In My Own Words: Tribute to a Friend

By Rabbi Rachel Esserman

I don’t usually write about my rabbinical work in this column, but, although there are numerous political and social issues of importance I could discuss, it’s personal ones that are haunting me this week. On June 16, for the first time, I did the funeral of a personal friend: Jeff Kahn. 
I’ve done funerals for family and for longtime family friends, but this one felt different. Maybe it’s because those others were older than me. Maybe it’s because his illness took him so quickly and I could see his far too fast decline. Maybe it’s because his wife, Rebecca, is one of my closest friends whose pain I cannot imagine.

What has been amazing is the way our community supported them during Jeff’s illness and has helped Rebecca since the funeral. Then there are the people who knew and loved Jeff from the 21 years he ran the Cyber Café West. Using the word “love” here is not an exaggeration. The line outside Temple Concord during calling hours went around the corner of the block. The posts on a Jeff Kahn tribute page on Facebook showed the number of lives he touched. 

I did the final eulogy at his funeral. At the end, I suggested ways that people could honor his life. I think those suggestions may also speak to people who never knew him. I’ve never printed a eulogy in this column before, but I’m going to break that rule in this case. What follows are my remarks:

“I just want to conclude with a few personal words about my friend Jeff. 

“Many people have a dream, but most are afraid to leave the security of their daily life and follow them. Jeff did. In my mind, that makes his life a huge success because success is measured not so much by the financial success of that dream (although the fact the café lasted as long as it did is impressive considering how quickly many restaurants and music venues close), but by the simple fact of following the dream. 

“The Jeff Kahn tribute page on Facebook showed how many lives he’s touched. What came to my mind was a variation on a wonderful saying from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with the word life replacing heart: the true measure of a life is not how much you love, but how much you are loved by others. Jeff, your life measures among the highest.

“If you would like a way to honor Jeff’s memory, Rebecca and I had a few ideas. First, if you have a dream, follow it. Don’t worry about success or failure because what matters is the effort. You’ll always know you tried. 

“Second, Jeff was passionate about politics. Those of us who read his weekly newsletter knew that he did not mince words about how he felt. Help keep that passion alive: truth will always matter, so carry his lantern of truth with you, whether you decide to do so in a blog, in letters to the editor or at rallies. 

“Third, Jeff’s dream was to fill the Triple Cities with music. His stage gave local musicians an incredible opportunity. So, please, support local music whenever and wherever you can.
“Jeff was a powerful force and his passing leaves a huge gap in the many lives he touched. May his memory be for a blessing.”