los Angeles home (before their aliyah) or Rabbi Stan and Lynda Levy's home. This is where, respectively, we could learn with our most beloved visiting Chassidic rebbes, Shlomo Carlebach, z'l and David Zeller, z'l. In this home, I was telling a friend about my then current underground serious Kabbalistic learning with healer, Syrian Rabbi Fred Dweck, z'l. The friend, I think it was Rina Daly, listening to my story, pointed out David to me, so I immediately introduced myself. (It was Rina who loyally held the loving Shabbat memorial gathering in her home for Rabbi David, two nights ago, a week after he died- 13 Adar?) With that same enthusiasm, great joy that he held and expressed, David confirmed that he, for many years had been learning with Fred. For all these years, David loved remembering that we shared this connection.
That evening, David continued to joyfully tell me of his marriage to Olga, and that he was in great exuberant anticipation bringing her and her son to America from Russia. I had the pleasure a couple of times, to meet Olga.
David shared with me that he had been Reb Shlomo's "agent", when he heard that I was serving as Reb Shlomo's percussionist and shlepper, and with chevra friend, Darlene, arranging his concerts. Another connection. Reb Shlomo had given smicha to David. Both David and Shlomo died of heart attacks close to their 69th birthdays. May their out-reaching souls be blessed to meet again in Sh'mayim. I am reminded of Reb Shlomo's words in Kol Chevra's newest released 13th Yahrzeit journal, "Everybody has an opportunity to change the world every day and each person is obligated to try." I think Rabbi David tried.
We both also davvened after Reb Shlomo's 1994 death, at our newly founded Happy Minyan. David just told me that we also shared Chabad davvening, and his was in Pasadena.
Baruch Hashem, I saw David, two weeks before he died on Purim, March 20th, 2008. David had read my "Chai Lights", Jewish events newsletter, and sure enough, showed up in Chatsworth for a lecture by David Epstein on "Jews of the West". As always, David was in awe. He loved the lecture, he told me, and he was "amazed" that the room was filled to capacity and on a Tuesday night, sponsored by a Valley synagogue. David questioned, "How could that be that so many Jews show up for a lecture in the middle of the week?" David had to speak to the president of the group and find out who these people were. He was going to go back to this Outreach Synagogue, and carefully signed his name on the long, almost blank, yellow mailing list sheet.
I want these synagogue people to know that David is not showing up at their events because he was just being affable, but that he can no longer share his joy. David was sincerely interested, always learning, always sharing, as he was in the later conversations with strangers, new people to meet even on the steps; stairs going up, going down, going in, going out. Whole animated conversations in mid-path. He was so expansively filled with life, ladders to new people adventures...
After I introduced David to the event's speaker-- another David (my former publisher), we left together, almost the last ones to leave, to walk to our cars down the road. David, at length, joyously spoke to the last people walking down the stairs to the street on their way home after long days, and taking out his business card from his left vest pocket, handed it to the new friends. The cards with the big blue eye printed on the front reads: OR CHADASH, Rabbi David Moshe Montag, Director and President, Monterey Park, CA. I already had the same card but took it anyway when David handed it to me. The card was still sitting out on my desk, when in disbelief, I got the phone call after Shabbat from Happy Minyan 'holy sister' Nina, about the very sad news of David's death and levaya / funeral. I have another business card of David's: He had hand-written his name on that card along with three e-addresses, because I told him that at times I had trouble reaching him. David said he had retired from his teaching position as physics professor.
The last important words that David shared with me that evening before we both went grocery shopping for fruits and water at 10 pm, were of his feelings for people in his life. He said those words of sentiment as if his life depended on them, filled with depth of love. I have relayed those messages, as David had at that moment, unknowingly to me, made me his shaliach / his messenger.
With every encounter, David always asked me if I have seen our mutual friends. Always yes, moving in and out through life's joys and sorrows. At a Renewal gathering, I had introduced David to one of my best friends, Shira, and she in turn arranged for him to teach at Metivta, on "Physics and Torah." People loved it; David loved doing it.
Years ago, David invited friends for Erev Shabbat where he was leading services, at a Persian doctor's home by the beach. Sure enough in this little house, the living room filled tightly with chairs, there was a white lace prayer mechitzah / gender separator. I think, at this house after dinner, is where David showed me albums of his treasured photographs. He had so much pleasure as he touched them, turning the pages. He loved to tell the stories of his shidduchim / matches, and of the people who would visit at his cabin.
David gave me an unexpected honor over a decade ago. He called me and asked: Would I step in for him at a ceremony conducted by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi? I think it was in Oregon, and David figured out that I might be going to Renewal's Kallah there, and he was right. Reb Zalman was honoring with a title, giving smicha / "laying of hands" to his daughter Mimi who lives on Reb Shlomo's z'l Moshav Me'or Modi'in. So, nu, what was this all about and why had David been invited? David proudly explained to me that he had made the shidduch / match between Mimi and her husband. It was one of many, over a dozen, that David had made. I told David that he made angels with every shidduch. We compared notes on our job as shadchen / matchmakers, one of the G*d given roles we play on earth.
I did go to the private ceremony, under trees at the side of a lake. I introduced myself to Mimi which was synchronistic and perfect because a dear friend of mine, AriellaShira, was roommate with Mimi at Kallah and had told me that this was a woman that I needed to meet. Two energy forces bringing me together for the first time with Mimi. Turned out that I knew her teenaged son in Jerusalem.
It is a small world. Many years ago I was staying in a Jerusalem hotel because I wanted to meet a Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach whom I had read about, and decided I would find him in Jerusalem, far from my LA home. What I found were four young boys, teenagers, now around 30 years old, wandering around the hotel. They were the same age as my daughter, so I spoke with them. They had "no place to stay in Jerusalem", so they told me. They were street wise. I gave them a key to my room at the Moriah Hotel, and I brought up some food, bedding, and robes for the roof top pool, and four boys got to live there, in my room, for awhile. I mostly never saw the boys because I had registered at Hebrew University. These Moshav boys, inevitably, that very FIRST night, introduced me to Reb Shlomo, which was the mission of my journey to the Holy Land. I heard that I became famous as the woman who had Reb Zalman's grandson-- MIMI's son, and the boys in my hotel room. I had no idea who they were, I didn't even know their names; Just instinctively seemed like the right thing to do. It was Hashgacha Pratit / Divine Providence. One boy was surprised to find me reading his grandfather's book. Today some of the boys are famous Israeli musicians.
So I guess that Rabbi David, mazal tov, made a shidduch for me also, that I should know the mother of one of the four Moshav boys I hosted in my Jerusalem hotel room, and help to strengthen the circle of friendship. I hear that David did people hosting mitzvot also. I remained in David's memory album. David remains in my memory as being a blessing on earth.
May Hashem comfort David's family and friends among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Hamakom y'nachem etkhem b'tokh sh'ar avelei Tziyon v'Yerushalayim.
"Reb Shlomo said that the secret to joy is to give blessings. Learn to bless, learn to draw near without using force – when you will be in that place you will be b'simcha and the Shechinah and all will draw near to you."
This is what Rabbi David, Shlomo's emissary, did on earth.
May David's neshamah be re-united with his beloved rebbe .
In sympathy, and my condolences to David's family and chevra.
May you and I both be blessed with the deep and child-like joy and delight that David felt and shared with us in his life-time. May his memory be for a blesSing.
"Serve G*d With Joy"
When I visit Mount Carmel, City of Commerce, CA, I leave a pebble on David's grave. David made a difference in our world.