Remembering My Brother, Mickey
This week is the secular date of my younger brother’s death.
Sibling rivalry goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. As a two-year-old, I resented the arrival of my brother Mickey, as a rival for our parents’ love. I began to lash out in order to get attention, but I don’t think I ever took it out on him.
And I soon learned not to try competing with him in any area. I was 10 when my second brother, David, arrived, so there was no rivalry there, and 16 when my sister, Angela, entered this world. I was 19 when our father died. From that time onwards, our lives took on their own paths and momentum. I was away at yeshiva in Israel and then at Cambridge. Mickey was at Jews College in London and then Israel, but at different times.
After the shock of our father’s early death, my mother had to rebuild her life. Her world had descended from a state of bliss to a battle to survive and move forward. She went back to school. She read Semitics at Oxford while Mickey was at Jews College, and they both had to study and grapple with the Book of Job. They delighted in analyzing the unusual and obscure words and their possible meanings, but more significantly dealing with the awesome issues of why tragedies occur, and why lives and dreams are cut short in such inexplicable and irrational ways, with no reference to goodness or merit.
People who witnessed their complete involvement in the text together always commented on what an amazing sight it was to behold. Their relationship, at that moment, was so significant, so powerful and unique. Our mother loved us all, of course, but I think there was a special bond between her and Mickey.
Then her world was destroyed for a second time. Because of internal politics at Carmel, the dream that she had of creating a girls’ school was taken away from her. She was excluded and later evicted from Carmel College, despite having raised the money for the school, masterminded the plans and started employing staff. I was away in yeshiva again in Israel at the time, so it fell to Mickey as well as David and Angela to provide her with the loving compensation she needed.
Mickey went into the rabbinate. His first position was in Hale, a suburb of Manchester. But he had a dream of setting up his own center for studying Torah in a traditional but creative atmosphere. That was why he established YAKAR, an acronym of our father’s Hebrew name — Yaakov Kopul Rosen — that he himself had used as an occasional columnist for The Jewish Chronicle. Initially in Stanmore, YAKAR later moved to Hendon, eventually to Jerusalem, and then added a branch in Tel Aviv. YAKAR was Mickey’s life. He succeeded in passing on his spirituality, his scholarship, his individuality and his charisma to his children, who, together with his wife Gilla, are carrying on his work in different ways.
Mickey died prematurely in 2010. Although our father’s relationship with Mickey ended far too early, he always said what a good soul Mickey was; he even liked to call him a tsaddik, a saint.
When our father died, I was angry with the world. Perhaps because Mickey was younger, he did not have the anger that I did. Instead he channeled his grief and love for our father in other, productive ways.
Now in my more advanced age, I have jettisoned my anger. When it came to mourning Mickey, despite the sense of loss and pain, I felt joy and pride, which is precisely what the rituals of mourning are for. I realized that Mickey’s death was not just a loss to the family, but to the Jewish and non-Jewish community too.
Mourners ought to discipline ourselves to listen, to be polite and to be generous enough to recognize that the one we loved was loved by others, and played important parts in other lives too.
Each one of us siblings found different and personal ways of continuing our parents’ legacy. Mickey’s was through YAKAR, his family will undoubtedly find their own ways to honor him.
“For there was no one on earth like him, a pure and straight man, respecting God and avoiding sin.” Job 1:1 & 2:3
Whenever I read these lines, I think of Mickey. It is such an appropriate epitaph, but not just because he was as close as it gets to being such a person. It is because these words, these characteristics were precisely what Mickey aspired to. They apply even more appropriately to our mother. She was spared long enough to participate in Mickey’s success, and yet, thankfully, not to see his premature death.
The epitaph on my father’s grave is a quote from the Book of Psalms, that applies to his wife and son too:
“The good person will be like a tree planted by streams of water that gives its fruit at the right time, its leaves do not wither, and whatever he does succeeds.” Psalms 1:3
The commentator says that the leaves refer to the pupils and those that carry on that person’s teachings and values.