Rabbi David J. Gelfand on Loss of Walter Cronkite

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A voice of integrity and civility has been silenced with the recent death of Walter Cronkite.  In an often fast-paced and tumultuous world Walter Cronkite gave us counsel and wisdom to understand our world one day at a time and more than that comfort and strength to face tomorrow.  He reminded us nightly “That’s the way it is” and with his unflappable reporting and humility somehow we stood taller in the brightness of the day and found comfort in the darkness of the night and the unknown.

It has been written “It is hard to sing of oneness when the world is not complete, when those who once brought wholeness to our life have gone and naught but memory can fill the emptiness their passing leaves behind.” Our world was more complete because of his clarion voice as an insightful, responsible truth-teller. We have lost our eloquent and dignified Honorary Chairperson who blessed us with his words, his support and his presence.  How privileged we have been. We were better because of him.

The Interfaith Alliance which I had the privilege to co-found in 1994 was made more whole beginning in 1997 because of the insight and courage of Walter Cronkite. He threw his energy, words, wisdom and most of all his reputation as “the most trusted person in America” into the Interfaith Alliance when he told it like it was, “As a concerned person of faith, I have watched with increasing alarm as Religious Right groups manipulate religion to further their intolerant political agendas. Over the years, they have gained considerable influence at every level of government…on local school boards, in the Administration, the courts and in Congress. They have shrewdly twisted the traditional healing role of religion into an intolerant political platform.”  His agenda was democracy, civility, dignity, respectfulness and religious freedom for all. Our annual highest honor is named after him and of that we could not be more proud.

For those of us over 50, including President Obama, were raised in part by him on the evening news.   As a high school student I was literally groomed to go into the news media in his footsteps by teachers and speech coaches.  I never did take that path, but Walter was an inspiration to me then and again in these recent dozen years.  A person of decency and understanding, who represented the best of our collective values, he should long be remembered and we should aspire to his values and courage.

In Jewish tradition we say of people worthy of being emulated “zichrono livracha – May his name be for a blessing.”  So may it be said for him for he is surely deserving of this and more.  The poet Zelda reminds us,

“Each of us has a name
given us by God,
and given us by our father and mother.

Each of us has a name
given us by the way we stand
our way of smiling,
and the clothes we wear.

Each of us has a name
given us by the planets,
and by our neighbors.

Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and by the ones we love.

Each of us had a name
give us by our feast days
and by our craft.”

May the name of Walter Cronkite z”l, ever be remembered for a blessing. May his family find comfort in their memories.  And may the Interfaith Alliance continue to follow in his footsteps for the benefit of this great country of ours.

Rabbi David J. Gelfand
Vice-Chair, Interfaith Alliance Foundation and Chair of the Interfaith Alliance
Sr. Rabbi, Temple Israel of the City of New York