My father David Katz passed away October 16th, 2023. I shared these words of remembrance at his memorial service.
My father was a teacher, and as many in the educational field can relate, the profession is full of fads – trendy strategies that only last a couple of years. One of our favorite conversation topics involved him mocking these trends, especially if it had the terms differentiated instruction or learning modalities attached. With over 40 years of teaching under his belt, he certainly had a lot of opinions – and he wasn’t shy about sharing them.
I remember distinctly as a child how much work he put into preparing a lesson. In the early years of digital graphics, he was always on the cutting edge. I’d see him model molecular diagrams on the computer and fill 3-ring binders with elaborate transparencies. This early exposure to digital art was formative to me and laid the foundation for what I do now as a video producer and graphic designer.
Whether it was Organic Chemistry lectures or lessons for my 5th grade Hebrew class, he had a creative spark and way of engaging with his students on multiple levels. He was constantly evolving his style and – as much as he would hate to admit it – incorporating a few of those dreaded learning modalities into his practice.
When the campuses closed and all of his classes went online, he seamlessly converted all of his lectures into new formats, creating animations and recording videos so his students would still benefit from everything he had to offer. At the same time he adapted these new skills to animate monster games for his two grandkids.
Just last term, he prepared and taught a new 8 week course – all of this shortly after getting news of the cancer that would eventually take his life.
My father demonstrated to me countless times his devotion to be of service to others. When my family moved from Missouri to Oklahoma for my mother’s job, he gave up a tenure track position. He would continue teaching as an adjunct for the rest of his career.
For that time though, while my bother and I completed middle and high school my dad had the time to support us, though his amazing cooking, help with homework, and ensuring we had a strong Jewish education.
He was a great help to our synagogue, teaching at the religious school, volunteering to read Torah and lead services. When we lost our rabbi he became the lay-leader of the congregation. I saw the passion and energy he put into that role and the impact he made from tutoring bar mitzvah students to counseling families through a loss.
My father showed incredible strength over the last several years, dealing with many health challenges. He kept fighting and didn’t complain of the physical challenges and pain – which I’m certain were significant. The only time I heard him express his inner struggle was in the last couple of months, when he was no longer able to teach or even get up to cook. His last outlets of service to others were taken away, and he felt, in his words – useless.
How significant and generous of a soul was my dad, that it was not the illness that wore at his resolve, but his inability to help others.
I look around today and see the community that he impacted for the better. I am so grateful for the caregivers that assisted him through his multiple hospital stays, many of whom started their healthcare careers in one of my dad’s classes.
I’m grateful to our friends and congregational family who have been here to support us through our grief, as my father has been there for so many others.
My father prepared countless lessons over the years, but the lessons I take most to heart are those he taught me through his actions. I learned from him how to care for my family, how to nurture a life of learning and personal growth, how to show strength in the face of impossible odds, and how to leave this world better than you came into it.