My dear friend Reuven died tragically in early August of 2019. His Hebrew name was Reuven Uriah. Born Ronald Moore, he was 61 years old. These are the dry facts, but I want to talk about the wet ones; the ones that make the tears flow and have left so many of us wondering and sad.
I need to talk about how many miraculous events have happened around his death and following his death. These stories are the ones that are a testament to his spirit and to the Holy energy present in everyday folks doing good. His life is also something to honor and speak about. Reuven lived his life humbly and with so much kindness and enthusiasm. He was interested in all things green and growing and all creatures two-legged or four-legged.
He was always into music and loved Jewish people and history. He was full of bouncy energy, like a boy in a man’s body. He was on the spectrum and although he described himself as autistic his brain injuries were also the result of severe beatings from his childhood. These are more wet facts.
Reuven navigated his injuries and his differences with the help of so many folks. Why are some people able to solicit kindness and others not? Reuven’s behavior could be irritating, due to his brain injuries and how they manifested. Nevertheless, he was more interested in helping people than in being helped.
He was always singing and dancing and getting folks to enjoy something outside. He would offer to take people on walks in the wilds of Humboldt County, along the cliffs in Trinidad, and in the Redwood Forest. He loved to swim in the ocean, lagoons or rivers. Happiest outdoors, he gamboled about like a mountain goat.
In the Jewish community, he was lucky enough to have a member of Temple Beth El as his landlord for over 20 years. This mensch (good person) gave Reuven a great deal on rent, so that he could live on the pittance he got from being on Social Security Income. Reuven always grew a garden and supplemented his meager food budget with things he could grow. Farmers locally, like Eddie Tanner from Deep Seeded Farm and others helped Reuven as well. He loved Kathy Mullen’s Kneeland Glen Farmstand and many, many others in the local community were generous with him.
Reuven’s own generosity was immense and, even with his very limited resources, he would help anyone, in whatever ways he could. For most of his life he was tremendously physically fit and able. Most folks remember him at a yoga class, dancing on the plaza during farmer’s market or at a local music event, hiking in the redwoods, biking to Trinidad and generally being an example of physical fitness. Mike Reinman and his family were his longtime friends, Osher Zelig Galambos, also a dear companion, and so many others gave Reuven bicycles, food, shoes, clothing, vacations and companionship. Although Reuven was surrounded by folks who loved him, he still felt very alone much of the time.
He was deeply held and loved by two Jewish communities here; the more Orthodox Jewish Community Chabad of Humboldt County and my congregation Temple Beth El. He was also involved in B’Nai Ha Aretz out of Southern Humboldt. Over 20 years ago, I remember driving with him to services in Garberville when I first started wanting to observe where Naomi Steinberg would be offering services. Reuven and I loved the singing, chanting and meditating that was happening there. When Rabbi Naomi became the rabbi at Temple Beth El, Reuven would come with me to services there. He would help me lead services when I was officiating as a Lay Leader. When Chabad came to Humboldt, he began to split his Jewish time between the two communities.
Originally from Flint, Michigan, he grew up poor and battered with his sister Deborah, and brothers Daniel and Joseph. At the age of thirteen he was rescued from this painful home situation when he was offered a full scholarship at a religious boarding school in New York, run by the Chabad community. Reuven felt that being here in Humboldt county, surrounded by nature was part of his healing and integral to his well-being. He loved the fellowship of Chabad that he found here as it linked him to his childhood, the parts that had good memories for him. Reuven was not a traditional guy, he swung across the spectrum in many ways. He loved being able to worship and dance with all people of all sizes, colors, persuasions or religions.
You can hear his unique perspective on life and understand some of who he was by listening to this interview of him done by The Humboldt Lighthouse.
As a volunteer member of Temple Beth El’s Hevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) Reuven helped me prepare many Jewish men for traditional burial according to Jewish law. This is not something easily done. It requires tremendous presence, kindness and dedication. He would always say when we were done: “Next time for a Simcha.” A Simcha is a joyful event. When I was leading services at Temple Beth El, he would help me set the tables and make our space beautiful to honor the Sabbath. Creating sacred space with room for laughter and song came easily to him. He was on hand to help build my Sukkah/outdoor sacred structure for the holiday of Sukkoth. He was always there for whatever was needed by me or anyone and it gave him joy to offer.
Losing his physical presence is still something with which I have not come to terms. I keep thinking I see him walking down the road or on his bike. I keep thinking I’ll run into him. But, he’s left our shore for the greater Shore of Heaven, probably late on Saturday afternoon, August 3rd. He was last seen dancing and enjoying himself at the Saturday Farmer’s market in the morning. Someone overheard him say he was planning to go for a walk/swim at College Cove, one of his favorite Humboldt spots. He must have lost his footing while walking, either going down some embankment for a private swim, or just too close to some edge. We will never know where or why he fell, but fall he did and that fall was fatal. He was alone and for many of us, this is the most painful part and certainly everyone’s worst nightmare.
Despite having fallen to his death, along a part of our coastline where folks are not found due to the rocks and tides, Reuven was found. It’s a miracle his body was recovered and how that all unfolded is just one of many miracles surrounding his end of time on this earth. As a Jewish person, miracles are common occurrences. Judaism is full of stories about our teachers, prophets, simple folks and even animals who embody or cross over between this world and the next to bring us closer to Olam Ha Bah/ The World to Come.
Sukkot, a fall Harvest Festival, is a taste of the world to come. There is no door making it open to all who want entry. It is a place of peace and sharing of stories and food and joy.
So, back to the wet story of Reuven’s miraculous water rescuers. There is a local group of kayakers called the Sunday Services group. They ocean kayak on Sunday mornings as their religious service. By chance on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 they headed north towards College Cove. They could have gone a different direction that morning, but they didn’t. They spotted his body in the ocean amidst some rocks in a very hard to get to place. They radioed the Coast Guard and the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff asked if they could retrieve the body. These are trained kayakers and they carry ropes and other things for towing someone in the water in case one of them gets injured, or in this situation to rescue a body.
I was crying so much when I heard this story for the first time that some of the details may not be 100 percent spot on. But basically, the kayakers were asked if they could tow Reuven to College Cove beach where a group of search and rescue team folks could meet them. No one knew who the man in the water was at this point. The kayakers were asked to keep him in the water until the team of rescuers could meet them on the beach. This ended up taking two hours. So, the ten kayakers formed a circle around Reuven and guarded/held his body in the ocean waves for two hours, forming a Holy circle of Shomrim (those who guard the body of the dead). This is extraordinary on so many levels. They knew nothing of Reuven’s religion or about Jewish practices, nevertheless he was given the most sacred circle of Holy attendants. They were his first guardians and they performed this kindness among the crashing waves of the ocean at risk to themselves and in a truly magnificent way. Who gets this kind of escort to the other side? Reuven, that’s who!
Due to the diligence of several of Reuven’s friends, who sought these kayakers out, to try and understand what happened to Reuven, we were able to learn of this rescue. This has been important as members of our community have tried to piece together as much of the details as we could to navigate our pain around his ending. Some email excerpts from the kayakers help illustrate how truly incredible finding and retrieving his body so quickly was.
“This morning we did paddle north for the first time since Reuven’s death. We slipped along the shoreline where we had delivered Reuven’s body to the sheriff. At this moment I was struck by the beauty and peacefulness of this place. This for me was significant as from this place he could continue his journey to be reunited with his community.
We then went on to the place we had discovered his body. You should know that this is an area that we are not able to paddle in and explore very often. It can be quite dangerous because of the reefs and the ocean conditions here. How fortunate that we had a calm day for discovering Reuven.” ~ Mike, Aug. 26, 2019
“I showed Noah the spot where I first noticed something unusual in color, investigated further, and found his friend. Described the orientation of the body and pulling it away from the reef with my paddle. Then how I yelled for Larry and your immediate call to the coastguard and the method of us towing him to college cove. Then we took Noah to college cove and showed him where and how long we waited with the body. Noah is very comfortable in the water and can now take others to the spot. He also can take people to right above the spot on a trail he claims he, Reuven, and others frequented. This area has a good view of the spot without getting close to the cliff edge. Also, when we arrived at Reuven’s location, I placed flowers (from Noah) on the water per his wishes. Everything went well and I feel Reuven’s community can now take over...” – Bruce, Aug. 26, 2019
The local news was full of the story about this unknown man being found. It took the Jewish community a few days to put the pieces together. One of Reuven’s longtime friends, who had been very concerned about his whereabouts, called the police and made a missing person’s report. Then we were told that the body found in the water was Reuven. The local Chabad rabbi Eliyahu Cowen and some of his community went to the coroner’s office to confirm his identity. Another heroic set of events then ensued...
First of two parts. Nicole Barchilon Frank lives, loves, creates and writes from her Open Heart, Open Hands home in Bayside. You can see more of her writings and work at ohohands.com.