Tribute to Dean Oja | Congregation Beth Am

Tribute to Dean Oja

By Rabbi Sarah Weissman on
October 12, 2018

The great sage Ben Zoma said: “Who is wise?  The one who learns from everyone.  Who is mighty?  The one who controls his inclinations.  Who is rich?  The one who is happy with his portion.  Who is honored?  The one who honors others.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)  But Ben Zoma could have just said, “Who is wise?  Dean Oja.  Who is mighty?  Dean Oja.  Who is rich?  Dean Oja.  And who is honored?  Dean Oja.” 

Tonight we honor Dean as he retires after almost 20 years of service to Beth Am.  You all know how hardworking, conscientious, kind, and extremely skillful he is, but here are just a few things you might not know about Dean, things that have made him a most cherished colleague and friend.

Who is wise?  The one who learns from everyone.  Dean is always learning and is always happy to share what he’s learning with others.  Over the years, Dean has shared books and lectures and documentaries with me, covering everything from coffee to racism to 9/11.  He is curious and smart and a deep thinker.  He is interested in learning more about the world around him and he’s not satisfied with easy answers or the party line.  He’s also a crazy, left-wing radical, which is why he and I get along so well.

Who is mighty?  The one who controls his inclinations.  First of all, to work at Beth Am for this long, you must have excellent patience and self-control.  But Dean has also overcome significant challenges in his life, challenges that he never makes a big deal out of (other than to tell the occasional wild story).  He is brave and strong and modest.  And while he is most definitely strong physically, his strong moral sense is even more impressive.  He simply can’t abide unkindness or injustice, whether it’s close to home or on the other side of the world.  See above about being a crazy, left-wing radical.

Who is rich?  The one who is happy with his portion.  Dean finds contentment and pleasure in the small and, let’s be honest, sometimes weird things.  He likes a good cup of coffee, an excellent pair of socks, a great music show, and long walks with the dog.  Dean spends his days off clearing trees and chopping wood and figuring out whether he needs to install fire sprinklers on his roof.  He finds great satisfaction in solving problems here at Beth Am, even if it involves climbing up into the roof to fix the air conditioner.  Again.  I’m always happy to see Dean walking around the campus wearing his headlamp because it means he’s on the case!

And who is honored?  The one who honors others.  Dean shows respect to each and every person he encounters, and he commands respect in turn.  Dean has a work ethic like no one I’ve ever seen.  He takes pride in doing his job well and isn’t satisfied unless things are done right.  He doesn’t cut corners or phone it in – ever.  Dean really cares – he cares about this place running smoothly and, more importantly, he cares about the people this place serves.

I could go on, but I promised Dean I’d keep it short.  Dean, you are, quite simply, a mensch.  We’ve been joking about how Beth Am might very well fall apart without you, but I’m sure we’ll muddle through somehow, especially since you’ve been so thoughtful in training Luis and preparing the team for this transition.  But we will never have another Dean: our hardworking colleague, our master storyteller, our moral compass, our loyal friend.  Happy retirement, Dean, but please come back and have a confab once in a while.

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