There is no one who ever walked the path of Jewish life with the beloved Ernie Michel, z'l, who didn't understand that they were walking side-by-side with a giant of modern Jewish history. Ernie's death last week left a void for his beautiful family and for all of us who knew him that cannot be filled.
It was Ernie, as a Holocaust Survivor, who dedicated his life and his professional career with the United Jewish Appeal and, ultimately with the UJA-Federation of New York, where he was venerated by those lay and professionals with whom he worked as no other, to the cause of "bearing witness" not in silence but through word and deed. He deserved every beautiful award he received for a life filled with challenges and so fully lived.
I knew Ernie through my federation work and on numerous Missions but it was only four years ago, when I accepted a fund raising position with American Friends of Project Heart, the Government of Israel sponsored restitution program for the worldwide survivor community that I had the privilege of working with Ernie. He was the first person I reached out to for assistance. After a brief explanation of our purpose, Ernie simply responded, as I am certain he had to so many before: "Richard, how can I help." I was then blessed with many opportunities to sit with Ernie in his office at UJA-Federation over the next two years, and gain his insights, his constant encouragement and, most important, his sense of commitment, of historical perspective and his friendship, all of which I not not only cherish to this day but the memories of those meetings sustain me as they sustain everyone who knew and loved Ernie over his life.
We offer our condolences to his wife, partner, closest friend, Amy Goldberg, always at Ernie's side, and his children and grandchildren. Please know that as we remember Ernie, you are in our thoughts and prayers.
At our last meeting, Ernie, gave me a copy of the cover photo that graced his book -- Promises Kept: One Man's Journey Against Incredible Odds. Almost all of us have the book and remember that photo -- Ernie sitting on the railroad tracks leading to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkena, contemplating, loss, revival, personal commitment and Jewish history. Ernie signed the photo: "To my friend, Richard, never give up the fight. Love, Ernie."
I am looking at that photo, which now sits on my desk, Ernie, and I am thinking of you with my eternal thanks.
Baruch dayan emet