I was looking at Facebook one night a couple of weeks ago; like many others, especially in my age bracket, I was looking at a page dedicated to the neighborhood in which I grew up. In my case, that was Forest Knolls in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is usually a pleasant and nostalgic pastime to look at places, people, and days gone by, but suddenly, I was jolted out of my chair.
There was a post about a shooting that took place at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, and one of the names in the list of fatalities jumped out at me: Gerald Fischman.
Could it be the same Gerald Fischman who lived around the corner? Who was with me all through school? Gerald Fischman, dead, murdered, and cut down in the prime of his life by a cowardly and despicable act of senseless violence?
When I saw his picture on the screen, my stomach turned over and a lump formed in my throat. He was, of course, older than I remembered. But there was no mistake.
My mind raced back to the long-gone days of growing up in Forest Knolls. It was a real “Wonder Years” neighborhood, with hundreds of kids in it. The houses were all built between 1958 and 1962. Everybody moved in about the same time — mostly Jews, Italians, and Greeks, bound together by the restrictive real estate covenants of those days.
Gerald Fischman was one of those kids. He was, as a child, the same person he was as an adult. Quiet and introverted, yet extraordinarily highly intelligent, he marched to the beat of his own drum, and was quite happy to do so.
One story I remember from childhood: Gerald carried an adult briefcase to school — elementary school! One day, some of the more annoying kids in class (that part never changes) decided that they would have fun with Gerald and took his briefcase away to their desk.
Suddenly, quiet Gerald turned into the Incredible Hulk! He stood up, marched over to their desk with fire in his eyes, snatched up his briefcase, and marched back over to his desk, slamming it down with a stern and victorious look on his face. No one ever touched it again.
The years passed, and in 1974, Gerald and I, together with 700 other 12th graders, graduated from Northwood High School. I lost touch with him after that, easy enough to do in the days before Facebook and other social media, but I know Gerald continued to grow. He was able to make his passion for writing his life’s work. His writing career, which would span nearly the next 40 years, was the conduit by which he would share his considerable intelligence, intellect, and insight with all those who were fortunate enough to read his work. He married late in life and treasured his wife and her daughter, who he treated as his own.
One of the areas of which I am most proud and derive the greatest personal reward in my career at Sagel Bloomfield Funeral Care, is the honor to officiate at many funeral services. Although most of the time I have not had the honor to know the person who has passed away, I work with the family to create a most meaningful service.
When I was given the honor to officiate at Gerald’s funeral, I knew: This time, it would be a little different. Memories of places and years long gone filled my head and my heart. I was there almost from the beginning of his life, and now I would be there at the end, laying an old friend to his final rest. Many members of the press were there and I got to speak with many of them as a well-deserved tribute was paid.
Though the life of Gerald Fischman ended in such a terrible and devastating fashion, the goodness and kindness of that life will stand firmly for many years to come as a testament to the inevitable triumph of good over evil that G-d has promised us. Soon we will begin reading Psalm 27 twice a day. Its words are most appropriate. “Hope in the Lord and He will give you courage.”
Rest in peace, my old friend of childhood days. May your memory always be for a blessing.
NEXT TIME: [waiting for title]
By Larry Shor