When we pass the “biblical” age of three score and ten, we begin to feel — as Saul Bellow said when he passed that milestone — that old friends are “dropping all around as on a battlefield.” Yet nothing could have prepared us for the sudden death of David Brumer (“A farewell to David,” July 13), cut off in his intellectual prime, when his appetite for ideas and his adroitness in handling them were at their most impressive. And who could miss the irony in the fact that, in his hospice work of recent years, he was helping people come to terms with the inevitability of death, but that he himself was taken completely by surprise when it came.
I knew David in two capacities. For those of us who have parents resident in the Kline Galland nursing home, he was for many years the key figure there, not just a source of information but an exemplar of humane intelligence. David was also an exemplary, indeed a heroic, figure for the following reason: He understood, and acted upon the understanding, that the defense of Israel against its innumerable enemies would require of liberals the kind of sustained exertion and courage in the realm of ideas and political action that Israelis have had to manifest in the military defense of their country. That is why, although he probably never forsook his youthful liberalism, he was a liberal tempered by experience, reflection, and renouncement. He understood that Jews must judge the New York Times by the standards of Judaism, and not Judaism by the standards of the New York Times. He not only knew things that most of us did not; he had the courage to act upon what he knew, to enter into battle where the rest of us feared to tread.
We shall miss him more than, at the moment, we can imagine. Baruch dayan emet.