Monday, February 8, 2016

Eulogy for Richard Da Costa

Oct. 14, 1953 - Dec. 18, 2015
Elder of Kehillat Eytz Chaim/ Tree of Life Congregation, Toronto
Former President, Messianic Jewish Alliance of Canada

Given by Ben Volman, December 23, 2015

In the many years that Richard and I worked on the High Holy Day services, we never found the right time or moment to include a beautiful little prayer called Ahavat Olam, but I’m going to say a bit of it now, because it says in ancient words the way that Richard often made me feel about the faith we shared: 

You have loved Israel, your people, with everlasting love. You have taught us Torah and precepts….  Therefore, Lord our God, when we lie down and when we rise up, we will meditate on Your truth for all time and take joy in the Scriptures because they are our life and the length of our days. …Baruch ata Adonai oh-hehv ah-moh Yisrael.  Blessed are you, O Lord, who loves Israel your people.

With all his heart and all his passion for God, Richard loved Israel and the God of Israel who sent the Messiah who changed his life.  No words could more powerfully sum up this faith at the core of his being.  It motivated him to move from humble beginnings and live with a life of determined action. It transformed an honest, unpretentious hard-working young man into a community and national leader, a spiritual elder and a person of conviction. Richard had the strength of will to do what few can say they’ve done: he lived what he believed.

The young man I met over 35 years ago was an immigrant from Trinidad, raised in Port of Spain and in the same trade as my father—a metal worker.  He’d come to faith not that long before when we stood in the centre aisle of the hotel room where Cong’n Melech Yisrael was meeting—maybe 50 or 60 people on an Erev Shabbat evening—and I could see his eyes were shining.  He loved being in this setting where Jewish people were finding the authentic identity of Yeshua. 

You didn’t have to look too hard to sense this man’s qualities of kindness, compassion, empathy and openness.  And as the years went by, no matter what challenges, tsuris, struggles or burdens came along, he never lost his grip on the values that shaped his life.  Leadership is a lot of long nights working alone; a lot of complaints, irritations, and frustrating phone calls—and then just pressing on with a smile.

Over the years, I watched Richard pull himself up by the bootstraps as he pushed himself to acquire more sophistication, new skills, and eventually to run his own businesses.

As he grew in his commitment, he found in his wife, Janice, a life partner to share the vision of making the Messiah fully accessible to Jewish people in authentically Jewish ways. He grew in his love and respect for Israel, becoming accomplished in his knowledge of liturgy and admirably familiar with all aspects and even the nuances of the synagogue service.

He grew as a leader for the local and national Canadian Messianic community—and I have received tributes from across North America including the former and current national directors of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of Canada, the Executive Director the UMJC and the head of the Union of Messianic Believers.

But nothing mattered to him more than family—the importance of providing for them and being there for his sons Zachary and Ari.  And when his large, extended family gathered, I’ve been told that it was Richard who spoke up and took the lead when they shared celebrations together. We saw the same spirit in our own congregation when he brought leaders together, blessing us with the gift of hospitality and a heart for unity.

His life, his ministry, and his character honoured his mother Ina, and father, Conrad. He had eleven brothers and sisters:  Gordon (now in Calgary), Patricia, Trevor (who passed away in 1998), Jennifer, Barbara (now in Montreal), Anthony (in Australia), Brian, Maria, Rosanne, Catherine, and Suzanne.  A number of them followed him into the Messianic movement and they too became a heartfelt blessing to Israel and Jewish people. Richard was, as he would say, pointing to others, “a person worthy of honour.”

This man had been a leader for many years when we approached him to take up a new role with us at Kehillat Eytz Chaim/Tree of Life.  He didn’t hide his places of brokenness. He didn’t mince words when he shared past hurts and disappointments. But he laid all these aside to build a community that reflected his values, the qualities that made him trustworthy, faithful, committed to the Scriptures and drew others to a love for Israel that was rooted in what Yeshua is doing in our lives.  He didn’t just believe in heaven, he knew where he was going and wanted that reality to permeate his life.

He rejoiced when he saw people live out their calling. Richard took joy in praying with those in need, standing with those who were hurting, encouraging those who felt alone, and growing in grace with brothers and sisters who loved him and valued his friendship.  He knew that if we stand, it’s only because we have followed in the footsteps of believers who embodied integrity and selflessly carried the weight of their calling before us.

I’m going to miss you, Richard, my friend, but I’m not going to lose sight of that determined, irrepressible, indomitable spirit that empowered you to live as Yeshua led you and us together.  You’ve gone ahead to join the great chorus of witnesses, those who know the reality we see only as through a clouded glass dimly.  But we know that you have already met the Master face to face and heard, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The family has requested that financial gifts be directed to "The To Help Ari Fund." For more details contact the blogger.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Writing that book...Part 2

After an extensive period of interviews with Elaine Markovic in the spring and summer of 2008, she became severely ill--her battle with cancer had resumed. In the fall, I had briefly shown her a selection of the manuscript, which she found unsatisfactory, but we looked forward to more meetings. It never happened. We only spoke once more on the phone;  she passed away just a few days after her birthday in early May of 2009.

In the aftermath, speaking with her daughters, we began to talk about another book emerging from our initial vision. In the closing months of 2009, I began to realize the scale of my new task—an extensive book on the full story of the Zeidman family.  I studied one of my favourite authors, Pierre Berton, a master of the history genre—he gives useful insight about his transition from a popular journalist into a highly regarded author.  Following his advice, I could see there was much more work to be done—researching, interviews, many more leads to follow.  

My plan was to dedicate myself to the task in 2010.  In the first week, the national director of my mission (Chosen People Mins. Canada) told the senior staff that he was leaving to accept a local pastorate.  Then, during the next few busy months, I saw my father’s health, which had been stable after a series of major operations from cancer, begin to decline.   

The mission situation had also become critical—and I accepted the position of interim national director.  Did I mention that the mission was in the midst of a major building renovation?  A few months later, my father passed away. I was his executor.  The mission’s half-finished building also needed our immediate attention.  The book was on hold. 

Late in 2010 and into the next year, I tried putting the pieces together.  There were sensitivities in the Zeidman family, too, but over 2011, whenever possible, I immersed myself in research and expanded the outline.  Elaine’s daughters were invaluable at this stage—and, within the next six months, I developed three or more directions for the project, writing new versions of the opening chapter and getting a stronger feel for areas where I needed more material, such as Alex Zeidman’s life and ministry.  I also got hold of the Board minutes (1941-1981) and began studying them. 

I felt as if I’d made some progress, but in fact, I was getting stuck—writing and rewriting the opening chapters. I was trying to figure out how to write this book—what should it sound like?  Elaine's disapproval remained stuck in my head.  I even read some of her favourite literature to get a feel for the voice she had expected. Some friends offered me their home in Picton while they were in Florida.  I spent two weeks trying to write. I came up empty.  Nothing written. No progress.  I went to seminars on writing; got some advice from an experienced agent. Still, I was barely making headway.

Finally, I approached my friend, Krysia Lear, an experienced professional editor who is based in Guelph. She took me on as a client and did an extensive critique of the material I sent her.  When I got her notes, it took months to accept what she had written. I’d assumed she would just tell me that I was on the right track and keep going.  But she didn’t. 

During 2012, we began meeting and reshaping my vision—fine-tuning the approach and addressing the gaps Krysia had identified—she could see the whole narrative forest and not just the story line in the trees.  Then, early in 2013, I was contacted by the Scott's CEO, Peter Duraisami. The board wanted to know the state of things. After some discussion, they agreed to support my efforts, but I wouldn't be paid until the book was completed. I couldn't afford to keep Krysia on board.

Once again, I tried to propel things forward without making progress.  Something had to be done. Over the next few months, I began to see the solution—a sabbatical from my pastoral duties with a focus on writing and editing. With the permission of my congregation, Kehillat Eytz Chaim, and the board of my mission, I was able to begin writing full-time during the last two months of 2013.  By early 2014, I had 100 pages—not every chapter in order, but a skeleton framework so that I could fill in all the missing pieces. I showed this to Elaine's daughters and got the approval to go on.

There was still more research—and exhaustive fact checking—last interviews. Over the next eight months, while I was back to working full-time for my own mission, the rest got written and editing began in earnest.  (I admit, some days I was tempted to give up.) My wife’s reading and re-reading of the manuscript went on during all this time as I wrote new chapters and revised the text. No words can describe her incredible dedication, because good writing always means rewriting.

Here's an example of the frustrations I faced. The phrase, "The Miracle on Spadina," had come from a Toronto Star article, according to Alex. No copy of the article or its date could be found in the Scott Mission archives.  My best guess was a publication date sometime between 1960 and 1964.  I only knew that it had appeared "before Christmas."  The best tool for finding it was on the Star's historical site online. But if you put the word "Miracle" into the advanced search program, guess what will come up?  Every pre-Christmas TV screening of "Miracle on 34th Street."  (After the 1960s, I restarted in 1954.)  Days of searching finally located the article on December 20, 1958.  

At one point, I went back to the selection that Elaine had looked over and critiqued by hand with a red pen. I inserted all her corrections and it fit perfectly into the longer text. At that moment, I realized what a different experience we might have shared.

As the project wound down, members of the Zeidman family checked every word—requested changes and finally gave their approval.  Peter, the CEO, and the chairman of the Scott Mission Board, Joe Nemni, read it over and agreed that this was what they wanted (though I couldn't fulfill Joe's request--totally in jest--for a chapter on him.) We began meeting with Larry Willard of Castle Quay Books, who had agreed to be the publisher. Larry, with his wife Dr. Marina  Hofman Willard acting as editor, took the project in hand. Their design team delivered a great cover and a professional looking format.  

Peter sent a letter of request for a foreword to The Hon. David Onley. The former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, known for his personal warmth and candor, wrote a thoughtful piece rooted in his deep, genuine faith.  

There was some discussion about the title until it was narrowed down to the final form. Yes, it would have been easier to call it, “The Miracle on Spadina.”  But in truth, looking back, the miracle of getting the book together was much larger than any of us who took part could imagine.