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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Dr. Benji Levy

Mr Grandma Moses Lives On

Laurence Hoffman (Aryeh ben Ze’ev) Eulogy Transcript Delivered by Rabbi Dr Benji Levy on 8 Cheshvan 5783 (02/11/2022) Tel Regev Cemetery Israel

Here with his sisters and daughters, family and friends, where biblical characters and Torah scholars traversed amidst the undulating hills of the north of Israel soon after the first rain of the season, while we read the parasha that our forefathers were first told to come to this land and on the yartzeit of his mother so much here encapsulates what Aryeh ben Zev, Laurence Hoffman, represents.

Laurence Hoffman was born in Johannesburg South Africa on the 11th of the 11th 1950 to his loving parents, Fannie and Wolf (Willie). He grew up as a middle child between his two sisters, Therle and Roslyn, both of whom live in Israel and are present with us today. His childhood was filled with adventure, mischief and curiosity and he never truly grew up. There are countless stories about his fascination with how everything works, from pushing a fork through his toe as he was testing boundaries, to pulling apart his sister’s dolls to put them back together again over and over. He went to King David and had great friends wherever he went.

He looked exactly like his father and inherited many traits from him including his gentleness, kindness and a love for helping others. A story of his father that could have been told about him involves spending most Sundays taking lonely children out to have fun. Unfortunately, he died when Laurence was only 21, but being around during his formative years, he clearly made an indelible impact. His mother was a real character (not too different from her son). She was boisterous, glamorous, and given all the trouble Laurence used to get into, a little neurotic. It is fitting that his final resting day is the same day that she was laid to rest, and the final resting place is in the north of Israel not far from his mother. She will be finally relieved that after a full life, his parents can be close to him again and not worry about him getting into trouble. Moreover, they would have incredible nachas seeing his two sisters here together. Therle and Ros both adored him, as he did them, and they said he was the most amazing brother anyone could have. They often turned to him for advice, and he loved spending time with them.

When Laurence was around 20, he got arthritis, but this is one example of a setback that never set him back. He researched and tried everything there was and ahead of his time and ended up curing himself through a healthy lifestyle. Part of this lifestyle lead him to become vegan. That’s in the 70s – before it was cool. In fact, not only did he not let obstacles get in his way, but he balanced his whole life between living among those that travelled a more typical path and taking the path less travelled along the way. We will revisit that idea a little later.

He studied civil engineering and then went to Cape Town to do his MBA. There he made a lot of friends with whom he was in touch until his last days. The mid 80s was a time of change and lots more women coming into Laurence’s life. He got married to Brenda in 1986 and moved to Sydney in 1987. If all the change wasn’t enough, that same year he had Sasha, their first born and in 1990 he had Chloe. They lived in Bondi, and they all have so many fond memories from that home.

He owned a construction company through those years and then one day, in the early 2000s, he came home one day, literally out of the blue and said that he bought Grandma Moses (one of the most iconic kosher establishments in Australia). From helping people have a nice place to live to giving them a nutritious meal, for Laurence it was always about giving. Beyond the significant role that Grandma Moses played in the community, for him it was an opportunity to improve everyone’s health. One of the first things he introduced was spelt challot (again before it was cool). Despite the hundreds and hundreds of regular challot he sold, his daughters remember him coming home the first week saying: ‘we sold all six spelt challot for shabbat!’

This was the time that I got to know Laurence. I used to see him at shule and on the street and he was always up for a good schmooze. For a period, I used to go to buy bagels at Grandma Moses every Sunday. He knew what I liked: salmon, avocado and pickles. But I knew what he loved: Sasha and Chloe. Besides the fact that getting bagels took way too long because conversations would alternate between life, something interesting he saw that week, Israel and Judaism, one thing never changed…He had to tell me about Sasha and Chloe. And nothing brought him more pride. Especially if they did something atypical! As passionate as he was about everything else, when he spoke of his daughters, the tone of his voice along with his smile got even brighter. Both he and Brenda always put the girls first. We felt connected with the family, seeing them near our place with the Narunskys, near their place with the Luries or just out and about. I would see Sasha a lot with Jon Jon and Renana and I were Chloe’s madrichim from when she was at Moriah, continuing to learning together on Shavout at Bnei Akiva for over a decade till after 1am.

In 2015 he had his first stroke and a lot changed. He had given much to the community and he had to focus on his rehabilitation, so sold Grandma Moses, sold their home in Strickland Street and moved into the lighthouse in Christison Park. This was a place of true healing and rather than mediating his love of helping people and connecting through building or bagels, his new full-time job was doing it directly without a job in the way. In 2018 he moved to Melbourne. Beyond the chesed he shared, he spent more time learning Torah and loved everything about the way it enriched his life and gave so much meaning. He loved his yidishkeit andofficially broadened his family to include the Meltzers (who he first got to know in Sydney) and others in the community. The fact Leib Meltzer came with his friends to say tehillim and goodbye yesterday and are here with us today is one example of the impact he had on so many.

This week is parashat lech lecha and it begins with some of the most consequential words ever uttered, inviting Abraham and Sarah to make the land in which we are standing their homeland. Abraham was the ultimate iconoclast, smashing the idols of his time and taking the path less travelled. He was a thinker and founded ethical monotheism which countless people follow to this day. And he was filled with kindness, always speaking to strangers, growing and servicing the community and giving of himself. All these traits describe Laurence and his journey.

Through the years Laurence had more setbacks than most and by the end he had been through a double knee replacement, a hip replacement, triple bypass surgery and valve replacement and three strokes. Most people would despair along the way, but he was the most joyful person. The child inside him was excited to become the bionic man – the superhero he always wanted to be. In the spirit of Abraham, he just did things differently. He drank alkaline water way before hipsters were in Sydney and made sushi in the 80s, before most of South Africa knew what it was. He was a surfy. He was a hippy. He was always ahead of his time. He loved the time he went cycling around Europe with a friend from Cape Town, especially the fact that they would live under bridges and go to the fruit shops to eat the scraps. He liked to find comfort outside of his comfort zone. Every day he just wanted to watch the sunrise and explore. He was extremely kind and generous, always wanting to help people, fix things and connect. He never spoke lashon hara or maliciously about others and brought his child-like awe to everything he did. For many close to him that could get frustrating, but no matter what someone said or did to him, he didn’t hold a grudge and always forgave.

His last days were spent living his dream here in Israel. He loved Israel and loved his sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins here. As each of them finished the army they would go spend time with their uncle in Australia as a rite of passage. A few weeks ago he went to Sinai with his nephew Ari and slept under the stars. He was very into flowers and trees, tasting every herb and he loved nature. He loved life and enjoyed every step he took even if others saw him limp (but to him he never did). He spent his last month walking around the modern State, exploring, reconnecting with family, enjoying the delicious food, going to shule, playing with his nephew’s kids and he was at ease. Like Abraham he was filled with faith always.

Among the great scholars of our people, he truly admired the Rambam (who also did things differently). And so, it feels only right that he passed away in the Rambam hospital and is buried in the north of Israel where the Rambam is buried. And from there, beyond his life he has continued to give. Through his death, he gave new life through his organs to multiple people. As the father of a liver transplant patient, I am not sure there is a greater gift.

When he cleared out his storeroom before his final journey home to Israel, he returned to Chloe her tefilat haderech – prayer for the journey. Who would have known then that this would be the last thing he gave his daughters, but I believe it represents his blessing to both of them, all his family and friends, for the journey they will continue to take.

I don’t really follow the Australian news in general, but a friend sent me an article citing an incident that happened yesterday and I noticed that it was the same hours that Laurence was breathing his last breaths. Some lion’s escaped for a few moments at Taronga Zoo and then came safely home. Immediately I thought of Laurence whose Hebrew name is Aryeh meaning lion. He too achieved a different level of freedom and is now at peace.

We said that the parasha is called lech lecha which most translate as go for yourself. But it really means go to yourself. And like Abraham, sometimes the journey was tough and filled with difficulties. But he ended up becoming himself and achieving his purpose at peace in his homeland leaving a tremendous legacy. Again, this was Laurence.

So Lorenzo – lech lecha are no longer words we learn, but words you lived. You can now truly go to yourself, and we all thank you for the legacy.Tehey nishmato tzrura b’tzror ha’chayim – may his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.

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