Gershon Weiss, the man who mastered time

It is with sorrow that I share tidings of the passing away of Gershon Simcha Weiss on 1 September 2022. The Shofar shall sound by the life of his breath no more. Rest in Peace, dear friend.

Gershon Weiss, the man who mastered time
On the 29th of September, 1944, they were transferred to Sered, and the next day 1,860 of them were deported to Auschwitz. This was the beginning of the second wave of deportations from Slovakia, in which a total of 12,306 Jews were deported to Auschwitz, Theresienstadt and camps in Germany. — Yad Vashem, "The Story of the Jewish Community in Bratislava," Bratislava During the Holocaust, Deportations.

Arbeit Macht Frei, encouraged the sign over the gates of Auschwitz. The well-oiled machine of the Final Solution determined that the train just arrived from Sered, a camp near Bratislava, must instead go to Theresienstadt, northwest of Prague, to which it was duly dispatched. On board, if one can describe it that way, huddled a young mother with her son in her arms. Baby Gershon was marking his first year of life. Overhead, the sign mocked his fate.

Time. When someone dies, Middle Eastern people say, "It was his time," by which they mean, it was his appointed time to die. In their orgy of madness, the Nazis had stolen the time left to every living soul they snatched from the homes and streets of cities and towns across Europe, and by monstrous whim ended those lives as and when the impulse took them. The Nazis commandeered time, brought death, and the dying of the world.

Gershon Weiss, the baby, had known life for one year when they stole time from him. From that point forth, he could die at any moment, but he lived for another year, and another year, and another year...

How very apt the symbolism that Gershon Weiss, the man, should have become the one to mark the passing of the years. He blew the Shofar wherever he went, from major places of Jewish memory, such as Prague and Kraków, to the tiny community of Kokhav Ya'ir in Central Israel, where he served for so many years as ba’al tekiah at the Grand Synagogue, blowing the Shofar to call forth Rosh HaShanah, the New Year, and defying the thieves of time: I am still here, I am still alive, I am still giving life.

Gershon Weiss, the Shofar and the marking of time were inextricably entwined, so much so that when the great man fell ill in August 2022 and was rendered unable to blow the Shofar, no longer able to mark the start of another year, it was his time. Gershon's daughter, Gilit, my very dear friend, shared with me the sense that her father had felt that if he could no longer blow the Shofar at Rosh HaShanah, then his life had fulfilled its purpose. He would not be there when the next horn of the New Year sounded, and duly passed away. It was 6 Elul / 1 September. As ba'al tekiah, he would have started preparing for the next New Year, on this occasion falling on 25-27 September. "Elul, the month that he died, is the month that the Shofar is heard in the morning prayers for the whole month."

Gershon Simcha Weiss leaves behind a widow, two children, eight grandchildren, a devout community, countless friends and, way down the line, someone who met him just six months ago, and whose life he had touched so deeply. Though I shall miss this man, I feel enormously privileged to have spent time with him, and to have absorbed the happiness, joy, mirth, gladness, gaiety, pleasure and glad result that are all the meanings of his middle name, שמחה, and been surrounded by the love of his happy issue, yet another meaning of that remarkable name. And as if to prove the point, Gilit, too, means happiness and joy.

Gershon Simcha Weiss mastered time, brought life, and the birthing of the world.