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2005 blog


When an Obituary Can't Say Enough

San Diego Jewish Times, July 13, 2005

By Donald H. Harrison

It never ceases to amaze, and sadden, me that the substance of a person’s life often is “summarized” in just a few stingy lines in a newspaper obituary. Future generations are cheated when dates of birth and death, and perhaps the names of a few survivors, are all they can learn about people who preceded them.

I understand why so little newspaper space is devoted to obituaries—in the first place, the information comes from mortuaries, not from the people who knew the deceased, and so it is necessarily abbreviated.  In the second place, sadly, there is insufficient space to give even one person his or her due, much less every person who passes on.

Nevertheless, as a journalist, I know that there is a “story in everyone,” and I fervently believe that those stories should be told and retold for the benefit of all.

All of us have been to funerals and have listened to the eulogies spoken by members of the clergy, family members and friends. We appreciate the accomplishments of the deceased.  For a while, they remain close to our consciousness, ready to be summoned in conversation with our contemporaries.  But gradually our memories fail, or we die. Eventually all the people who knew that person also die.  Then, it seems as if that person had never lived at all.

Walk through any Jewish cemetery and look at the names on the gravestones.  Here and there, we recognize a name—or think we do—but for the most part, the people buried there are forgotten, except to the maintenance workers who trim the grass around their graves or right a stone that has been tilted.  How sad!

So many people, so many stories, so many contributions to our Jewish community—all unremembered and unremarked upon.  Such a loss!

Then it occurred to me that we don’t have to let this happen.  There is no shortage of space on the Internet.  We can create a central repository where people’s stories can be told and retold for the benefit of our community and for the sake of history.  Inasmuch as I have been involved in the project to build a monument at Louis Rose Point to honor San Diego’s first Jewish settler, the thought occurred to me: Why not strive for both goals simultaneously?

Accordingly, I recently sent a note to the current members of the Louis Rose Society for the Preservation of Jewish History inviting them to honor or memorialize any past or present member of the San Diego Jewish community on the portion of my  website,, that is devoted to the society’s affairs. 

One of the earliest responses came from Peter & Linda Levine, who suggested we remember Dr. Jonas Salk, discover of the polio vaccine. San Diego Jewish Times columnist Gert Thaler decided to memorialize her mother, Anna Shelley, an important force in the community during the World War II era.  Violinist Zina Schiff and husband Dr. Ron Eisenberg decided to pay tribute to her mother, Rose Schiff, the matriarch of our town’s formidable Schiff-Wingard-Rosen clan.  Diana Lindsay, president of Sunbelt Publications, invoked the memory of SDSU History Prof. Abraham Nasatir. The list can and will go on and on.

Each person nominated by a Louis Rose Society member will receive a page on the web to which may be appended stories, remembrances, even digital photographs, assuring that the person’s memory will be shared with the rest of the community.  Over time, as a community we will build a database for future generations.

While we are doing this, we also will be raising funds for the Louis Rose memorial at Louis Rose Point.  Charter membership in the Louis Rose Society involves making a tax-deductible contribution of $36 (double chai) per household to the Jewish Community Foundation-Louis Rose Fund.  You may send your check to the Jewish Community Foundation (a subsidiary of the United Jewish Federation) at 4950 Murphy Canyon Road, San Diego, CA 92123, and send to me at the name of your nominee and any information about that person you would like to append.  After being subjected to normal editing considerations, the material will be placed onto the web. 

With the $36 membership comes one opportunity for honoring or memorializing a fellow Jewish San Diegan. Thereafter, you may remember any other member of the San Diego Jewish community for a contribution of $18 per honoree, again to be made to the Jewish Community Foundation.

Our loved ones lived productive and interesting lives. Let’s tell their stories and do a good deed at the same time!