Hank Fleischer Z''L 1923-2022
~~ Paper Sculpture ~~
To my best friend who is also my dad
Where to begin. From the earliest stories of you and me – when I was a baby and the only way I could fall asleep was to lie on you with my belly covering your face. Only one of us fell asleep that way. Moving ahead, you teaching me how to play baseball as a young kid, and also how to ride to a bike. And then me as a young adult, to the time you and mom first met Aliza, just a few days before our wedding, and you holding the tallit for the chupa at our ceremony with Aliza’s father. Then, to you and mom being there for the birth of Keren, holding your first grandchild and then fast forward picking her up from her Navy base in Haifa, … for you catching Sharon as she speed down the hill on the roller blades on one of your 28 trips to Israel … and then with Donna as a toddler – now another generation falling asleep on you again – seems like you are a great place to come to for peace and comfort. Then the great – grandchildren: Keren and Assaf’s kids, the Ella and Gali two part Zoom handshake that you made into a family tradition and then just in the last few weeks, even though you were bedridden you added a third item – the “A-OK” sign. What a sign of bravery and optimism even though you knew the end was near. You would tell me “okay” – you never complained. This 3-part handshake became your signature move – used in all of our facetime conversations and now a family tradition. And Sharon and Omer’s Liri, you always say “Man, she’s something”. And now Sharon is expecting a son in two months. You already gave him the Fleischer “A-ok” handshake during one of our last Facetime calls. He’ll certainly be starting the journey of life in a great way, inspired by you.
I never met a person as patient and self-disciplined as you. The patience came from your desire as an engineer, to understand the situation “can’t solve it until you know what the problem is”. Never saw you get really angry – always kept your cool. You would say that if one got upset then you couldn’t think correctly.
Some other memories. I remember you giving me my first shave the morning of my Bar Mitzvah. It was an experience I’ll never forget – probably the reason I have a beard for decades now – just kidding. Fast forward, to when I was 18 and decided to put off college and travel to Israel. A few days before my departure, you told me that I’m taking a trip, but not leaving the family. You came to visit me in Israel a few months later and we had fun together. When I did come back to go the UM – you enjoyed season football tickets. We even watched the Michigan – OSU game together on Facetime just two months ago – just like old times – except this time Michigan beat OSU.
Friends were very important to you. All of the wonderful friends you and mom made over the years. Especially as you grew older you continued to make very deep friends and continually keeping in touch with them. They became family to you and also to me and Bruce.
You taught me many parallels between engineering and life: if you make it too complicated nothing will be done correctly. If it is made simple, an engineer worked very hard to make it so. And don’t polish too hard, you’ll rub off all the gold. Don’t gild the lily. Meaning good enough is good enough – trying to make it better may make it worse. You always said nothing is perfect – just let others know that and then you can enjoy the item better. But what really helps me, and what I tell my girls, is “It is only natural to have second thoughts about a decision”. It doesn’t mean the decision is wrong.”
You were very proud of serving as a volunteer enlisted Jewish soldier in the US Army in WW II. You served in Europe and also Japan. You always had another army story to tell me.
You will always be with us dad. In the last few days as you were going to sleep and we talked on Facetime, continuing a tradition in my home, you and I said together “Good night. Sleep tight. Pleasant dreams. To all the Fleischer family.” And then of course the 3-part handshake.
As many years ago, the message still remains, dad, you are going on a trip, but not leaving our home.
A big hug – thanks – you showed me the things in this world that are really important – this is the knowledge that came from my dad.
Your son, Niles
Sorry, you’ll forgive me - you always did – you told me not to cry,
In a common metaphor, our lives are threads, part of a fabric woven with those of people in our relationships, communities and the whole world. It is now time to gently tuck in the end of the thread of the life of Herschel ben Leah v’Shmuel (Hank Fleischer, Dad). z''l, may his memory be for a blessing.
While I’m speaking of my dad, I can’t help but think of my mom, Rhoda Fleischer z''l, too. Much of what I say today applies to her and to the two of them as a couple. In the four+ years since my mom died, my dad wrote to her every day, and never stopped signing birthday cards “Love, Hank and Rhoda.”
My earliest memory of dad is from my very early childhood, of him holding me in a heart-to-heart bond with my head on his shoulder. Our lifelong joy in sharing music and math grew from that time, when we shared simple patterns. He patted my back; I patted his. Then I rubbed his back and he changed to rubbing mine. Then he rubbed my back in a circle, and I followed. Then I picked up my head and we smiled at each other. That bond grew, especially in his 14 years of sculpting. I feel that my parents’ hearts were open to mine, and they heard the things I said, the things unspoken, and the things yet to be spoken.
He lived by the words of psalm 90: “teach us to number our days, that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” He faced his mortality directly and honestly. He exercised daily to stay strong when he was well, he did his best at rehab when his health declined but he thought he could get better, and he embraced hospice care when getting better was clearly not an option. Through all phases, his gentle humor did not waver. He put joy, value and love into each day. He worked on his sculptures with patience and persistence and stayed in touch with friends near and far. His conversations with friends and family ended with “love you.” “love you too.”
Psalm 90 ends with “prosper the work of our hands.” He embodied that message too. He had pride in his craft but humility in creativity. He looked at his own inventions with happy surprise, as discoveries to be shared and enjoyed together. The works of his hands enriched the lives of all around him.
He relished connections between people, especially unlikely ones. He noticed the sparkle where diverse threads are woven together. He was deeply moved when separated threads met again, to comfort and heal today’s tears.
May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration. May we reach out with open hearts to reinforce loving bonds and create new ones.
In today’s fabric, the human spirit will weave and re-weave the pattern around my dad’s missing thread. In that weaving, may his loved ones see his smile, hear his happy chuckle, and if we’re very lucky feel his embrace and pats on our backs.