Remembrances of Rabbi David M. Hongisberg (1958-2007)

David's obituary:

Rabbi David M. Honigsberg passed away on Tuesday March 27, 2007 of a heart attack. He was 48 years old.

Rabbi Honigsberg wore many hats: besides his rabbinical work, he was a singer/songwriter, a guitarist, a writer, a game reviewer, a graduate student, a Kabbalah expert and teacher, and an online quality assurance professional. He was mere weeks away from receiving his Master of Arts in Jewish Studies from Jewish Theological Seminary, which will be awarded posthumously.

Born on September 13, 1958 in New York City to Charles and Marilyn Schwartz Honigsberg, Rabbi Honigsberg was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attended the University of Hartford from 1976 to 1978, where he achieved his Associates Degree, and also where he met his future wife. Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg—a priest in the Apostolic Orthodox Catholic Church—married Rabbi Honigsberg on May 24, 1981. They moved to New York City, where they continued to live and work.

A musician from his days as a high school student, Rabbi Honigsberg wrote and performed extensively over the years, particularly in recent times. From 1994 to 2000 he was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the rock/blues/country band the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players. The DQYDJP performed at science fiction conventions, New York City clubs, college campuses, and county and state fairs, and released two CDs, TKB (1996) and Blues Spoken Here (1999). After the band split up, David pursued a solo career, releasing two CDs of his own, Ten the Hard Way (2001) and The Pattern (2006). He was in the midst of a tour in support of The Pattern at the time of his passing.

His writing career ranged from short stories in the fantasy and science fiction genre—published in such anthologies as The Ultimate Silver Surfer, Magic: The Gathering: Tapestries, Elric: Tales of the White Wolf, On Crusade: More Tales of the Knights Templar, and Bruce Coville's UFOs—to gaming work, most notably Ars Magica Kabbalah, an Ars Magica Sourcebook that combined his love of gaming with his scholarly interest in Kabbalah.

He was ordained a rabbi at the New Synagogue on June 27, 2000, but even before that, he was a spiritual advisor to many of his friends and acquaintances, always ready to provide assistance, aid, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to bend. After his ordination, he regularly performed weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and funerals with his unique combination of studiousness, warmth, and joy. His scholarly articles appeared in the newsletter of the Order of St. Michael and Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and he presented his paper Pre-Kabbalistic Philosophy in the Age of Augustine at Oxford University. He also regularly taught Kabbalah workshops out of his home, and both he and his wife were active in the interfaith community. Several of his sermons and articles can be found online at www.DavidHonigsberg.com.

Rabbi Honigsberg is survived by his wife, his parents, and his brother Michael.


Memories of David from 15 years of friendship:

At the New Synagogue on the Upper West Side, watching David get ordained as a rabbi. There were about six people getting ordained; the other five had two or three people attending. David had a crowd of dozens. David was also the only one wearing cowboy boots, and included in his speech the country-music line "I hope I can be the man my dog thinks I am." That pretty much summed David up right there.

Hanging around in the apartment I lived in when Marina and I were together, which was often the central headquarters for Don't Quit Your Day Job Players stuff, after a gig, all drinking and decompressing, and someone said something bizarre, and David held up his glass and said, "More whiskey!" which has remained the refrain when the TMI stuff happens.

Telling David that Terri and I were getting married and that we wanted him and Alex involved in the wedding, and seeing the happy smile on his face.

In the studio in 1996 putting TKB together. David's recording the lead vocals for "House of Denial," and us all looking up and saying, "Whoa!" when he sang, "I've been chasing shadows" in an uncharacteristic deep growl.

In the studio in 1999 putting Blues Spoken Here together, trying desperately to get the "Feeding Love's Fire" guitar solo right. (The end result is a Frankenstein's monster, the stitching together of four different attempts at the solo. God bless digital editing.)

Standing with David in the dealer's room at the 2001 WorldCon in Philadelphia when Glenn Hauman (in costume in Jedi robes -- Glenn is also tall, bearded, and had long hair at the time) walks up to us, devastated, because not seconds earlier, a homeless woman mistook him for Jesus Christ.

The one and only time David and I worked together professionally as writer and editor was when he submitted a story for The Ultimate Silver Surfer that I accepted. "Sambatyon" was published in the anthology in 1995 (alongside my own story, "Improper Procedure").

The last time I talked to David at any length was at Lunacon a week and a half ago. A friend's son bar mitzvah is coming up, and David was giving the kid a copy of The Ultimate Silver Surfer, and he wanted as many of the contributors as possible to autograph it. I was able to tell him that one of the contributors, Dan Persons, was also at the con. I still don't know if David ever found him. Ironically, Pierce Askegren -- another friend who died suddenly and too young -- was also in that book, and I remember commiserating with David over the fact that we couldn't get him to sign the book anymore.

The Don't Quit Your Day Job Players were the musical guests of honor at Albacon one year, and David was coming straight to the convention from Las Vegas, where he attended a demo of a Star Trek game (he was doing a lot of game reviews at the time), and we picked him up at the Albany/Schenectady International Airport (hifalutin name, small airport, but they flew to Canada a lot, hence the "international" part). He came out wearing a Klingon t-shirt, his Coke-bottle glasses that he rarely wore (usually sticking with contacts), and a very hung over look about him.

In 1998, the DQYDJP did the "Prose and Cons" tour, where we hit half a dozen conventions up and down the east coast, as well as, God help us, Lubbock, Texas. That was an amazing journey, full of wonderful moments, fun times, nightmarish travel things, and some really wonderful music.

At the beginning of the Lubbock trip, we were waiting for our new connecting flight, having missed the first one (which set the tone for that disastrous trip), and we mentioned to the gate agent that we were musicians, and we wound up whipping out the instruments (my cabasa, David's guitar, Alex's fiddle, and Steve's mandolin) and doing an impromptu song at the gate.

Sitting in the lobby at the end of the Lubbock trip waiting for our ride to the airport, and the four of us start jam-writing lyrics that eventually became "Another Saturday Night in Lubbock," thus far the only song I've written or cowritten that's been put on a CD.

Marina and I used our large apartment to host the party after David's ordination, which was a good thing, as the place was packed. The high point was when David paid his father back. See, there's a Jewish tradition that you donate five gold coins to the temple when you have a son so the temple doesn't take the son (or something like that -- I'm probably misrepresenting it somewhat). Because David became a rabbi, he felt his father deserved his money back, so he tracked down five dollar coins from the era of David's birth and gave them to his Dad when he was ordained. It was a beautiful moment.

Practicing in the apartment, David demo's a song for the rest of the band on his acoustic guitar, but the guitar's out of tune, and so therefore is his singing. Alex gets this wide-eyed WTF look, and when he's done, she asks, "Sweetie -- what key was that in." David looks at her and says definitively: "J."

This was not David's first heart attack. That was about six months ago, and I was under such insane deadline pressure that I couldn't visit him in the hospital, but I did spend an evening with him after he came home. We watched baseball, drank Scotch (well, okay, I drank Scotch), and chatted, and just enjoyed each other's company. We didn't do that nearly enough lately, and now, of course, we won't.

Sitting in a rental car of David's going to the monthly poker game and listening to the end of an intense Yankees-Mets game during which the Mets coughed up a ninth-inning lead. David was always fun to watch/listen to ballgames with. I remember both in 1996 and in 1998, we had a DQYDJP rehearsal when a Yankee threw a no-hitter or perfect game -- Dwight Gooden's in '96, David Wells's in '98.

The DQYDJP were born when David, Pete Heck, and I did a jam session, occasionally joined by Spider Robinson, at the Baen Books party at Arisia in January 1994. They shut us down for being too loud -- right in the middle of "Locomotive Breath," too, the big stinkies.

A recent poker game when I had an Ace-high flush, and it was down to me and David head to head, and I was sure he only had three of a kind or a straight, and he wound up having a full house.

David was the primary organizer of a yearly outing we did for almost a decade called "WineCon." It started out as an alternative to I-Con: take a trip to the North Fork of Long Island, sample various wines at the wineries out there, and stay in one hotel. The hotel we stayed in had a separate building with about five rooms in it, and we'd all usually end up in there, drinking and buying wine, eating good food, gabbing, playing poker, and having a wonderful time. We haven't done it the last few years for a variety of reasons, and now I doubt we'll ever do anything quite like it again. A pity, as we got to know several cool places, and watch some wineries really develop over the years we went.

David was skinny as a rail, which makes his heart problems even more perplexing. But he also ate like a horse. I remember every time we went to a steakhouse after a gig -- which we did often, as after a gig, one needs protein -- and he'd get the biggest steak he could and wolf down all of it.

In 1998, the WorldCon was in Baltimore. Charm City has prohibitively exorbitant corkage fees for hotels, so several publishers that normally threw room parties instead set up shop in the hotel bars and bought people drinks. We were in the bar Tor had taken over, and David instructed the bartender how to make Harbor Lights, a particularly potent shot drink. He also did that at many parties over the years. I remember one person in particular having enough of them that she passed out on David's lap....

Again, during the recording of TKB, I was feeling very much like a fifth wheel, and wondering if I really should've even been on the CD, as I didn't think I was really contributing anything. David convinced me otherwise, and as I listen now to, in particular, "Saturday Show" and "Southern Angel" and a few others on that CD, I see that he was right.

During a volleyball game at a Fourth of July party, Laura Anne's team was down 3-7, and she looked at David and said, "So what's the kabbalistic significance of that score, Rabbi Boy?" and, without missing a beat, David provided one.

At Lunacon, David sticking his head into the Star Trek novels panel and letting us know that an Israeli magazine had done a story on Creative Couplings. This was the eBook with the first Klingon-Jewish wedding, and on which David had served as a consultant. He promised to translate it for us, but sadly never did.

Over the years we played music together, from that party in 1994 until the band broke up in 2000, it was particularly enjoyable watching David improve his craft, going from being a decent rhythm guitarist to a kickass lead guitarist. David was also the one who convinced me that lessons would be a good idea, and they were, doing immense amounts to improve my percussional craft.

In general, David was the Rabbi, even before he was a rabbi, and he was always there for everyone. He was concerned about his fellow humans, and always made an effort to reach out to people.

He was also a talented musician with whom it was a privilege to share a stage on so many occasions.

And he was a good friend. And I miss him horribly.

[First posted on my LiveJournal on 28 and 30 March 2007.]

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