Pen and paper are wholly incapable of fully describing who “Nono” was, and how much he meant to us, his family, and to all those who had the pleasure of coming in contact with him. Whether it was because of his unique warm and calm nature, or because of his incomparably friendly and happy face, Nono was truly one of a kind, and will be so dearly missed by all.
It is difficult to comprehend how a person can reach such a high level of character refinement. Nono was almost angelic. He was legendary in the way he embodied the quality of “shteken” (keeping quiet), while simultaneously bringing people true joy. A simple greeting of “Shabbat shalom” or “good morning” was already enough to change your day. Whenever you looked at Nono, you saw no sign or outward feelings of atzvut (sadness). He lived with the genuine, simple joy engendered by emunah peshutah (simple faith)and sincere love for Hashem. He lived with, and frequently expressed, the unwavering belief and clear recognition that everything that happens in our lives – for the bad or for the good – is “me’et Hashem – “from Gd.” You were able to see in his face that these weren’t just empty words – they were said wholeheartedly. This is a lesson that cannot be taught through the spoken word; it must be illustrated through one’s actions. This is how Nono lived his life, and this is how we were all able to learn and internalize these vital principles of faith.
I once remarked to someone humorously – but also seriously –that when a person immigrates to America, he becomes engulfed mainly in three areas of American society: materialism, politics, and sports. I believe there is a good deal of truth to that statement – except with regard to Nono. These interests had no place whatsoever in his life. He loved simplicity, and never pursued material luxuries or anything extravagant. He didn’t even complain even when things didn’t run smoothly. His priorities and overall outlook on life were shaped by the mishnah’s famous teaching that this world is merely a prozdor, a corridor, to the main “hall,” and thus material possessions were never a point of focus. And anyone who knew him will attest that he was never heard speaking about politics.
Nono’s only real passion was Torah and mitzvot, a passion that burned within him already from his earliest years. He related that once, when he was a young child growing up in Alexandria, Egypt, he got into a fight with an Arab kid. Afraid of what the Arab child might do to him, he started running, and ran into the street without looking. A car hit him, and he was seriously injured. After he fully recuperated, his parents decided to take him on a trip to the neighboring Holy Land of Israel. They took two connecting trains to arrive there. During their stay in Israel, they visited holy sites such as the Kotel, Me’arat Hamachpelah and Kever Rahel. During the visit to Kever Rahel, there were people selling souvenir goods, and Nono pleaded with his father to buy him a Tehillim book. Nono’s father refused, noting that they had plenty of copies of Tehillim back home. Nono, however, didn’t relent. He told his father, “Buy it for me or I’m going to cry!” Sure enough, his father gave in. After telling me this story, Nono opened one of his drawers and pulled out a tiny old Tehillim and said, “This is it!”
Even at a tender age, Nono felt a love for the religion, and this feeling remained with him throughout his life. Nono would always say how a sefer was worth “a million dollars.” This wasn’t just an exaggeration or overstatement for dramatic effect; he genuinely and fervently believed in the inestimable value of all his sefarim. And when he could not find a sefer, he was truly saddened and distraught. He would stop everything and ask me to help him find it. It wasn’t just a missing book – it was a missing treasure.
As many people know, Nono was a member of Ahava ve Ahva Congregation for 50 years, accompanying the synagogue in all its four locations, and also was also a member of Bnai Yosef for the same number of years. He used to relate to me humorously that when he first arrived in the community, for the first year he only knew of Ahava ve Ahva, which back then was located on Bay Parkway. On weekdays, he would get a lift to the synagogue together with his father and other Eqyptian immigrants from Charles Seruya a”h, who drove a station wagon to take people to shul. On Shabbat, they would walk all the way there. This walk was cut short a year later when they found out about Bnai Yosef, which in those days was situated on East Fourth St, and Shaarei Zion. Nono at that point began what would become a long-standing tradition of praying at Bnai Yosef on Shabbat mornings, where he also served as hazan and somech. As he walked to the synagogue on Shabbat morning, he would sing his favorite song – Yom Hashabbat Ein Kamohu (“Shabbat Day – There is Nothing Like it!”). He sang it with fervor and passion, such that everyone who heard him came to truly appreciate the precious gift of Shabbat.
Nono leaves behind his wife, Ginette Marcus, two daughters (Nancy Or, Lillian Eliezer), three sisters (Fortune Netousri, Denise Zani, Vivan Salem), and a brother (Rabbi Eliyahu Marcus). He is deeply missed by everyone who knew him, and in whom his memory will always be cherished.