My brother Jeff would look for the theme of this most tragic day. And at the core of this difficult story are certainly his exceptional qualities.
But Jeff would be self deprecating, and be unimpressed with himself. He would look deeper, and beyond. He would work the extraordinary magic of his craft to lay bare the heart of the matter. At the heart of the matter is the question burdening the soul of every person here- and people across the world who knew him, or know him now, by virtue of the press coverage of Jeff Zaslow and his accomplishments.
And the question we probe is the overwhelming dismay and disbelief, the awesome question we have every right to ask. How, O G-d, did you allow and ordain such a thing as this.
In the moment of initial pain- the shock of hearing what happened to Jeff- my sister, and my mother- uttered the identical phrase. I don’t think I can go on after this. And I had the same thought. And perhaps you did as well.
That cry would prompt Jeff to probe the depths of our despair. Is this utter sadness unique to him alone? Is he- are we- the only ones to suffer a seemingly senseless loss by unexplainable tragedy? And so his book would ask – what comes after that. He would seek out and investigate those who, like us, suffered tragic loss, to see what happened after the unbearable sadness. He would look for the pattern of human experience.
And Jeff wouldn’t have far to look. What did his mother- our mother- and our own beloved grandparents do when they lost her beloved brother in the fiery skies of a World War II bomber over the English Channel. Surely she cried out– I don’t think I can go on after this! But she did go on. To marry our father, may they live and be well, and to have children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren. To bring Jeff into this world, and to guide him, and us, with love.
Jeff, in pursuing his search for the theme of his saga, would seek out his own beloved wife, and her parents and family, who likewise lost a dearly beloved brother, and son. Who surely said in that moment, I do not think I can go on after this. But they did go on- they went on, for Sherry to marry Jeff, to know love, and for them together to bring into this world their most precious possessions, Jordan, and Alex, and Eden.
Jeff would perhaps look at my own father in law, he should live and be well, who lost his own father at the age of 14, and undoubtedly wondered I’m not sure if I can go on after this. But he did go on, and married, and had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.
No doubt countless such stories exist among all of you here. In myriad emails, and texts, and comments we have received, we see that many of them offer condolences, out of love for Jeff; but also from great sadnesses that they themselves experienced.
And so despite our loss, Jeff would find love, and he would write about it, and comfort us with his words, that despite all the inexplicable sadness, there was life and happiness that followed.
And we must therefore give Jeff happiness in the eternal realm where now resides, by declaring, I can go on, and I will, for his sake, and for our sake, and the for sake of the souls known to G-d alone, yet to descend and enter into this world, for whom Jeff Zaslow will be a powerful and undiminished memory.
Jeff would look at the overflowing tributes and accolades about him, and he would be pleased, in fact, he IS pleased at this moment, as the Talmud and our sages are explicitly clear, that the soul of the departed, at this very moment, this time before burial, the departed hears the eulogy, and hears our words of well-deserved praise, and fond remembrance, and he himself is comforted as he moves on to his glorious reward for a life well lived.
And yet while Jeff listens to his praises- and we could not express what Jeff deserves if we sat here for countless days and time-Jeff would downplay his fame. But I assure you he would make sure we walked from here with the eternal truth by which he lived: we owe respect, and the true interest, to everyone we meet. Not just those on the Walk of Fame, but Jeff Zaslow style, with abiding interest and concern for every person in his world. Strangers, and acquaintances, his bereaved nieces and nephews and all us his family, and all of you. If If you knew Jeff, or came within his orbit, you were Jeff’s friend, and Jeff cared about you; he cared little for himself. Jeff achieved more, but needed and wanted less, than anyone I know.
My wife points out how this is so wonderfully apparent in the dedication of what we now sadly know to be his last book. A book about the love fathers wish for their daughters. The book wishes love for my daughters, Jordan, Alex and Eden….and for your daughters too. Jeff would not dream of wishing for his very own daughters, without in the same breath wishing for all of our children as well.
With whom is G-d pleased? With he who is pleasing to his fellow man. When others find us pleasing, then G-d is pleased with us. I do not know anyone more beloved among the people he knew than my brother. This gathering is testament to that.
And being so beloved by everyone he touched, Jeff Zaslow is exceedingly beloved on High. May each of us strive to live in the spirit that was Jeff’s guiding star, and natural inclination- love, interest, and concern for others.
May his memory be for a blessing, and may his merit from Heaven protect and envelop his wife, and daughters, our family, and all who loved him.
As someone who has had the honor and pleasure of knowing you and your wonderful parents, allow me to express my sincerest sorrow at your loss. I know that you will all be there for each other.
In the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), it is written: It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting. It is hard to understand how that can be, but reading the moving words that you have written perhaps provides an explanation. Seeing your faith and optimism even at this moment of great loss is an inspiration.
Please send my love to your family. I will pray that HaShem give you comfort and strength. שלא תדעו עוד צער – and that you not know further sorrow.
Sharon (Madres) Tzur
Dear Darrell and Zaslow Family:
Sometimes the will of Hashem is so stunning it leaves us feeling abandoned by His eternal mercy and compassion. We are left wondering why did this happen? How could such a mensch: a righteous, loving, humble, caring, and talented person meet a fate that to the human mind is unfathomable. Yet for those of us who believe that Hashem is Master of the Universe and has a hand in all things large and small, there is a reason. The free will Hashem provides us balks during tragedies. After all, this was someone who exemplified what Hashem wants us to be like. Shouldn’t he be granted the opportunity to provide and receive the love of family and millions of caring friends until a ripe old age? Unfortunately, we do not get to decide. Thus, when someone we love leave us too soon, we are forced to contemplate and embrace the meaning of their life; its impact on us; and its lessons to live by.
Jeff Zaslow reminded us of something Viktor Frankel, survivor of years in Nazi concentration camps, to “live as if you were living a second time and as though you acted wrongly the first time.” Jeff reminded us to be present and in tuned to a given day, hour, moment; especially with our loved ones. He taught us to ” cease the day” with acts of kindness and to express words of comfort, humor and interest towards all people. He reminded us to tell people we cared about how we felt about them as much as possible; because life did not guarantee any other moment except the one we were in. He ultimately taught us to live according to Hashem’s will for humankind; to transform this life into holiness through expressions of love.
When Viktor Frankel was starving, being forced to work as a slave with grueling labor, and made aware that his entire family had been killed, he never gave up on the notion that life had meaning. When fellow prisoners questioned how life could have purpose under such conditions, he replied “what is life asking of me in this moment.” He decided to memorialize his fallen loved ones by embracing life deeper. Life is asking us, if we choose, to emulate Jeff’s values. In doing so, G-d willing, those who love him will remain close to him one moment at a time. May his memory shine bright always. May Hashem safeguard him to the world to come speedily.
To the Zaslow family, I love you. I may not know all of you, but the ones I have had the privilege to have known, have given so much and asked for nothing in return. I have always been a better person as a result of any interactions I have had with the Zaslow family. G-d Bless you all. May Hashem comfort you and protect you all the days of you lives.
Darrell, I am so sorry on the loss of your brother, Jeff. May the wonderful, extraordinary memories you have of him give you strength and sustain you. Sincerely, Julie
Dear Zaslow Family,
I have never written a condolence letter to someone that I never met about someone that I didn’t know. Yet I sit here weeping tears of anguish over the loss of your dear husband, father, brother and son –Jeffrey, of blessed memory. I first heard of him when he wrote the column in the Wall St Journal about Randy Pausch. I watched the last lecture on youtube, and then eagerly read “The Last Lecture”. What an inspirational read! I then exchanged emails briefly with Jeff, regarding something that struck me about the book. He answered promptly and warmly.
I am currently in the middle of reading “The Magic Room”: I had started it last week. It is through that book that I felt like I knew him. His warmth, his passion, his love for all of you certainly comes through so much in that book. I hope that you can all take some strength and some comfort in the knowledge that he loved you so much and that he made sure to express his feelings to you often. He accomplished so much and did so many wonderful things. He touched so many many lives in such an exceptional way.
As a personal tribute to him I have decided in his memory to make sure and tell my husband and children daily how much I love them.
I pray that your amazing family will strengthen one another in this difficult time, and that the wonderful memories that you share of your extraordinary husband and father will serve as a comfort to you.
May G-d comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.