Tuesday night I was in Berlin to give a speech at the German-Jewish History Awards, and when I informed my hosts that I would not be able to stay for the ceremony the next day because of the loss of the Museum's former chairman, someone asked, “Who?” I said, “Miles Lerman.” The individual responded, “Miles, Wow!”
I could not agree more. “Miles, Wow!”
We are all familiar with the extraordinary nature of his accomplishment. He was a man of both vision and action, a dreamer and a doer, a master of imagination and of implementation. Just think of how rare it is that someone possesses that particular combination of talents. Many visionaries depend on others, but Miles could have the dream and make it come true.
Now if his only accomplishment was the Museum itself, we would say dayenu [Hebrew for “it would have been enough”]. But there were those international agreements that were the foundation for our exhibition, our archives and our collections. To that we say dayenu and also thank God for Miles' capacity to consume extraordinary amounts of vodka when circumstances required it. And then there was Miles the fundraiser extraordinaire. But about fundraising Miles himself would say, there is no such thing as dayenu!
Yes, negotiation and solicitationhe was a master of the dynamics of the human relationshipall of us here were swayed by his charm, wit, intelligence and the sheer force of his character.
But let us also recall that this was a man of ideasand none of them was small. The breadth of his vision for the Museum was truly astonishing, encompassing his passion for areas as diverse as historic evidence, Jewish resistance and moral conscience. These areas embody the authenticity and moral authority that Miles understood were essential for the Museum, especially as the institution transcended its founding generation. Yes, Miles had the wisdom to know that he was not building the Museum for himself.
His wisdom was critical at other times as well. There were some very pivotal moments in the history of the Museum when Miles was under enormous pressure to make certain decisionsdecisions for which he had the full authority. His decisions would fundamentally alter the course of the Museum. In each caseand I can think of at least threeMiles resisted the pressure, defied the odds and made what must have been for him very difficult decisions. This took immense couragenot quite the physical courage he displayed in the forests of Poland, but extraordinary courage nevertheless. I never discussed this with Miles, but on this day this should be recognized, for this was leadership of judgment, in addition to his leadership of ideas for which he is often acknowledged.
Ruth Mandel served as Miles' vice chair of the Museum. She and I frequently talked about the fact that life with Miles was like being on a ride. Sometimes we were not always sure where we were going, but we always we knew it would be exciting. At times it felt like a roller coaster ride, so that even when you were going down, you knew there would be something really exhilarating heading upwards coming soon.
Now life with Miles also had its own vocabulary. So when he said, we need to “bump it up,” he really meant the roller coaster was going too slowly or too flat for his liking. When he said someone was “popier than the pope,” it meant that someone told him that he could not pursue some new ride he wanted badly. When he referred to you as his “comrade in arms,” that meant that either you had just come out of a bad ride or were headed into one. And, my all-time favorite“Sara, we will swim to shore.” This really meant our ride was either in trouble or about to be.
Yes, Miles, life with you was indeed a ride. It was the ride of a lifetime. But you taught me to dream, to take risks and to enjoy the ride. And, Miles, you were right. Every time, we did swim to shore.
On behalf of the Council and staff of the Museum, I say this to you, Miles. We are standing on the shore, gazing at your achievement, inspired by your legacy, and we are saying, “Miles, Wow!”