MEMORIAL TO MAX BERKOVITZ from Ed Young-12/7/07
I have known Max for about 10 years (a relatively "short-time " friend). We were in Brandeis study groups together and socialized with our wives. Ruth and I always really enjoyed our times with Max and Marion.
When we saw one another, there was a simpatico, a close feeling, an empathetic understanding. We talked about education, politics, travel, earlier experiences in our lives, sports, ongoing aggravation with the computer, family and how we were getting along at our age.
Whenever we met, it was the same routine. He gave a strong-a very strong -handshake (I imagined what a tennis racket felt like at the end of his arm ready to move into a forehand stroke). Quietly, he let you know his presence. This was followed by a look and a wry smile with a twinkle in his eyes and then -a question, "So--what's new?"
I knew Max as a warm, gentle man -- always with a smile and very positive attitude. He was a curious, thoughtful person and always interested in new ideas and in reworking the old ones. He expressed his ideas and his feelings about things so well and often came up with clever sayings or comments in English and Yiddish (which I didn't understand)-but my wife, Ruth, and Max enjoyed speaking Yiddish together)-so it wasn't a waste. With Max, if he liked you he said so - straight out.
Max was a teacher and he loved what he did. As a former educator, I would have really enjoyed having Max as a colleague and as an administrator, would been happy to have our college students "experience him". I learned much from him when we spoke of his philosophy and his beliefs about how to make teaching meaningful. I wish I had him for my Senior English teacher! (Then perhaps I would have been able to pass the Subject A exam and been able to enroll in a regular Freshmen English class)
Max's quietness belied his intellectual and teaching activism.
Max's attitude about teaching was so important. To him words were like bright shining jewels.
He often said. "I don't teach students, I teach people.
"I don't teach subject matter, I teach comprehension and
Max was a great humanistic educator. He truly believed 1) that all students can learn, 2) that the relationship between the student and teacher makes a difference in student learning, 3) that if the student is not achieving, then the teacher has to find a way to reach the student (he didn't "blame" the student) and 4) that learning to use language to communicate is vital to the kind of life you live---for without communication, we would be, as he said, "lonely people in separate capsules drifting ignorantly through unknown space."
Max was a firm believer in the idea that "it is better to light one candle than to curse the dark"
It was difficult for me to see this alert, thoughtful, mentally sharp and alive man who enjoyed playing tennis, having difficulty with remembering, understanding, and keeping his balance.
I'm sure that it was even more difficult for him-- as he was aware of what was happening to him-- when he asked me "who is that person" or "what were they talking about" or as he reached uneasily for his cane. But he still had some of his twinkle, his smile, his ever-present strong handshake, and he could still kibbutz using Yiddish phrases and comment on the sad state of education. He loved to talk about teaching and the students he had known-and some who still kept in touch with him.
Max was a real mentch.
I would like to close with a poem that Max wrote, about a grandmother that he never knew, that expresses his humanity, his feeling, and the often forgotten importance of relationships. It is called--
All are asleep when I return
But I do not feel alone.
The kitchen is a quiet welcome, a chapel lit
By the glass encased memorial candle
For a grandmother I had never seen.
My father's words, her only photograph,
(said) "Suffered much. Always gentle."
The glass is almost empty now,
Flashing wild hunger for tallow.
To neutral walls,
I sit and watch. Finally,
Resignation, a tiny flame.
The last weak flicker
Fades to a thin smoke wisp,
Around my fingers
As I reach for arms
That never held me."
Max, we can't "reach you" now, but you will be sadly missed, yet lovingly remembered.