I am Yonatan Mahram ben Dovid; Jonathan Mahram, the oldest of three.
Ben is here from Toronto, and our younger brother Micky is in Perth, Western Australia. David loved quirks and coincidences: between the four of us we hold passports from four countries: the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Australia.
As we gather here today, the flag at All Souls College, Oxford, is at half-staff. And to celebrate his ninetieth birthday on February 8th, David was named Resident of the Month at the Oak Park Convalescent Home.
He would have loved the irony: the most exclusive college in -- arguably -- Europeís greatest university marking the passing of a resident of the month.
David died on February 24th; his older brother Benni, after whom Ben is named, died on February 23rd, 1946. How quirky.
And the ultimate coincidence: today is the eighty-fifth birthday of my mother.
Who was this man who left Germany without a word of English and, twenty-two years later, was offered a Regius chair by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Churchillís own handwriting and then received the appointment from the Queen with the Royal Seal?
Who was this man who got his parents, tubercular brother and parents-in-law out of Germany and -- he was proud of this one -- appeared on Hitlerís Black List just above the Kingís Doctor, Lord Dawson of Penn?
Who was this man who talked during dinner in New Delhi with Prime Minister Nehru about problems he -- that is, Nehru -- was having with his daughter and who walked fearlessly to the East Bay bus terminal around five in the morning?
Who was this man who irritated us, taught us, puzzled us and -- most importantly -- loved us?
Each of us knew many David Daubes. I knew him in my childhood as an overpowering father who insisted on us speaking German in the streets of wartime Cambridge, who loved the music of Wagner, who played the piano and the recorder, and who taught me classical Hebrew. Even my brothers got some of it, until we were permitted to revolt the day after our Bar Mitzvahs. Forgive me -- and blame David Daube -- if I say Kaddish too fast: of course I know it by heart.
I knew him -- letís get this over with -- as a rotten husband. It was best for everyone when my parents got divorced in 1964.
I knew him as someone who, in his quirky way, wanted the best for me. Frequently, the grand gesture. Example: he had two tickets to the Senate House in Cambridge when Jan Smuts, the Chancellor of the University, was to give Winston Churchill an honorary degree. My mother was pregnant with Ben, so he took me, knowing that the toffs who disapproved would soon forget, while I am telling the story over half a century later.
I knew David Daube was a scholar and teacher who felt at home in ten languages, but until recently I didnít really understand what he did.
Today, when the University of Aberdeen in Scotland is one of Europeís main centers for the study of Roman Law, I am deeply moved. My youngest son Matthew and I were with him when Aberdeen gave him an honorary degree in 1990: that degree meant as much to him as his doctorates from Cambridge, Oxford and the Sorbonne and even the offer, which he was no longer well enough to accept, from Harvard.
Why? Because -- looking back on it -- Aberdeen recognized before his oldest son ever did that beneath the scholar, beneath the orthodox Jew who embarrassed his children in pre-sixties Britain... beneath all that was a Mensch.
Helen, who David first met on the London-Oxford train, brought out what we all loved David for: his total acceptance of others for who they are; his interest in you and you and you; his trustworthiness when told a confidence; his almost naive way of seeing the best in people; his maddening ignorance of his own salary.
Ask Matthew about the time when he was a teenager who wanted to wear an earring. My wife Linda and I said no. David came a-visiting, and our minds were changed. I think DD might have gone out to have his own ears pierced, just to keep the pot boiling.
If I have spoken harshly about David until he was about my present age, I assure you that he would have wanted it thus.
He did tell the truth, and he was passionately interested in ultimate truths.
In the last several years, he would ask me whether I believe in an afterlife. Hesitantly, I would tell him no. He would look at me sadly, but gratefully. Truth came before comfort.
When David was in his early sixties, something changed.
Profound thanks to his wife Helen. Thanks to his colleagues at Boalt Hall. Thanks to friends like Ed Epstein, John Noonan and Kathleen Vanden Heuvel.
He was still difficult. Always difficult.
And there was the mantra, "Iím in a terrible state."
But he learned to love Tina and Eric, his stepchildren, and they returned his love.
He loved my wife Linda, Benís first wife Bronwyn, Benís second wife Jo, Mickyís wife Ruth.
He loved his six grandchildren and communicated with them. When Max was born in Perth, Western Australia, David, then in his high seventies, got onto a plane and went to inspect.
When told of this oneís or that oneís lifestyle, he would be unfailingly encouraging.
He became a loving and caring father; he was a spectacular grandfather, never throwing away a card or note from Andrew or Katharine or Matthew or Nicholas or Kira or Max.
Matthew in particular and he shared a unique relationship that was totally trusting and honest -- on both sides -- and I am so grateful that Mina came on the scene in time for David to talk and argue with her and write her poems. Unlike the rest of us, you see, Mina is a genuine scholar, and David relished that. Then there was the growing relationship with his two granddaughters -- both of whom are here -- that would have flourished if he could have lived to 120.
I debated whether to mention Davidís penchant for the limerick. Then I asked myself, "Would David want me to?" No question whatever. So here goes.
Some years ago, I think it was my son Andrew who gave me a book by Isaac Asimov and John Ciardi entitled LIMERICKS TOO GROSS; it contains 288 wonderful limericks. I sent a copy of the book to my father, with a note, "Do thou likewise." And he did! I have a stash of limericks that he wrote and sent me in his seventies, all in his inimitable handwriting. Hereís one:
There was a young lad from Lahore
Whom the girls found a terrible bore.
Said his guru, "My son,
If you want to have fun,
You must extend yourself more."
Reminds me of our first family trip to Switzerland after the War. We met up with some friends from Israel who also had a young lad of nine or ten. There was a competition: who could use the more vulgar German words? I won, hands down, making David very proud, prouder than when he came to see me inaugurated as a college president and, representing Oxford, led the procession of visiting delegates.
During the past several weeks, the way I managed to cope was to approach things with his quirky sense of humor: otherwise I could not make it.
My question remains. Who was this world-class scholar, this author of the worldís first crossword puzzle in Hebrew, this incredible chess player, beloved by former students and by grandchildren who live three and ten thousand miles away?
The question remains.
And what would he want of us?
Keep struggling. Even when it hurts.
Keep searching for meaning. Even when it hurts.
Admit when youíre wrong. Even when youíre in your eighties.
Hide Matthewís drink when he visits you in the hospital.
Take the unexplored and risky road.
Keep puzzling them.
Keep irritating them.
Be sure they know you love them.
Stay the course.
Tell one more story... at some length; make a point.
And eat butter crunch ice cream with pralines and hot coffee.
Jonathan M. Daube
Walnut Creek, California
March 2, 1999