The Isaac Heifetz Mental Illness Memorial Fund

A personal campaign sponsored by Lillian LaSalle

Support Me

Thank you for considering donating to this organization in honor of brother, Isaac Heifetz, who died of mental illness last week. My brother’s case was very complicated, crossing between Psychiatric and Neurological. His cause of death is still unknown. I share with you here, the eulogy I said for him at his funeral a few days ago. Even if you do not or cannot donate financially, just reading this eulogy would be enough. Perhaps it will inspire you to share it, perhaps it will help you in your time of need, or help a friend in their need. Sincerely, Lillian LaSalle

 

 

January 11, 2016

 

Today we gather to say goodbye to my brother Isaac, my older brother by ten years, the little baby brother to my brothers Victor and Albert. The youngest son to my mother. As she liked to call him, “her baby boy” .

 

There are some things about Isaac I would like to say, as you do, in eulogies, in remembrance of a person’s life. What he did, what he liked, in our tradition especially - his mitzvot, perhaps his hobbies, and his accomplishments. These are the standard things we say when given the task of bringing to you, our family and our friends, a glimpse, sometimes short, sometimes long, into the life of someone who has passed on, who is beginning the journey now of leaving this world, his Neshama, his soul, with every passing day going closer and closer to the heavens. 

 

I will start with some things about him - the easy things to say. 

 

Isaac was someone who laughed a lot, very befitting for his name, “Yitzhak”, to laugh. I always believed that a given name, when born, greatly affects a person’s personality and his disposition. I felt this way strongly with the blessing of the birth of my own two children and see it very clearly in the name my mother and father gave to him. 

 

Through modern technology, Facebook allowed me to receive a wonderful message from my cousin, David Heffez. A cousin who I rarely see and I barely know. In this message he said he remembered Isaac as a “jokester”. And it is true, in younger times, in the times before illness, he was just that. 

 

I can continue with the other things he liked as I remember him from my own youth. I was very young. But these things stand out: He loved movies, he loved his motorcycle, a Yamaha. In his prime Isaac was so good looking, that the girls would be lining up to speak with him. My little friends asking me, wow, is your brother a model? His dashing good looks, his adonis like hair, his brown skin from visits to Brighton Beach and also to Israel, during the time that he had already become a US citizen. Dear Isaac, my model brother.

 

Isaac loved playing guitar. With visits from my cousin Ronnie in the 70’s and early 80’s, together they would play songs from Led Zeppelin and my brother Victor, also would learn to master these songs and from them I received the gift of learning to play an instrument. Isaac taught me how to play “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” . This gift he and my brother Victor gave to me, is a sort of legacy, since to this day, music and guitar are a mainstay of my life and the gift of music has continued on to my own children. And so, in a way, this was a legacy. A borrowed guitar from my dear cousin Marco, to the learning of a Beatles Song, and then the thread that connects those simple acts to today. This was a small but significant legacy. 

 

I highlight the concept of legacy since Isaac had no wife and no children. Like they say in the hit broadway show Hamilton, WHO LIVES? WHO DIES? WHO TELLS YOUR STORY?  And so who will tell Isaac’s story? I found the lyric from this song one of the very basic tenets as I perceive them, from Judaism. Every year, it is written in the book of life who will live and who will die. In our prayers, on every Shabbat service, we remember the loved ones that we have lost. This ritual, a way in which we must not forget those that have left us, the bringing up of their memory in of itself, is a way in which we tell their stories. Today I tell you Isaac’s story, but I hope that you will too. In some way, either in the remembering of him, speaking of him to others, speaking of him to my brothers, Victor and Albert, speaking of him to my mother, Rosine. Not just today, but in the coming days, weeks, months and years to come.

 

It is my request to all of you, to remember this. To those of you who are seated here today, the very few that have come today, but also to share this with the ones that could not be here and your own extended families.

 

About Isaac’s Mitzvot - Isaac was a person that, without any hesitation, would come and help you if you called upon him. Isaac, I know it’s 3 in the morning, and I am sorry to call so late, but my car is stuck, I have to get somewhere, Issac I need someone to please adopt my dog, I can no longer keep him…Isaac, mom needs groceries, Isaac, please pick up these things for Ema, Isaac, please help with the dishes, Isaac please help me, help a friend, move their apartment, you do not know them, my friend, you never met them, but I need assistance. 

 

His six word response, so deliberate and grounded, was always exactly the same: OK - I WILL BE RIGHT THERE.

 

These last two days I have spoken to many family members, some close some distant. The overwhelming response, an abundance of love and sympathy for him, for my family, for my mother, and the words repeated over and over - “I can’t imagine….your mother…..I can’t imagine”

 

But also, the coupled overwhelming response was, I did not know him well or I did not know him at all. These calls, these conversations made it so clear to me, Isaac has been alone for many many years. 

 

It would be disingenuous for me to speak of all the good things here today, without bringing up this simple truth. I believe without darkness, we cannot have light. Without pain and suffering, we cannot have joy. So in this eulogy, the standard eulogy that I spoke of, I must also speak Isaac and my family’s suffering.

 

I ask you here today, in order to give hope to my brothers and to my mother, that you listen with open ears and an open heart. No one likes to speak of suffering. We pass our whole lives living next to our own neighbor of whose challenges and suffering we do not ever know.

 

We live our whole lives, as cousins, as aunts, as sisters and brothers, as relatives, without knowing the suffering of the other. We expect, in our own suffering that others should automatically know. But it’s become abundantly clear to me over the years and in these last few days, that unless we share this with each other, not just the suffering, but also our blessings, that the people outside of our immediate and extended families, will never know. And if we do not know, if we don’t have this information, close cousin, close neice, or distant, how can we reach out to you to tell you? 

 

How can we as Jews, offer the Mitzvah of calling someone in their time of need, if we do not know they are in need. I offer to you, to please call me. Call me personally, on my cell phone any time of day. To share your difficulty. I pledge to hear you, be there for you. I want this for you. My brothers Albert and Victor are very compassionate people. Despite their difficulties, I promise you, if you call them, they too will hear, with open hearts, your pain.

 

All of us in this room - every mother, every father, every sibling has suffered in some way. Bad things happen, this is a fact of life. When bad things happen, people tend to keep it to themselves. This was not more true than it was for my mother. My mother, the most private person I know, and perhaps the most stubbornly proud, would never, ever speak of this suffering. 

 

In these last two days, my mother has refused to believe that her son Isaac is dead. In her refusal to believe that her son is gone, I have seen the truth of this clearer than I ever have before. I

 

I used to blame her for not telling, not sharing. Ema, call someone. We have family. Tell them what our family is going through, tell them THE TRUTH.

 

So what is this truth? The truth is that there is a sickness that has so much stigma attached to it, so much misunderstanding, not just for you and our communities, but for the whole medical community, it is the hardest sickness to speak of. 

 

So when I speak of my brother’s suffering and the suffering of my family, I must say these words, clearly and plainly. MENTAL ILLNESS. This disease has taken my family. This disease took my brother. This disease did not appear in the last couple of years. It has been here for decades. 

 

My mother, unable to speak of this has made her apart, It has kept her alone. It has kept her completely alienated. This is the reason why you do not truly know her. Very few people did. 

 

I realized that, my mother, in her inability to accept that Isaac, her son, can die, this denial, a natural part of our mourning process, is what I have now come to see, being a mother myself as the most profound kind of love a mother has for a child. My mother’s perception of him, in his living years. is he was strong, he was handsome and he suddenly died. This is not her way to intentionally keep information from you, it the way she truly sees her son. 

 

The way only a mother could….in his best light. Her eyes - the windows to my mother’s soul, her Neshama, refused to see what was plainly before her. It is not, as I thought because of her stubbornness, her naiveté, or her pride. It is because of the size of this love was so big, it would take the arms of everyone in this room and then multiply this by a million to attempt to reach the size of it.

 

She extends this love to Victor, she extends this love to Albert and to me. She has devoted her life to the caring of her children. Nothing else. Her days and nights, filled with caring for others. Victor, my brother who has lived with her the longest has also acted in the most righteous way, not just for a week, or month, or weekend visit. But for decades. In her caring for him, and him caring for her, this reciprocal partnership of undying love is what I hope will also be part of Isaac’s legacy, part of his story, in order that your families and you here today can take from this a feeling of power and goodness. 

 

That you may be empowered to love in this way as I know you have the capacity to do. Isaac would have wanted this. In Isaac’s name, the biggest honor we can give him is to take this lesson with you. The caring of others. This ultimate mitzvah, the caring of others and then caring for others without the expectation of reciprocation. Take this with you today as you pass people on the street, as you help an elderly person, when you decide to pick up the phone to call someone, a friend, a relative, a neighbor to say How are you, I have been thinking of you, without the expectation of reciprocation. When you do that, you will be honoring my brother’s name, his memory, his legacy.

 

You will notice that amongst the photos we have chosen to share with you today, the majority of them were from his childhood in Israel. This was perhaps his happiest time. I was not there. I was born here. I was not there, but if you look at those pictures, there is a hope there of three brothers, connected so deeply, it is evident.

 

I ask you today, as we say goodbye to Isaac, I request of you to please help my family. It is a simple request. Today, on your iPhone, on your calendar, in your mind, please make a note to call my mother. If each of you call her just once in the next year, Hello Rosine, How are you, I have been thinking of you - she will be filled with a sense of community. A pleasure that has greatly eluded her for most of her life.

 

Isaac would have wanted this.

 

My dear Isaac, I am sorry. My dear Isaac, we love you with all of our hearts. Dear Isaac, thank you for strumming those strings for me. Please rest now. Please rest.

 

Comments

Get The Word Out