Aaron is the brother of Moses. He is also the high priest of Israel. He is a man of power, fame, and significance. But, he is also a parent. One day out of nowhere, and under rather mysterious circumstances, his two sons are killed, taken from Aaron without warning. How does Aaron react? The Torah describes it this way, “And Aaron was silent.” That’s all he could muster. Sometimes there are simply no words that can make something right. Sometimes there is no level of eloquence that can right that which is wrong. “And Aaron was silent.” I kind of feel like that this morning. Part of me is saying to myself, I ought to just be silent, however, we are here not only to mourn but also to celebrate Jordan’s life. And because we are here to acknowledge that this was a young man who in an astonishingly short amount of time touched a lot of souls. Perhaps there in the silence of being together, we can draw strength and comfort and faith from each other. So I thought about that idea of silence, and then I said to myself ‘that’s a terrible idea.’ After all, did any of you know Jordan to be silent about anything? No. The correct way to celebrate Jordan’s life is with words and actions because that’s who Jordan was.
When Jordan was starting his college career in Towson University, Alan happened to meet the president of the school during move-in day, and Alan said to him, “Mr. President, I’m not going to tell you my name, but I just want you to know that within one month you will know my son’s name.” The president looked at Alan like he was nuts. But a few weeks later, Alan and Michele were back at school for homecoming weekend, and Alan just happened to see the president of the school. So the president comes up to Alan and says, “…you were right, you’re Jordan Feder’s father.” And that was Jordan.
Everybody knew his name. He had this gift of being able to agitate for change. Yet he was so passionate about the issues, not because of the issues, but because of the people involved. He was the kind of person who didn’t only collect food for the hungry. He was the person who brought the food to the shelters and then served it. Jordan was an organizer, a leader, and doer. He was the president of his high school class, but that was only the start. He was the kind of person who got to college, and who not only saw what was and imagined what could be, he was the kind of person who then said “Why not?” and then proceeded to work the system for change. So what that there was a law that, for insurance reasons, no university was allowed to donate furniture, bedding, and furnishings for the homeless. Jordan saw that rule as just one more obstacle to overcome, so he organized people to go through the garbage dumps and salvage furniture and bedding that the needy not only needed, but were desperate for. He made it happen.
Many people his age filled their lives with parties, games, and social events. Jordan’s horizons were far wider. Jordan’s horizons were about the world and making the world a saner and more compassionate place. When Jordan came to school, he recognized the cafeteria workers and custodians were barely being paid minimum wage, so he fought for them to get a “living wage.” To Jordan, it wasn’t right that these workers could barely support their families. And so, he contacted other universities only to discover similar situations there. Sit-ins and protests were organized and Jordan was in the thick of it. He was a shaker and mover.
He founded on his campus a new chapter of the ARA (Anti-Racist Action). And this organization became a focal point of his life. Think of it. If there was a demonstration on campus, the police chief would come to Jordan so that they could get a handle on how to coordinate the event so no one would get hurt. Everyone recognized that he was a leader. Everyone knew his name. Whether it was about organizing unions or feeding the hungry or sheltering the poor, Jordan was a shaker and mover. Through his organizational work, he became involved with protesting against and calling out members of the Neo-Nazi parties – organizations that continue to flourish in the underground of this country, just under the surface. Fighting against the prejudice of hate groups put him at risk, but he did it. He was willing to speak out. Jordan was never about silence. He was about rushing headlong into life.
When Jordan was a RA (resident assistant) in his college dorm, one day he put himself at considerable risk by putting out a fire that one of the other students had accidentally started. He saved lives and the University Police Chief actually presented him with an award citation for his courage. He also seemed to be in the middle of things, and that’s because Jordan did life at full-throttle every day.
I understand that Jordan had done some skydiving. When I heard that, all I could say was “Oy,” but that’s who he was. I also found it fascinating, and I do not know if all of you know this; Jordan was a mascot. He was the Towson Tiger. He was the high school mascot. He was Bugs Bunny at Six Flags- Great Adventure. He was about making people smile. So on one hand, he’s tough enough to deal with fighting hatred, and on the other hand he’s gentle enough to bring joy to kids as Bugs Bunny. No, Jordan was not about silence, he was about skydiving into life head first and sometimes he wasn’t sure he even had a parachute. And he did it all with passion.
I said to the family that Jordan seemed to have packed, not one, not two, not three, but four life-times into his 23 years. So, let’s judge his life not by quantity of time, but quality. Jordan wasn’t about silence. He was about making his voice heard. He was about Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, God’s charge to each of us to make a difference in this life. Jordan charged ahead with that charge, and somewhere right now I have no doubt Jordan is organizing a cause, giving a speech, or holding a protest. In his 23 years, he made our world a little better, and now I hope he’ll make heaven a little better as well.
I want to extend my deepest sympathies to Alan & Michele. Parents should never have to live through such a day. But you can take comfort in knowing that he loved you, and that he said he loved you just about every time you spoke, and that his last words to you were of his love. Nuri shared with me how honored he felt to have Jordan as his brother, and I suspect Jordan felt the same way about his brother. To you Nuri, his grandparents, whose pain must be unimaginable, to all his family and friends, my deepest sympathies.
Perhaps the best way to pull all of this together is to read you something that Jordan had read and saved. Although this was someone else’s words, he felt this described his own personal philosophy:
“We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of rolling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still, we should be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road, we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is a right one. What must we do? Be strong and of good courage. Act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes…If Death ends all, we cannot meet Death better.”
That was Jordan. He wasn’t about silence. I would add my own “We, who are his friends, are numb. Words from our lips but feebly come. We feel as we extend our hand that one power only understands and truly knows the reason why so beautiful a soul must die. We realize how helpless then, all the gifts of mortal men are. No words which we have power to say can take the sting of grief away, but as we mark Jordan’s fall, let us find the faith and courage that will comfort and sustain us all.”
These are times of pain and shock and profound loss, and so, therefore, this must also be a time for reaching outwards for friends to just hold each other. It is a time for reaching inwards, when each person looks inside himself and we remember that each day is a gift and a blessing, and therefore, we must make our lives a blessing. And then it’s a time for reaching upwards in the hope that our faith will give us the strength to endure the pain and the loss.
“And Aaron was silent.” As Aaron was silent in his loss, so to we are left searching for the right words. What are the right words? The right words are Jordan’s own personal philosophy, “…act for the best, hope for the best, and take what comes. If Death ends all, we cannot meet Death better.”
Jordan was an extraordinary young man. He will be missed, but he will not be forgotten. May he rest in peace. Amen.