Most of us at Temple Beth Israel knew Morris as Mr. Hollender. He would always say, “Please call me Morris,” yet we couldn’t. Even without knowing his story, there was something about him that commanded immediate and total respect.
To most of us at the Temple, Mr. Hollender was more than a friend, more than a teacher, more than a leader of services; he was the face of our Temple. Morning services were not complete until Mr. Hollender came by to shake hands with every man and kiss the hand of every woman. And as he walked from bench to bench or seat to seat, we were amazed how he knew the entire prayer book by heart – every word and every page number of every prayer. And then there were his stories and jokes. He always had stories and jokes. And he would go on and on. At some point he would say, “I’ve bored you enough.” And we would respond, “Not at all – we love hearing your stories.”
Some of you might remember several years ago, there was consideration of relocating our Temple to the campus of Gann Academy. One of the major reasons we voted against that is that it would have been too difficult for Mr. Hollender to commute there. We could not imagine our synagogue without Mr. Hollender.
Mr. Hollender was a link to our past and a role model for our future. He never lost his temper. He always had something kind to say. Even though he was such an important part of our Temple, he somehow managed to stay above the fray when it came to Temple politics. Even during the most heated discussions in Temple Board meetings, Mr. Hollender would usually remain quiet and not take sides. Of all the amazing things that we can say about Mr. Hollender, that skill ranks right up there near the top.
The love and respect that he and Mrs. Hollender had for each other is something straight out of a storybook. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Hollender did not have children, we are all their children and grandchildren. They attended our weddings, and bar and bat mitzvahs, and seders, and simchas, just as any parent would. He was out father and our grandfather. And today we mourn just as if we had lost our father or grandfather.
Mr. Hollender would often say, “God bless you.” When he said that, it felt like so much more than just a nicety. It felt like a done deal, as if we had truly just been blessed. But in fact, we have all been blessed by far more than just his words, because every minute that we have spent in Mr. Hollender’s presence was an honor and a blessing. We have all been blessed for having known and loved Mr. Hollender.