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.”