My beloved uncle, Sheldon Minster, passed from this world to the next this week. He was such a giant, and constant presence, in my life. My Hesped at his funeral did not do him justice.
וַתִּצְלַ֨ח עָלָ֜יו ר֣וּחַ השם The spirit of HaShem gripped him.
Like Samson, Sheldon was born with extraordinary physical strength. He used it to protect his family, especially his little brother, Marshall. It wasn’t easy growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
Sheldon would ask to leave the apartment and his shrewd mother, Elsie, z”l, would always say: “only if you take your brother with you.” Thus, my dad got to go on adventures with his big brother and a life-long friendship was forged.
Sometimes, his dad, Samuel, z”l, would invite him out for tootsie rolls, which was code for getting traif. Elsie kept a strictly kosher home and Sheldon shared Samuel’s taste for pork and cheeseburgers.
There’s something about the way we think of Judaism that claims only bookishness and ritual observance are hallmarks of a righteous Jew. Yet, truly, I have learned more about embodied Judaism from Sheldon than from most other people in my life.
אֲנִ֤י לְדוֹדִי֙ וְדוֹדִ֣י לִ֔י I am my beloved’s And my beloved is mine.
Dance partners for life. Soul mates. Life companion in every way.
Sheldon met the love of his life at UCLA, Linda Sterne Minster. They enjoyed 61 years and 11 months together.
Linda expanded Sheldon’s vocabulary, helping him give voice to the feelings roiling within.
Early in their marriage, Papa Sam became terminally ill with bone cancer. Marshall says that Papa Sam made Sheldon promise to look out for his brother and sister. And Sheldon absolutely did that, through thick and thin.
Linda and Sheldon were blessed with two children: Kenny, z”l, and Sam.
Others spoke about how quiet Sheldon was — yet, he never seemed that way to me. Perhaps because he was always his most gregarious around his best friend, my dad, Marshall.
My mom, Phyllis, recalled the many water volleyball games we played in their backyard pool. It had a sudden drop off to 9 ft deep. Despite having the pool for most of his life, Sheldon never learned to swim. Once, he and Phyllis were walking in the pool and ended up in the deep end, maybe five inches from where she could walk. He grabbed onto her and held on for dear life. Phyllis thought they’d both drown. Somehow they made it to safety. He still didn’t learn to swim, though eventually they filled in the deep end of the pool.
No man is perfect. My sister reminded me how uncomfortable family gatherings could become. She is five years older than me, so has a better memory of these things than I do. What I do recall is that I called out my Dad and Uncle Sheldon a lot — I think because their sense of humor invoked many declarations that they were “male chauvinist pigs.” I learned to spot sexism before I could really articulate what it was.
In any event, as the decades moved forward, so did Sheldon. His ability to change with the times was truly remarkable.
Jacob blessing his sons
Towards the end of his life, in B’reishit chapters 48 and 49, Jacob blesses his ten sons.
In the latter half of his life, that was Sheldon’s role: dispensing wisdom, both to his family and his extensive friends network. He always worried about people and wanted to make sure we were on the straight path, moving towards the best versions of ourselves.
When Sam married his beshert, Lisa, there was Sheldon beaming. And when they had children — Lauren and Shane, Sheldon’s life truly became complete. Being a grandfather seemed to be his greatest joy in the world. I suppose part of him was relishing what he was never able to share with his own father.
Though he tried valiantly to help everyone transform themselves as he had transformed himself multiple times over the years, there were limits to his prophetic voice. Sheldon did a complete reversal of his eating habits when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, his oldest son, Kenny, was unable to follow in his footsteps. May Kenny’s memory forever be a blessing.
Sheldon’s mind was always working on the interpersonal experiences of the people around him. During his long battle with cancer and increasingly frequent hospital visits, Sheldon focused on other people. He dispensed wisdom and continued his support from afar.
Sheldon was fairly quiet in his health battle. I would not have known about one of his last hospitalizations, but Linda called me. She had received two phone calls from the hospital that day: Sheldon worried about my sons. Why was he worried about young children? Because he had seen on the news that Chinese Americans were being targeted at the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic, and he wanted to make sure they were okay.
Passing from this world to the next
Sheldon never wanted to leave this world. He fought fiercely to stay with Linda and Sam. He took seriously their insistence that he continue being the family patriarch.
And yet, as hard as it is to say goodbye to the towering center of our family, I am so honored to have been a holy witness.
Sheldon Minster, your memory will forever be a blessing.
Rather than elaborate flowers and funerals, Judaism has a tradition to give tzedekah in honor of the recently departed. Aunt Linda suggested the American Diabetes Association or the American Cancer Society.