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After The Shloshim: Who Was Dr. Ivan Mauer?


I have always fashioned myself a wordsmith. No longer.

Dr. Ivan Mauer was Naomi Mauer’s husband and Mrs. Irene Klass’s son-in-law, and both Irene and Dr. Ivan died virtually simultaneously. And I must confess: Ivan was not only my good friend and our family doctor, but also a congregant who respected me and loved me – and consistently squabbled with me.

Yet I could not find a single word in the entire thesaurus that would suit him.

Dr. Ivan was uniquely unique. He was uncommonly sensitive, and would be sorely disappointed if I were to exaggerate any of his superb qualities or if I concocted distortions that would make him anything other than whom he was.

As a physician, he was an intuitive diagnostician. He tended to all people as though they were his own family; he was patient with patients (but not with fools!), arriving at the doorstep without being summoned and without being intrusive. He was tenaciously longsuffering with every patient – not as a paying guest but a praying one. “Just be well.”

He was always compassionate – but was not everybody’s companion; he rarely agreed with the politics of the majority, especially not on the State of Israel.

He was self-sacrificial, but extraordinarily stubborn. For example, he was adamant that I invite Rabbi Meir Kahane, a”h, to speak from my pulpit at Beth Jacob congregation. But though the rabbi and I were friends, I weighed the proposition – and it weighed heavily on my mind. I simply had to refuse. Any other balabus would have reacted with fury. Not Ivan – he was at the edge of hysteria, even though Rabbi Kahane knew the Jewish Federation had just that week finally granted millions for yeshivot. Dr. Ivan enfolded me, and then admonished me: hugged and bugged. And that was our relationship – hugged and bugged.

Now, what dictionary could suggest a fitting word for that quality of friendship?

On my first Rosh Hashanah, during Mussaf, Ivan decided to wind his way through a throng of balabatim up to the pulpit and – with unbelievable sincerity – urged me to announce the ballgame scores – so that people would not feel anxious on Rosh Hashanah! Naturally, I did not follow this advice either. He said, “I love you.” He wrapped his arms tightly around me as was his custom: “I deeply respect you. But you’re dead wrong!”

Truthfully, he was hard to handle, but – well, you just cannot effortlessly compress such a personality into a single adjective.

He was empathetic – unbelievably so. I’ll never forget one episode. One of the gabba’im, Lazear Israel, was an idiosyncratic loner – not good-looking, not well dressed, and not sociable, even as he was affable. Ivan fortified him with so much personal strength when he was truly vulnerable, that he was able to survive with self-assurance. Until…

One night, Ivan called frantically: Lazear was desperately ill. He was a severe diabetic and so couldn’t feel any sensation of personal discomfort when he soaked his leg in the scalding bath. The affliction itself could be survived, but unquestionably the leg needed to be amputated. But Lazear would have none of this, even though he was assured that a prosthetic device could be attached.

Ivan called frantically and we rushed to Lazear’s bedside, to convince him to live. His surgeon assured us that without the amputation he would die – soon. Lazear shrieked: “Lazear Israel with one leg is not Lazear Israel!” Ivan and I instinctively acted out the “good cop, bad cop” routine – Ivan hugged him, while I intimidated him with the ruling of halacha. But Lazear was not to be swayed. He died in Ivan’s embrace.

Can I describe Ivan in one word, or a whole thesaurus of words?

I must bring Ivan closer. He was more than close. He was as loyal as he was affectionate. Some years after our family moved to California, our daughter, Judith, aleha ha’shalom, contracted lymphoma at age 17 while she was learning in Israel. (It may be inappropriate to note this here, but I do this only to give you a quick glimpse of Ivan Mauer, a genuine mentsch in action.)

Judith was a remarkable child, wife, and mother who was assured by a handful of doctors that she might live a bit longer but she would never have children. She lived to age 50. With her husband, Yitzchok, she mothered seven striking, frum, learned, Israel-drenched children. Ivan gave her miraculous courage, because he cared enough to understand her. Judith said simply: “Mom, Hashem, and Ivan.”

Ivan lost his young wife, Gail (who was even more zealous than he on Israel). They raised sweet, intelligent and respectful children: Greg, Brian, Wendy, Tzvi, Debra, and Michal. Some time after her death he was fortunate enough to marry Naomi – a lady who herself cannot be described in single words – whose legendary and hidden chesed and whose devotion to Ivan and to all their children is simply indescribable.

Naomi and her sister Hindy – themselves devoted children to distinguished and learned parents, Rabbi Sholom and Irene Klass – and Jerry Greenwald, Ivan’s close friend and brother-in-law, were all touched by the chord of Ivan’s sincere gutzkeit.

I cannot conclude without highlighting Ivan’s zeal. His love and his loyalty, his devotion and his boundless passion, coupled with his cerebral background, made him who he was. This meant the right wing in Israel was right but not right enough; the shul he loved was incomparable but needed to grow even greater. I recall the virtual hysteria he exhibited when I did not agree with him. He must have spent days contriving to change my position. He drove me to drink after one board meeting! I can picture his wry smile when he felt victorious. He took a deep pleasure in tangling with his rabbi, whom he always hugged – hugged and bugged.

Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, is a complex, profound megillah written by King Solomon, son of King David. He was considered the wisest of all men. But one of his observations borders on the bizarre: “Tovim ha’shnayim min ha’echad“- “Two are better than one,” which is the stuff of rabbis’ homilies to the bride and groom under the chuppah – two are better than one. But do we really need the smartest of men to tell us that?

Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi of modern Israel, illuminates the verse by noting that two are better than one (as in marriage) when living according to the values transmitted “from the One Holy God” (who gave the Torah at Sinai).

As I conclude this tribute to Dr. Mauer, I must apply King Solomon’s hidden dictum not only in terms of the marriage of two people blending their own divergent qualities but with regard to several profound qualities honestly blended in one person.

So now I ask you: what is the one word, the one truth? Unique? Diagnostician? Compassionate? Self-sacrificial? Stubborn? Empathetic? Loyal? Gutzkeit? Understanding?

Ivan Mauer was so many-sided, so inter-connected, so multi-faceted, so astute, so filled with chesed, so seriously religious, so earnestly honest – and so lovingly disagreeable. Which would you choose?

Perhaps he qualified as all of the above.

Rabbi Maurice Lamm was formerly the rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills, California. He currently is a professor at Yeshiva University, holding the chair of Professional Rabbinics. The author of seven books, he is also president and founder of the National Institute of Jewish Hospice.

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I have always fashioned myself a wordsmith. No longer.

Dr. Ivan Mauer was Naomi Mauer’s husband and Mrs. Irene Klass’s son-in-law, and both Irene and Dr. Ivan died virtually simultaneously. And I must confess: Ivan was not only my good friend and our family doctor, but also a congregant who respected me and loved me – and consistently squabbled with me.

Yet I could not find a single word in the entire thesaurus that would suit him.

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