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Whenever Jeffrey Jampel’s children were overwhelmed by life’s inconveniences and deterrents, he offered a Yiddish expression.
“He’d say Nisht Geferlech!,” his son Jake remembers. “I don’t know the literal translation, but all I know is he described it as, 'What are you gonna do? It is what it is, right? Nisht Geferlech.'”
That didn’t mean one lived life at a distance. Jeffrey reveled in excess, whether it was his love of Klezmer music, or Freud, or bing cherries. Sometimes excess prevailed, like the three storage units he needed to hide his glut of collected books, or the boxes and boxes of recordings of a Yiddish radio show he saved, certain that somebody would want them.
“I think what it was, mainly, was just being fascinated by things," Jake recalls. "I think he was somebody who was awe-struck by life a lot.”
He was also a psychologist, with a professional appreciation for the absurd. Jeffrey gave his daughter and two sons practical tips to get them through difficult moments.
“And one of them was to just look around the room and just focus on people’s ears, and just kind of think about how strange they look," Jake remembers. "And it’s hilarious 'cause it does work."
But the world was a serious place to Jeffrey as well. On Passover, he would pass a human rights petition down the table to sign, or hand around the address of some political dissident or prisoner who needed written comfort.
“'You know, just be a mench!,'" Jake recalls. "That was really important to him. 'Be a mench.'”
He said it through two marriages and three children, a decade-long co-existence with pulmonary fibrosis, and finally, lung cancer. Jake still hears him saying it. “It’s like I want to remember him as a saint, right? Of course, nobody is a saint.”
Nobody is a saint. But until he died last August at 73, Jeffrey took the advice of a good psychologist — he was generous, awe-struck by life itself; a mench.
Did you know Jeffrey Jampel? Share your memories in the comments section.
This segment aired on February 16, 2016.
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