This holiday, Pesach, is a mixture of emotion & symbolism like no other. It captures a range of human experience leading the rabbis to tell a story that captures the essence of this. When the first of the 10 Plagues is called it is not Moses, but his brother Aaron who is charged with the task of striking the waters of the Nile to turn it to blood. It is a bewildering move – Moses is the one who is to be seen as the agent of God. Moses is the one who is called to the burning bush, sent back to Egypt to free the people, it is Moses who is sent to stand before Pharaoh & deliver the divine message of freedom. So why would not Moses be the one to set in motion the 1st plague? - Something that he would end up doing for all the others.
And the Rabbis answer that God would not permit Moses to strike the water of the Nile because those very same waters saved his life when he was a baby in a floating basket that was taken to Pharaoh’s daughter. And as an act of love he would not be permitted to bring death through it. So the idea that Pesach is a story of love makes sense, but so too then Pesach is a story of death. It is a story of slavery, plagues, infanticide, a story of liberation that also marks the deaths of the Egyptians & the lost Israelites who perished during that horrible & painful time in our history. And maybe that is why of all the Jewish holidays Pesach stands out as unique – because it is so much like our own story - a powerful mix of love and death – of having & losing.
Today we have gathered in the midst of the festival of Pesach, to tell of love & death, of having & losing. We tell the story of our beloved Ira Fritz. In a way, a eulogy is a Haggadah, a retelling of the life story of the deceased. We do so with sorrow that it has ended, but with a feeling of gratitude that Ira’s life was long & filled with countless deeds of goodness that continue to function for good in our lives.
Ira Fritz was born in the Old Country – Brooklyn - but grew up in San Jose, CA with his brother Abner. He was the son of William & Minnie. Ira’ father was a dentist, but because they didn’t have state license reciprocity in those days, his father supported the family by working in a relative’s furniture store, while he went back to dentistry school. Ira’s father passed away not long after becoming re-licensed as a dentist.
During those years William showed his sons the importance of Jewish life by helping found the 1st Conservative synagogue in San Jose – Congregation Sinai. Ira took enormous pride in his father’s accomplishment. Congregation Sinai played the equivalent role to the contemporary “Saw You at Sinai” dating & matchmaking site. While he & his brother Abner were saying Kaddish for their father in 1961, they met a woman named Rose who was also saying Kaddish for her husband Norman. Rose was originally from Winnipeg, Canada. One day her relative Siv was visiting. Rose introduced her to Abner and not long after they were married in Winnipeg.
Siv’s oldest brother had 3 daughters, the middle one was Evelyn. Ira was set up with Evelyn for the wedding so he wouldn’t be alone. After a world-wind week of dating Ira returned to University of California Davis to finish up his PhD in nutrition & biology & Evelyn returned to Edmonton to finish up her studies to become a Medical Technician.
Ira & Evelyn maintained their relationship thru a vigorous correspondence by phone & mail, & occasional visits. During these conversations, Ira would tell Evelyn what they were going to do when they were married. However, Ira forgot to do 1 important thing, to actually propose to Evelyn. Despite the lack of a formal proposal or an engagement ring, they were married during the balmy days of January in Edmonton, Canada. Though Evelyn assures me it was above freezing that Jan. 28th, 1962 she still needed to wear winter boots & a coat over her wedding dress. Despite the coldness of that wedding day their love always remained warm during their Triple-Chai or 54 years together.
The newly married couple returned to UC-Davis as Ira continued his graduate studies. Ira was bit of a procrastinator, & so it was taking a while to write his doctoral dissertation. So Evelyn pushed him to finish, even having him dictate to her. After 2 years of research & writing Ira received his PhD, while Evelyn earned a ‘PhT’- ‘Putting her husband through.’
They soon moved to Philadelphia where Ira had received a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. This move was strongly supported by Evelyn who had a sister there. It was in Philly that they were blessed with first child –their daughter Cheryl.
As Ira was finishing his fellowship in 1968 he interviewed for a faculty position at a new university opening in Dayton – Wright State. When they visited there, only one building had been completed. Ira like the idea of starting a program from the ground up and Evelyn liked the fact that she would again be close to her sister who had moved to Cincinnati with her husband. With a 1 ½-year-old toddler in tow they moved to the Woodman Pk. Apartments near Wright State. In 1968 they were blessed with their 2nd child – their son Will.
Ira & Evelyn, as they settled into Dayton, checked out the Jewish community. When they went to the previous JCC, they were told that you can’t be Jewish if you don’t live in N. Dayton. Wanting to be close to the university, they ignored their advice & did the unthinkable – had a house built in Beavercreek near Wright State. They were also near Wright-Patt, so many of their neighbors were in the military. It was the height of the Vietnam War, & thus Ira & Evelyn watched as many of their friends & neighbors went off to war.
Ira, whose father helped found a Conservative synagogue, quickly began a relationship with Beth Abraham. Since they were in the Jewish boonies of S. Dayton, Ira took it upon himself to visit the kids’ schools around Jewish holidays to help explain them to the students & teachers. They also got involved with the Jewish community at Wright-Patt. At that time the Airforce base had a full-time Jewish chaplain & regular Shabbat & Holiday services. In fact, they became so close to that rabbi that years later he officiated at Cheryl’s wedding. Will also celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Wright-Patt, officiated by the now prolific Jewish author R. Rami Shapiro.
During these years, Ira also continued to help build up Wright -State University. In 1974, Wright-State was in the process of building up its fledgling medical school. So Ira was tasked with visiting different medical school campuses. He made it into a 6-week family road trip. Ira got a full size Dodge van. Being handy, he built a small deck with two beds in back of the van for him & Evelyn, while the kids slept on bench seats. To keep Cheryl, then 9 & Will 6 from complaining too much while they traveled, Ira made up dinosaur stories. After 1 particularly tough day, Ira told them about the triceratops siblings who never stopped fighting with each other.
During this trip they visited different medical schools in various cities. The place everyone remembered best was Kansas City, because the city had a record heat wave, reaching 1210. It was so hot that when the kids got of the pool their swimsuits were completely air dried within minutes. The last part of trip was a bit cooler as they headed to Canada to visit family.
This last part of the trip was likely the favorite part for Ira. Ira loved the mountains. He always got a thrill looking at the Canadian Rockies. Though Evelyn didn’t do much highway driving, when they were passing through the Rockies, Evelyn took the wheel.
Ira enjoyed the outdoors in another way, he loved fishing. Will remembers fishing with his dad at Lake Maligne in the Canadian Rocky region. They would catch trout & the local lodge would prepare the fish for them to eat. Ira didn’t just fish up in Canada; he was a long-time member of the Rod & Reel Fishing club in Dayton. Ira liked to take his grandsons Max & Sam on the lake fishing. As Max & Sam got older they would fish & have philosophical discussions often about the relationship between science & religion – 2 areas close to Ira’s heart.
Closest to Ira’s heart, throughout his life, was family. Being a professor provided Ira with a flexible schedule. Thus, Ira was able to take Will & Cheryl places and be part of their various activities. Ira liked to have fun with his kids. Growing up, the kids had Alaskan huskies. They picked these large dogs because Evelyn did not want any animals in the house, & these dogs could comfortably sleep outside. One time Ira hitched up the dog to a neighbor’s sled, & Cheryl & Will rode around like they were riding a Dog Sled thru Alaska. Once they moved to Centerville in 1979, there would be no more large dogs like these.
What made Ira such a wonderful father (& later grandfather) was that he gave unconditional love. He & Evelyn always supported Will & Cheryl in their endeavors. Will, in particular, looked to his dad for advice & assistance. When Will was a student at Ohio State, he frequently sent his class papers home before submitting them to his teachers. Ira used his professorial eye to edit these papers. Which always helped raise Will’s grade, as Will learned the hard way when he submitted a paper before having his dad review it.
As a senior in high school, Cheryl took a biology class at Wright-State. The first-half was taught by one professor, and the second half by her dad. Cheryl didn’t want any- one to know she was a high school student nor the daughter of the professor. Ira kept her confidence thru out the semester. When she turned in her final exam, Ira could not help giving her a surreptitious wink & she silently mouthed back “bye Dad.”
Ira, indirectly, also changed the professional direction of Cheryl’s life. Wright-State developed a faculty exchange with a university in Japan & one year Ira was selected to spend 3 months teaching there. At the time Cheryl was 19, a student at Ohio State University. She took off a semester so she could experience Japan. Will, 16, decided to return to Centerville so he would not lose any ground in school. Cheryl spent the next 3 months teaching English to children & adults. She liked it so much that when Cheryl returned to Ohio State, she decided to become a teacher. Will, himself, picked up the teaching bug from his dad, becoming a trainer with the Sony Corporation.
One of the most memorable experiences Will had with his dad happened in 2008. Will & Ira traveled together to Australia & New Zealand. This was partially to fulfill Ira’s dream to visit every continent. Ira did not make it to Africa or Antarctica, but he did get to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef on this trip.
Ira was not only a wonderful father but also a loving & devoted husband. Evelyn & Ira just enjoyed each other’s company. They did their share of travel & other leisure activities, but over time they were comfortable just being homebodies as long as they were with each other. Ira’s devotion to Evelyn was most evident when Evelyn was diagnosed with cancer. Ira did everything in his power to support & assist Evelyn as she went through treatment here & in Cleveland, despite his own health problems.
The last 5 years were difficult health wise for Ira. Ira’s family on his father’s side had a history with heart disease. Many of the men died in their 60s & his brother at 70. Being a nutritionist, Ira was able to extend his life until 80. When Ira turned 80, Cheryl was turning 50. So they held a 130 year-old party, showing together that they were able to surpass mei’ah v’esrim, 120 yrs. that Moses lived.
Evelyn said that Passover was her favorite holiday, but now it will be broken like the Middle Matzah because of the loss of her beloved Ira during this season.
Let us not forget that the Afikoman is the larger part of the broken the matzah. This symbolizes the rich store of memories through which we can continue to savor an intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate, sometimes stubborn, but always caring & supportive mensch.
In the Passover story we learned that as much as God found our ancestors, we found God too. Because while they had no idea where they were going to when they left Egypt they also knew they weren’t alone. With them were the memories of love & death, of all they had loved & lost. All those they refused to let go of. They were with them too as they are with us. Ira’s life has given us memories that forever are a blessing….
Those memories we have of Ira Fritz will continue on thru his wife Evelyn, his daughter Cheryl, his-son-law Jay, & his son Will. His grandchildren: Max, Sam & Mindy; his nieces, nephews, & cousins; Evelyn’s sisters & brother-in-law, his many students & friends, & all who were privileged to know him.
God is with us, whenever and wherever needed. May God comfort us and all who are in mourning. Zikhrono livrakha. May Ira Fritz’s memory be a blessing to all of us, and let us say: Amen.