On behalf of my mother Sarabess and my brother Aaron, I thank you for coming, on such short notice and in advance of oncoming snow, many of you from very far away. We are grateful to have you here.
This morning, while I was still in bed, I asked my dad to tell me what he wanted me to say today. My dad always had a lot to say, and I want to be sure I cover it all for him. I heard his voice immediately. He said, ‘Oh honey, whatever you say will be perfect. Everything you do is perfect.” My dad gave that love and acceptance to me, and to Aaron, and to everyone he came across. So bear with me if this is a little long. Rabbi Binamou assures me the cemetery will wait, and I like to talk almost as much as my dad did.
My dad was not afraid to die. He was sure that death takes but a blip of time, and then you are on the other side. He spoke often about how wonderful it would be to see his beloved mother, my grandmother Sally, who loved him best (I imagine my dad was a tremendously lovable child), and his father, Joe, and his baby sister, Marie Anne, and his dear friends Bob Podrog and Jordan Perper and Bob Wolf. I trusted my dad about most things, and I trust that he was right about death. No one loved a party more than my dad, and I’m sure he is bummed to be missing this one. But right now he’s at his own pretty wonderful party and I’m really happy for him. Between Bob Podrog’s entertainment and Bob Wolf’s pina coladas and Jordan’s party favors, I bet my dad is having a much better time than we are right now. Lucky little Marie Anne is probably being walked on some cloud ceiling right now giggling her wings off. I’m sorry she had to die so young, but I’m grateful my dad’s heaven has a child for him to play with.
William Bernard Forster was born February 18, 1936, in the District of Columbia. His father was a dentist and his mother was a homemaker. His older brother Stanley welcomed him, and then his twin brother Norman just a few minutes later. His younger sister came along a few years after that, dying just four years later of pneumonia. I think dad attended every school, public and private in the entire District of Columbia. He wasn’t a very good student, and I’m certain he had undiagnosed learning disorders. But he was good at a lot of things other than school. He especially loved to play cards. He finally graduated from Bullis High School and his senior yearbook called him ‘the greatest gambler the school has ever or will ever see.”
My dad considered his entire career to be gambling. Whether it was building houses or running his beloved restaurant, Hungry Herman, or buying and managing warehouse space, he always felt he was rolling the dice. And he was a good gambler. Things generally worked out for him. He felt blessed and lucky for what he had. I was once in an airport with him and a man about his age walked past us, pushing a broom. My dad said, “There but for the grace of God go I.” He said often that the only reason he had what he did was because of the privilege he was born into and the support he was given. He made sure Aaron and I knew that what we had was a fluke of fate, and those with less, and also those with more, none of them are any different from us, just more or less lucky.
My dad was incredibly generous. He taught us never, ever to loan money. He said if you make a loan you lose a fried. He said to just give it – and he did – to so many people. A few years ago my dad gave me a hundred dollar bill. At work the next day they took up a collection for a colleague whose house had burned down. I gladly handed over that hundred. I was so excited to tell my dad about it, because I knew how happy it would make him to know where that money went. He was pleased, and then he opened his wallet and gave me another hundred and told me to go do it again.
My dad taught me many things, most of which he told everyone he passed. His three rules for life were: don’t lie, cheat or steal; have fun every day; and show the people you love how much you love them. One of his favorite stories involved a college class where all but four of the 300 people cheated on an essay and failed. He didn’t cheat. He was intent on being fair and honest with everyone. The “have fun” every day part was easy for him. He always had fun. He WAS the fun. As for the loving, he told us and told us and told us. He constantly sent me letters and then emails like this one from last May, “Evva, You are my best work. No limit to how great you are. You can fly. Up, then coast, the down Life. I’m on the down side. It can be fun if your friends catch you. Hold my hand and make me smile.” I can’t tell you how much I will miss those emails.
My dad loved his family. He was faithful and attentive to his parents every day of their lives. He called them daily, we had dinner with my grandparents every Friday night, and he showed me and Aaron how to love and be loyal, even when what people do hurts you.
He loved his brothers fiercely. Two years ago my dad joined the Jewish Rockville Outreach Center. He went because his older brother Stanley had joined and my father was always searching for ways to be closer to his brothers. He did it out of love. He’d tell you love is the only reason to do anything.
He told me often, and he told every person we passed who was a twin or who had twins or who had heard of twins, that his relationship with his twin Norman was the most important in his life. Since Norman is a dentist, my dad believed he was also qualified to be a dentist. He grumbled that he could have taken out my wisdom teeth in the bathroom with a spoon. He said when they would play cards when they were younger, my dad always split his winnings with Norman. Dad said whatever he had was half Norman’s. When Norman was ill, my dad believed he would get the same illness. When Norman was in pain, my dad was in pain.
He loved his grandchildren. When Leah and Josie were small, he spent every Thursday with us, running errands and going to lunch. In the past few years, he emailed the girls every morning, telling them he loved them and to have a great day. He was insistent in these last few weeks that I remind them of all he taught them so they would always remember him. Leah, Josie, Eli, Dalia and tiny Lilah will grow up honoring his legacy.
He loved his cousins – Helen and Ann and Marilyn were as close as siblings to him, and his best friends. He also loved his nieces and nephews – Lou, Henry, Molly, Susan, Seth, Adam, Todd and Heidi. My brother and I came last of all my cousins and my dad considered them his practice children. Being with them in these last few weeks was tremendously comforting to him.
My dad loved his friends. My dad’s house was always filled with people who needed a place to stay, who needed some work, who needed in their lives the positive force and support that was my dad.
Most of all, my dad loved my mom. He honored her intellect, he appreciated her beauty and he supported her in her lifework, finding in her a true partner who is as loving and accepting as he was. I used to joke that my parents took in strays, not animals, stray people. But the truth is, we’re all strays. My dad and mom saw past the exteriors we judge people by and chose to see the true spark of the divine that lives inside each of us.
My dad loved children. He befriended small children everywhere he went. He had a few stock games that would reel them in. His first game was to ask them if they could stick out their tongue and touch their nose. After watching them try for a few seconds he’d do this. [stick out tongue and touch nose with finger] Kids ate it up. He’d also wiggle his ears – a thing I’ve never seen another person do. Finally, if they were really lucky, he’d take out his eye. When Aaron and I were small, he used to misplace his prosthetic eye a lot. He’d call for an all-family hunt and we’d all race around looking for it. Once he dropped it at a bat mitzvah and it clinked along the parquet floor as the Torah was being recited. It landed a few rows ahead and he leaned forward and asked the woman seated there to hand it to him. He was a hoot.
Being the daughter of a man like that was the greatest luck of my life. All that energy, all that joy, all that love was focused on me, every day of the last 42 years. When I was small, I was walked on the ceiling, I was flipped over his very tall shoulder, I was tickled till I howled. And that was all before breakfast. He walked me to school every day, and taught me a vocab word on the way. The man couldn’t spell a word, but he made sure Aaron and I valued school and grades and hard work and he said our accomplishments were his own. He was so, so proud of both of us.
When I had my own daughters, I realized that it is true that having children means having your heart go walking around outside your body. And I also realized that means my dad’s heart is walking around inside of me. I really, really wish he was still here. He felt he had a lot more living to do and that there were still good times to be had. Our family spends a lot of time together, and travels together a lot. It’s going to be hard to do all those things without him. But I carry his heart inside mine, as does Aaron. And I know wherever we go, he will be there too.