I have a confession to make. I loved Rabbi Jacob A. Max. The Rabbi Max I knew was funny, warm, engaging, easygoing, thoughtful and the absolute definition of the Yiddish word haimish (loosely translated as folksy or comfortable). He was charm personified.
The thing to remember, however, is that things are not always as they seem.
We don’t like to accept that. It screws with our minds and messes up our narrow view of life. It upsets the apple cart. But it’s true.
And obviously there was a side to this genial man – a virtually ubiquitous figure in our community for more than five decades – that we never really knew.
Things are not always as they seem.
About a week after Rabbi Max passed away recently and I had written a fairly parve obituary about him, I got a note from a veteran local journalist, someone I know a little bit and who was in the news business when I was just a mere lad. In his quite cordial, collegial note, he questioned why I would mention in the lead paragraph of my obituary that, besides serving Liberty Jewish Center for more than a half-century, Rabbi Max was convicted in 2009 for molesting a female funeral home employee. The journalist’s friendly suggestion was to bury that piece of information lower in the story.
I don’t get it.
If I had written an obituary in 1994 about the passing of Richard M. Nixon, should I only have mentioned that he was the 37th president of the United States and initiated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union? And not have mentioned that he resigned from office in the face of almost certain impeachment? Or should I have relegated that tidbit to the 14th or 15th paragraphs?
For a long time, Rabbi Max is going to be a source of contention and pain in this community. He has his diehard supporters, people who knew the Rabbi Max I knew and loved. But there are also his detractors, some of whom say they were inappropriately touched or handled by Rabbi Max. And they can’t be negated, ignored or disrespected.
Respect. People say let the man rest in peace; respect the dead. Leave him alone. Give him some respect.
Fair enough. But maybe we should cut ourselves a break too and simply agree to disagree about this complicated, enigmatic man who has left a lot of mixed feelings in his wake.
We’ll be sorting this one out for a while.