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Nadworny: Rabbi Wall remembrance

05/15/09 5:55PM By Rich Nadworny
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(HOST)  Rabbi Max Wall passed away recently. He was one of the pillars in Burlington's Jewish community, and commentator Rich Nadworny has this remembrance.

(NADWORNY) When I heard the news that Rabbi Wall passed away on May 12th at age 93 I was, on the one hand, expecting it, since he had been in failing health, and, on the other hand, I was still surprised. Rabbi Wall was one of those people who you expected to live forever.

I was fortunate to have Rabbi Wall as my rabbi when I grew up in Burlington and went to Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. He was an amazing person, but there were a couple of things that always stood out for me, that showed why he was able to touch so many people.

Rabbi Wall was always encouraging you to do better, to be a better person. I think that was an important part of both his Judaism and his humanity. It matched his passion for social justice and interfaith collaboration that he worked so hard for during his life.

On my bar mitzvah, when I was 13, I had worked for months with Rabbi Wall as he trained me to sing and lead the service. I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect. Which, of course, it wasn't. When it came time for his sermon, rather than talking about how great I did, he spoke instead of the importance of making mistakes, of learning from those mistakes and doing better next time. At 13, that's not what I wanted to hear. It took me about ten years, when I was in my early twenties, and really starting to make mistakes, that I replayed that sermon in my head. It took a while but I realized that it was probably the best advice I'd ever received. If there was one thing I was going to do consistently in life, it was making mistakes. I'm still doing it.

But that advice, that sermon, is something I've carried with me both personally and as I've managed and advised others. As the rabbi hoped, I learned to embrace my mistakes and learn from them.

One of the other things that made Rabbi Wall so special was his wonderful sense of humor. He could be one of the funniest people you'd ever met. And he'd always mix in some funny stories in his religious services. I remember at my brother Eric's wedding our relatives were at the service and Rabbi Wall was at his finest.

"This guy's great!" one of the Florida cousins blurted out during the ceremony, as if he'd gone to shul and stumbled into a Vegas show by mistake.

"You think this is good? You should've heard him last night,"" answered his father referring to the Friday evening Shabbat service. "He was killing us!"

Doing better and laughing. Two things that make life meaningful. I was very, very lucky to have grown up with Rabbi Wall. And while I'll miss him, his memory and spirit will stay alive in my heart and the hearts of countless others at who knew him at Ohavi Zedek and throughout Vermont.
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