A Eulogy for Tom Trager z”l

Tom Trager – Avraham Yitzhak – May 5th 1945 – May 14th 2023

Tom loved learning and was intellectually and philosophically curious his whole life right up to the end.  He loved the Shabbat morning Torah study at Har HaShem and the Tuesday study group at Bonai Shalom where the group recently studied Pirkei Avot, the ancient collection of rabbinic ethics and wisdom.  Chapter 4 of this text begins with a series of questions posed by a rabbi called Ben Zoma who asks aizehu hacham?  Aizehu gibor?  Aizehu ashir?   Aizeh hu m’chubad?  Who is wise? Who is mighty? Who is rich? Who is honored?  The countercultural responses given by the same rabbi who asks the questions are: the wise is the one who learns from every person, the mighty is the one who controls their passions, the rich is the one who is happy with their portion and the honored is the one who honors everyone else! 

These could describe Tom Trager, couldn’t they?  He always learned from others. In fact, his son Josh said that his father was curious and always interested and open to new and other perspectives on life and ways of being, which allowed everyone to be themselves, who they needed to be.  He learned from others and respected them, earning honor and respect as the honest, ethical, charitable, family-oriented, kind, generous, deeply intelligent,  organized, social justice-oriented  mensch that he was.  Tom was gentle to a fault, as Barbara said, even when blowing his nose! Even though Tom was very grateful for the life he lived, the only one of these four questions that might not fully fit Tom is being happy with his lot, especially in these last weeks, because Tom really did not want to die.  Barbara shared “here’s what Tom Trager always said to me: “we are either going to live to 90 or die trying.”  He fought valiantly and did not want to die,” she said.  Tom left this world just over a week after his 78th birthday – his big, generous heart just couldn’t keep working, in spite of the unbelievable care and persistence of his medical team, especially  Dr. Coco Dughi and Dr. Nelson Trujillo and all the staff of Boulder Heart.  We have lost a wise, mighty, rich and honored man in Tom Trager and he will be so greatly missed.

Tom was born in Cincinnati, OH on May 5th 1945 in what he always described as a “classical reform” family; his mother Elizabeth (Bicky) Trager, his dad Randolph (Randy) Trager and he is survived by his elder sister Nancy Neavel, represented here by her children and grandchildren. At Walnut Hills High School, Tom’s interest in journalism began, and was a jitterbug champion!

After an undergraduate degree in psychology from DePauw University in Indiana, Tom went to law school at Washington University in St. Louis where he changed his dominant hand so he could read his own writing more clearly, due to spondylitis, the tremor condition that he had from an early age. Tom passed the bar exam in California. Ohio and Colorado.

Tom and Barbara met in Washington DC in November 1970 where Tom was working at the US Customs department. They came from such different backgrounds – Tom’s classical Reform family in the US since 1850 and Barbara’s immigrant Orthodox family.  Tom always described it as a mixed marriage and, in fact, they almost didn’t get married because Tom did not want to wear a kippah, but he did and they were married in the Orthodox synagogue in Columbus, Ohio that neither of them liked, in 1972.  Tom agreed to having a kosher home as long as they could join a reform community, which they did – Temple Beth El in San Pedro, California where Tom had a Bar Mitzvah and took his Hebrew name Avraham Yitzhak at age 45, as he wanted to become Bar Mitzvah before his wonderful children Mara and Josh had theirs!  Judaism was incredibly important to Tom, though it was always much more about the social, civil and intellectual engagement than prayer or ritual, even though I believe he found these very comforting towards the end and he was very traditional in his own way.  Tom was so active and engaged in making community better and served on the board of the Program in Jewish Studies at CU, was president of ACE, on the JCC and Har HaShem boards and earlier on the Jewish Federation board, he helped with the Adopt-a-road cleanup program, and was a big supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Native American education and more.

Tom loved being a higher education attorney, working for the California State University system for 17 years and then retiring from there to be an in-house attorney for CU Boulder after the family moved to Colorado in 1999 to be closer to Barbara’s family after 27 years in the Los Angeles area.

Even though Barbara and Tom, married for over 50 years, were opposites in some ways, they were totally aligned in their core values and commitments, especially to their wonderful family and their deep care for each other and the world, embracing so many social justice causes. Tom loved to travel and Barbara was a somewhat reluctant travel companion, but they always had a great time, traveling to Costa Rica, Cuba, several countries in Africa and SE Asia, Japan, all over Western Europe, New Zealand, the Middle East and South America. Tom was extremely organized and had a system for everything. He was a planner and enjoyed the planning of all the trips almost as much as the travel adventures!  

Tom loved and was so proud of his family, Mara and Josh and their life partners Patrick and Christina and grandchildren Julien and Isaac, as well as Bruna, the exchange student from Brazil who lived with Tom and Barbara in 2010 and they became very close.

Tom cared so much about legacy and he leaves an incredible legacy to the next generations having instilled such good, ethical and charitable values.  He will be missed and his memory will live on as a blessing in all who knew him and whose lives he impacted.  Who is wise and strong and rich and honored? Tom Trager.

Barbara, Mara, Patrick, Josh, Christina, Julien, Isaac, Nancy in Austin and family – we wish you great strength and comfort in the days ahead and you know how much Tom adored you.

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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