Elliott and Judith are the second and third of the three friends we’ve lost so far to the Coronavirus. They passed away in Atlanta last Wednesday within minutes of one another; statistically, just two more of the 155,000 other Americans lost to the pandemic in the past 150 days. Just two more…
Sudden and unanticipated tragedy focuses the mind like nothing else. Their loss to Coronavirus has shaken us to the core, just as the loss of so many tens of thousands has shaken so many other millions of Americans to their core. Elliott and Judith leave a void that, for many of us, will simply linger, but never quite go away. They, each in their own way, were simply that special.
When they first met, Judith was still a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Elliott a recent graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. They shared a remarkable common interest that drew them together—justice.
What, to them, was the right thing to do invariably became the only thing to do. Just as True North is always the geodetic North, that one spot on earth that never changes, as compared to the magnetic north that constantly wobbles and waivers, their sense of right, of justice, was their constant bearing, their True North. Spending time talking with Elliott and Judith about complicated social issues was always a clarifying experience. Complications and conflicting points of view aside, you always knew what Elliott and Judith believed was right.
Elliott and I generally met once a month, just to talk. We would meet for either breakfast or lunch and just discuss one issue or another…for hours. Those conversations never ended because we ran out of points-of-view to share. They invariably drew to a close in an empty dining room with a waiter or waitress politely, but somewhat urgently, letting us know they had to begin setting the room for the next meal service. Politics, civil rights, religion, the state of our democracy, America’s foundational need for Justice—not just justice for all, but justice above all. These were the subjects that dominated every meal we shared.
Politically, Elliott was invariably attracted to a party’s commitment to justice, and if justice resided more with one party at a given point in time, that is where his attention quickly gravitated. Loyalty to a political party might sometimes demand too much; but loyalty to justice and fair play, never.
Their love for one another was the stuff of novels and movies. A cruel intruder challenged the strength of that love. Its name was Cancer. Judith, a beautiful young woman in the prime of life was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for Cancer. Words often fail us when illness clouds the future and uncertainty weighs heavily on the mind. Not Elliott, though. He loved Judith as much, maybe more, after her battle with Cancer as he did before her struggle, so he asked her to marry him so they could spend the rest of their lives together. And so, they did for the next six decades.
Knowledge, learning more about what had long interested him, and about entirely new subjects and perspectives to contemplate was, to Elliott, the highest coin of the realm. He never stopped acquiring knowledge. His pursuit of new information and of an enhanced understanding of old information was perpetual. And he loved sharing his insight, and for years he led formal discussions with contemporaries where conflicting views could be elucidated, contemporized and contribute to group knowledge, and sometimes even to the amelioration of conflicting views.
Elliott and Judith were passionate about the plight of the Jewish People who were trapped in nations hostile to their presence and whose treatment of the Jews was corrupted by ancient prejudices and irrational and unfounded hostility. Elliott traveled the world for the legendary Joint Distribution Committee and The Joint’s work to assist Jews wherever their help was needed. Judith traveled to the former Soviet Union decades ago to meet with, and help Refuseniks, the Jews who the Soviets would not allow to emigrate. And when, largely through the determined effort of the late Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, the Soviets finally relented, Judith flew off to Ladispoli Italy, a small seaside town not far from Rome, where many emigrating Russian Jews were encamped while awaiting approval to continue on to the United States. She went to teach them English and about life in America.
Elliott was a founding partner of a quite successful Atlanta law firm. He wrote to the attorneys of the firm that it was his intention to create a firm which would lack pomposity and arrogance, which would be devoid of internal politics…and a firm whose attorneys would put back into the community, through civic or charitable pursuits, some of the success which they would enjoy.
Elliott and Judith lived a life of “giving back.” Their life was not always easy. They, like all of us, had their struggles and faced more than their share of tragedy. They overcame life’s struggles and tragedies only to fall to the Coronavirus. They were among the most recent just two more. Their lives ended as their romance began; holding hands.