Hesped for Earl Sharfman by Sherry Sharfman Jackson
Hesped for Earl Sharfman by Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman
Tribute to our Grampy by Stephanie, Erica and Rebecca

Hesped for Earl Sharfman
by Sherry Sharfman Jackson

Bonnie and I are sharing the eulogy for our dad.  I’m going to begin by telling you something about his life.

Earl Sharfman was born on June 18, 1936 in Providence, RI.  The child of Rabbi Chaim & Sarah Sharfman.  Dad had a strong Yeshiva education as a child – what he learned in Yeshiva was a very important part of his life. He grew up in a close family on his mother’s side with his cousins Sunya, Corrine, Arthur and Judy.  Dad grew up working at the Fishman Family’s kosher meat market with Aunt Gertie and her brothers.  During his teens, he spent the summers working at Camp Jorie with his cousin, Arthur.  There are many fun stories of the pranks the two of them pulled off.  Dad attended Hope High School where he met Mom at the age of 14.  They were high school sweethearts.  Dad told me that he loved Mom from the 1st day he met her.  He said she was beautiful inside and out.  He liked to brag about other boys trying to take Mom out to the movies and how he would scare them off by threatening them.  He was a little tough guy.

Dad wrestled in high school and he had a passion for the sport.  He became RI state champ and later coached the Lowell State College team in the 1960’s to many championship seasons, including his very first year being undefeated. He returned to wrestling in his retirement here in Arizona as he helped coach the Paradise Valley HS team up until this past December.  The boys loved Coach Earl, as he was a wonderful motivator and father like figure.  He helped so many of them grow and be successful on and off the mats!

I enjoyed hearing one of his high school wrestling stories that some of you may have heard.  Dad had a match against a tough opponent who had been a championship wrestler.  During the match when Dad was down, his coach told him that the opponent was saying bad things about Dad’s family.  At the end of the match Dad didn’t shake his opponent’s hand.  The boy asked my Dad why wasn’t he shaking his hand?  Dad told his opponent what the coach had told Dad….The opponent said “I never said anything about your family”…When Dad later inquired with his coach why he said that, his coach replied …”You won didn’t you?  You are champ now”!   Dad was, and will always continue to be our champion!

After high school at the age of 18, Dad enlisted in the Navy in 1954.  After training in Maryland, Oklahoma, and California, he spent most of his 2 plus years of service on the island of Guam as a radio operator flying experimental Lockheed Advanced Warning System radar planes.  He survived a plane crash while on one of their missions and saved the entire crew of 18, by keeping calm under pressure and carrying the emergency signal system – the Gibson Girl – from the plane into the life rafts as it was going down into the ocean.   He held the Gibson Girl and sent out the rescue signals until the Navy plane spotted them.  The crew of 18 survived in life rafts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and in one of the deepest parts, the Mariana Trenches, until they were rescued by the USS Buttonwood.  Dad had recently reunited with 2 of his crew members and we now have photos and documentation of the plane’s ditching where Dad was a hero!

Dad & Mom got married on January 1st, 1956 while Dad was home on leave.  They would have celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary, this upcoming New Year’s Day.  Mom went to Guam with Dad and taught school on the island.  Mom & Dad returned to Rhode Island in 1957 and welcomed Bonnie into the world.  They moved to Lowell, MA and bought their first home.

In the early 1960’s, Dad did construction jobs while putting himself through college at Lowell State Teachers College.  He decided to pursue a career in education and become a teacher.  Dad came from a lineage of 36 generations of Rabbis, so becoming a teacher was in his genes.

Nana & Pa, Mom’s mother and father, moved in with mom and dad from Providence, to help out while Mom had returned to college to complete her bachelor’s degree.  Mom, Dad, Nana, Pa, and Bonnie moved into a larger home in Lowell and then I came along in 1964.

Dad went on to become a true educator, starting out as a teacher then moving on to principal, Director of Title I, and Superintendent of Schools.  He truly dedicated his life to helping enrich the lives of others and in helping make the schools a better place.  He was a smart and well educated man, obtaining his Masters in Education and also his Doctorate in Education from Boston College in 1975.

Dad and Mom saw 2 daughters go through college, get married, and have successful careers.  They were blessed with 2 wonderful sons-in-law, who are true sons to them, – Roger and my love Phil.  They were also blessed with 3 wonderful granddaughters, Stephanie, Erica, and Rebecca as well as 2 grand dogs, Ginger & Tucker.

Dad had many hobbies and had a passion for the ocean.  He loved boating and fishing.  I can remember when we were very young..dad would rent these small orange rowboats at Salem Willows and take us out flounder fishing.  Dad & Mom’s first boat was a 21 foot lap strake named the Bonnie-Sherry.  Our times on the boat with family and friends were a source of great pleasure to Dad.  He was always in search of the next big catch.  He would take that leaky old wooden boat 20 miles offshore to Stellwagen Bank and thankfully always returned safely home.  Mom & Dad enjoyed many boats and eventually purchased their current boat, a 34 foot Mainship, the Sea Star, which they lived on in the summers in retirement at Palmers Cove Yacht Club in Salem, MA.  Mom and Dad have been members of PCYC for over 30 years. They have made many friends there and Dad will be sorely missed.

Dad always took great pleasure from the sea and salt air.  It had a calming effect on him.  I am thankful that we got to share so many wonderful times with mom and dad on the ocean both on the North Shore and at our home, on Cape Cod, on both the Sea Star and True North.

Dad also enjoyed many other sports such as tennis, golf, working out at the gym and bike riding.  He took great pleasure in the fact that he taught us to ride bikes and play tennis.  I will miss playing tennis and golf with Dad.  I will always have fond memories of our games and play time together.

I believe Abraham Lincoln once said…”It’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years”.  Well our Dad was full of life.  He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, friend, and mentor to so many.  He had amazing strength (both physical and mental), amazing courage, and zest for life.  This past summer I would often refer to him as “my sunshine”.  As Juan said, he would smile with his bright eyes.

This past summer when Mom & Dad stayed with Phil and me for 2 months, he had the opportunity to meet some of our Cape Cod friends.  All of them would say similar things to us such as …”what a great man Earl is” and how they were drawn to him.  His wisdom, character and his kind and warm ways were evident to them.  Even in his pain and sickness, he had the gift of making others feel good by complementing them in some way or making them feel special.  He made the conversations about them, not himself.  I saw him do this with friends of both old and new, nurses, doctors, and hospital staff.  He was so brave!

Dad was always there for all of us.  In our adult years, Phil and I knew he was only a phone call away.  He comforted us in challenging times and even internalized our feelings.  He was so supportive and encouraging.  He was a very open and loving man.   He celebrated our successes in life, which brought him much pleasure, pride and joy.  He was always inquiring about our lives and offering advice, whether it was simple things like auto, boat, or home maintenance issues or more important advice such as life’s lessons, investments, or careers.

I will miss our calls and being able to pick up the phone to hear his voice or see him on Skype.  I will miss his shining face and his warm hugs.

Earl Sharfman was a phenomenal man.  He was a positive force in the lives of so many of us.  He will live on through his teachings…to everyone he touched.

Good bye, Dad.  We will all miss you very much but we know you will be with us and watching over us……………….We love you, Dad!

Hesped for Earl Sharfman
by Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman

Earl Sharfman, Azriel ben HaRav Chaim Lev v’Sarah….Dad.

A great light in this world has left us and the world is less bright because you’re gone….

We’re gathered here to say goodbye to you in this outdoor pavilion, knowing how much you loved the outdoors. The decision was easy…we could almost hear you saying to us, as you often did: “it’s such a beautiful day, how can you stay inside?”

We haven’t yet absorbed what just happened. It’s too soon. Too soon. No matter when it happened, it would have been too soon.

How do you say goodbye to your father, someone whose influence on you is beyond measure; whose own life force courses through you?

He was the strongest and best man we know. The strength of his hand grip was only exceeded by the strength of his integrity, dignity, oftentimes blunt honesty. Dad was very straightforward. You always knew where you stood with him and he would always give you the benefit of the doubt.

Dad also had a really good sense of humor and an always ready arsenal of jokes, stories and somewhat colorful songs.

Dad had a huge, strong heart and a theme of his life was his caring for others. He was quick not just to respond to the needs of others, but to anticipate them. Many of you know him as a man who demonstrated great kindness and passion. A man of conviction and deep insight, blessed with a sharp, keen intellect and analytical ability, able to quickly get to the heart of a matter.

Our sages taught: A good…person, though he may die early, will nonetheless be at rest. For a full life is not accounted by the length of time nor measured by the number of one’s years; understanding signifies more than one’s grey hair, and a worthwhile life is the equal of a ripe old age.”

There’s some measure of comfort in these words and I know them to be true, but right now, the pain of losing him is just pretty sharp.

This precious man, our Dad, was One of a kind. A very, very good man, a mensch.

Toldot is the Torah portion for the current week in which the interactions between our ancestors Isaac, Rebecca, and their twin boys, Esau and Jacob provide the central motif. Rebecca calls out three times in Parashat Toldot: “Shema B’Kolee”, which means, “listen to my voice”. Her cry calls out to us from across the generations.

Listen to my voice.

Dad, tatele, I hear you. Dad often had words of practical advice for me in my rabbinate, all of which I have listened to, but only some of which (pause) I have actually followed….for example, he cautioned me to keep my sermons brief and I do try. But this isn’t a sermon, and Dad, we owe you at least this much.

Dad was a real blessing in this world to so many whose lives he not only touched but transformed, and healed. There are so many stories we could tell, he was a character….maybe during shiva, you’ll share some of your stories about Dad with us and we can share some of ours with you…

Wherever he went, he demonstrated a gift for both solving problems and helping people feel better, which are not necessarily the same thing. Even as we sat in doctor’s waiting rooms, he would start conversations and had a knack, a gift really, for connecting with others. During his few, but difficult hospitalizations, in short time, nursing staff, high profile doctors, the people who delivered his food trays would find themselves drawn to Dad, lingering a bit longer, telling him about their families and children, their worries and hopes and dreams and he would attentively listen and provide counsel. I stopped doubting it was out of politeness when they specifically came back for more time with him and saw the tears in their eyes and he held their hands and said goodbye.

The focus of the Esau and Jacob story in this week’s parasha, is the birthright. The inheritance. That we are standing here today is testament to Dad’s great strength and determination that is part of our birthright from him, along with the great love for our family and our mother. If there was a bad situation my Dad was the one you wanted beside you.

What a special home in which to grow up…he parented with a firm, loving hand…and sometimes it took a long time to understand his way.

It was always clear, growing up in this home, what was expected of us. He and mom gave us every opportunity to grow up well, receive good educations, and become independent, strong women who can bait our own fishing hooks, captain boats  …and generally, at least try to do the right thing. He was interested in what we did and what we were thinking, and supportive of us in our life and work, and our spouses and children. He taught us the value of commitment to work, to family, and to discovering and living our essential purpose on this earth. Dad instilled in us the strength and moral imperative of not standing by silently while injustices are done when we have within our G-d given power, the ability to do something about it.

Passionate, tenacious, principled, Dad was a visionary who knew how to turn visions into realities. He held very high standards and expected others to, as well, and sometimes became disappointed when they didn’t.

Dad was a visionary educational leader who would not succumb to political pressures, keeping the needs of the children at the forefront, often to his own detriment. He understood and lived his commitment, and he did so with passion and determination. All of this is our birthright from him.

Mesothelioma…when he received the diagnosis in January – you don’t survive mesothelioma and he did live longer than the statistical expectation – he to the end, did things his way, working with the fate he was dealt.

He took the news and lived with it as long as he could.

And although the disease claimed his life, in a sense, even mesothelioma was not strong enough to beat him down. Girls, we want you to know that your grandfather never complained, never, never said “why me”, only “let’s see what we can do to beat this”. And, Dr. Michael Roberts, thank you for being his ally. Learn from Grampy’s example, how he conducted himself both throughout his life, and at its’ end. Let us tell you that mesothelioma is a horrible, devastating disease. He was unselfish to the end, and protected us and took our needs to heart with all of his diminished, yet still considerable mental and physical strength, even as he took his final breaths.

Dad made things easier on all of us by his attitude and strength and focus. One of his favorite poems – and he had us read literature and poetry much as he taught us Torah and Talmud and Chassidus – one of his favorite poems – was Invictus…

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

…Earl Sharfman was master of his fate and captain of his unconquerable soul….

Dad never complained that he felt cheated, but he was…we all were, because this man did good every day of his life and now we’re denied his continued presence, but his was a light with such brilliance that it will continue to illumine our way for the rest of our lives. The way he lived his life, by rights, he should have lived another fifteen healthy years. I always figured that once my youngest daughter went off to college, which is very soon, I’d have lots of time to spend with mom and dad. We had plans together. Just as Sherry did, too. But, as the Yiddish expression goes, “Man plans, God laughs.” The thing is, neither God, nor we are laughing. Dad may well have been one of the lamed-vavnikim….one of the thirty-six righteous in each generation, who are sent here on a mission to do great goodness, but aren’t even aware of this status. He certainly was a tzaddik, he came from a family of righteous men and women, and as tzaddikim often do, he died on Shabbat morning right around the time of the Torah reading for that week, Chaye Sarah. Sarah was his mother’s name, aleiha ha-shalom.

His life was not easy. The emotional pain he endured in his childhood would have set a lesser human being on a different course. Yet, we found in one of his letters to us the following: “On reflection, I recall only the joyous and victorious moments of the past. I am gratified, yet puzzled why it is that all of my memories are only positive.”

Dad harnessed the power of adversity and transformed it into a potent force for goodness. Maybe it was the blessing he received from the great Rebbe Schneerson himself or the papal blessing, but once he met Mom, that hole in his life was no more. Maybe those blessings helped to bring mom and dad together. Either way, he found his beshert, his soul mate, his partner and they created a life whose richness was beyond what money or status or material possessions can provide.

In years past there were times that we, let’s say, respectfully disagreed…(and thank G-d for mom, whose inherent gentleness and kind ways balance some of that intense passion), but always love, and he never shied away from telling us.  We can’t quite communicate to you the depth of his understanding and passion…..he cared so much that he wouldn’t let us get away with much. With a thundering, gentle hand he taught us derech eretz, respect for others, but also for ourselves.

Roger and Phil, he loved you as sons, but you already know that, and you treated him as a beloved father.

Stephanie, Erica, Rebecca, someday you will come to more fully understand the impact that Grampy’s life and teaching and love have had on you. You are his legacy. The seeds have been sown for you; what lessons will you reap? The generations are changing and soon it will be your privilege and responsibility to sow the seeds for your children and grandchildren, G-d willing.

Our mother…They met at age fourteen, sixty years and a lifetime ago. Sherry and I rarely heard them argue or raise voices to each other all these years…they genuinely really both love and like each other, sharing smiles and signs of affection this many years into their relationship. Even in his last few days, in his weakest moments, with Juan holding him up, he mustered the strength to invite his sweetheart , mom, of course, to dance with him and do a few steps, Fred and Ginger style, cheek to cheek.

Mom, no doubt, his achievements were made possible through your love and support, and the home and safe haven you created together to which he could return to reflect and recharge. When I wanted my mother to consider her own health and needs during Dad’s terrible illness, I naively suggested to her that one person’s life is not more important than another’s. She cast her eyes downward and responded in a barely audible voice, “but his life is more important…. to me…” They set an impossibly high standard. We should all be privileged to know such love and devotion in our own lives.

Last night, Sherry and I found some letters with clear instruction and teachings laden with wisdom from the heart that Dad wrote on behalf of mom and himself to us. Here is a typical statement we found in his own handwriting: “Being organized and mindful of our obligations, I want you to do the following….dot, dot, dot:” When he received the mesothelioma diagnosis, he did not need to be told to get his affairs in order. They always have been in order. It’s part of who he was.

Achievements? So many….naval hero, heir to a distinguished rabbinic line through Yaakov Emden and Chacham Zvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, he lived his deepest Jewish values through his life’s work: rebuilding a dilapidated and stagnant public school system and cleaning up corruption in a major urban school district as superintendent of schools. A man of his times, yet a man way ahead of his times, Dad introduced the idea of job sharing so quality female teachers could continue to share their craft and also care for their own families; he created landmark federal education programs for inner city children such as “Project WE CAN” years before self-empowerment was in vogue….He advocated for those who could not speak for themselves. And he continued in his retirement, serving on Phoenix mayoral commissions on youth and education, teaching college classes, facilitating discussion groups for active seniors, along with golf, tennis, and being the home and car fix-it man for many friends and neighbors, this daughter, in particular!

His highest priority was, of course, us. But next to that, I think, he would have said over these past few years, would be his work at PV High School, mentoring school administration, tutoring students and coaching. We were told that other faculty and coaches actively sought out his wisdom and counsel.

Dad was a mentor to both adults and youth and took many under his wing, teaching essential skills not only on the field and mat, but in life. He ensured that students who were without changes of clothes or coasts for the winter, got what they needed and found a home for a student who was left without one. When his good friend John took him to a practice a few months after his diagnosis, his wrestlers ran up to him to embrace this most beloved man. One student told Dad: ‘you are a great coach, but, Dr. Sharfman, mostly, you taught me to be a man”.

He endeared himself to so many, by simply being himself. He cared and let you know that he cared.

Have we made him out to be more than he was? Quite the contrary, these words are paltry and inadequate in sharing with you a portrait of a most complex and beloved man.

An excerpt from another letter: “My recollections were of two girls growing up in a loving environment, nurtured within a Jewish home…”

Two night ago, we sat for Shabbat dinner, as we generally did, except this one was different because we knew would be our last…he was unable to speak, but smiled a huge smile  (he had a great smile) and glowing eyes…an unforgettable impression from an unforgettable human being.

Scholar, talmid chacham, he’s forgotten more Talmud and sacred texts than we will ever know. With amazing recall and analytical ability, he was destined for greatness in the yeshiva world, but he answered a different, yet related calling in that Earl Sharfman was a true rabbi and teacher in every sense of the word, sharing the vast wisdom, learning, compassion, and understanding that many of you have experienced. A rare combination of attributes….

In looking at Dad’s life at this stage, far too early to understand all that there is for us to learn, we gain great insight into our own…

Thank you all for being here with our family. And eternal gratitude to Tori and Christy and Tana and Davie, and allof the hospice nurses who were with us, helping Dad make his final transition. Dad and Mom would want us to be sure to thank you again, and Juan Sengua, recently renamed Chaim, who offered care and support to Dad every night the past two months and has become a son to our parents and brother to us. Juan, Dad loved and trusted you. And Jackie Shore for nursing expertise, cooking, support and love too extensive to not mention, to Rabbi Bisman, and our congregants and friends in Kehillah, along with their friends and neighbors, and all of you who have been here for us….we probably should stop, because we’re realizing that we have been the recipients of many acts of chessed.

Dad and Mom have been blessed with some very special people in their lives and thank you also for being here for Sherry and me.

If you’ll indulge us, we want to share with you our father’s favorite poem. Although it was written by Rudyard Kipling, the words could just as well have been his own:


by Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

We’ll take that to mean ‘daughter’, too.

Tatele – Azriel, may your memory be a precious blessing for us all and in your memory, in appreciation for your life and all you have given, may we all go from here back into the world and perform many acts of chessed, of loving kindness today and every day.

Tribute to our Grampy
by Stephanie, Erica and Rebecca

Steph – Always remember how special you are

Erica – As I was trying to think of what memories with Grampy I wanted to share, I smiled because I realized that I have so very many. Here are two of my favorites: when I was in middle school, I liked to bake apple pies. Apple pie was one of Grampy’s favorite desserts. I remember coming home from school one day, looking forward to snacking on the pie I had made the night before. I opened the refrigerator door and saw…half a pie and a note in place of where a whole pie had been only that morning. The note said simply, “Grampy was here.”

One of my other favorite memories was much more recent and happened after the diagnosis. Over the summer, I was playing piano and singing for Grammy and Grampy in our living room at home. As I played “People Will Say We’re in Love,” Grammy and Grampy’s song, I turned around to look at the couch, where I thought they would be sitting. Instead, I saw Grammy and Grampy slow dancing. Surprised and very happy to see this, I began to play “Shall We Dance” from The King and I. As soon as I started the music, Grampy took Grammy in his arms again and began literally jumping and dancing around the room. I would never have believed it, had it been anyone else but Grampy, my grandfather who was strong even in the most trying moments of his life.

Becky – Family always comes first

Steph – Grampy was full of lessons. You could ask him a question and instead of getting a direct answer you would receive a story and a lesson. If you dug deep enough you would find the answer to your question. I remember specifically a time when I asked Grampy about dating. He told me the story of his first date with Grammy and how she said “you may kiss my hand.” In that story was a lesson of chivalry. The next day he came over to the house with 3 dating contracts. The contracts were for Erica, Rebecca, and me. Each one was the same and stated that Grampy could accompany us on our first dates. I refused to sign it, but my younger sisters both did. To this day, I hold that over their heads.

Erica – “we were young. We didn’t know.”

Still the message was clear. This was Grampy’s way of being chivalrous, protective, and of looking out for our well-being like he always has.

Erica – When you look for a partner in life, really look at them. Will you be proud to walk beside this person in 20 years? 40 years?

Becky – I remember Grampy teaching me to ride my bike. I remember the band-aids and the antiseptic. Learning to ride a bike can be pretty scary business. He was very strict, because he wanted me to learn to be an independent young lady. Even though I constantly fell down, he always made me get back on and try again. I remember saying, “you’re not the boss of me.” Grampy wanted me to be able to do anything I wanted to do. He taught me health, finances, and lifetime learning, even though I was only 6 and didn’t even know how to tell time. Grampy always had a way of making me think, for myself, and for my future. I know that his teachings will only mean more as I grow older, just as he had intended.

La La La La La La

A lifetime of learning

La La La La La

Lessons to live on

La La La La La

So we can teach our children

La La La La La

Even though you’re gone

Yiddish neshema shelcha

Has found a place in our hearts

You’ll watch over us with ahava

We’ll never be apart

You taught us to live with passion

To hold ourselves with pride and dignity

To change the world with goodness

And to never simply accept what we see

Yiddish neshema shelcha

Has found a place in our hearts

You’ll watch over us with ahava

We’ll never be apart

It’s kinda funny

I really hadn’t seen

The lessons that you taught me

Only now do I know what they mean

La La La La La La

A lifetime of learning

La La La La La

Lessons to live on

La La La La La

So we can teach our children

La La La La La

Even though you’re gone

You always took us on adventures

Through the park, and on our bikes

We’ll always have those times together

Building strength and loving life

Yiddish neshema shelcha

Has found a place in our hearts

You’ll watch over us with ahava

We’ll never be apart