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Farewell to HENRY DASKO

Compiled by Piotr Jassem.

Toronto Ceremony, Tuesday, September 19, 2006.

Funeral home: Benjamin's Park Memorial Chapel

LIFE IS A JOURNEY
by Alvin Fine
Read by Rabbi Dow Marmur

Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey.
A going, a growing from stage to stage:
From childhood to maturity and youth to old age.
From innocence to awareness and ignorance to knowing;
From foolishness to discretion and then perhaps, to wisdom.
From weakness to strength or strength to weakness and often back again.
From health to sickness and back we pray, to health again.
From offense to forgiveness, from loneliness to love,
From joy to gratitude, from pain to compassion.
From grief to understanding, from fear to faith;
From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead:
We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way,
But in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.
Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
Made stage by stage... To life everlasting.

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Psalm 121 "Esa Einai" ("I lift my eyes unto the heavens")
sang in Hebrew by Cantor ERIC MOSES

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DOW MARMUR:

I first got to know Henry in the 1980s when we were establishing the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada. Looking back, I now realize that the three key words in the name of our organization - Polish, Jewish, Canada - were also essential components of Henry's very being. He remained dedicated to our work till the very end. In some small way, it brought together the diverse elements in his life.
*
He was Polish - from my marginal perspective, very Polish. But for all his Polish roots, his Polish wings had been clipped for good after the events in Poland in the late 1960s. He had to leave Poland, even though, as the death notice aptly put it, Poland never left him. Aware of what he had lost, in later years he found his way back there often. He reconnected with many of his contemporaries who either stayed behind and were now movers and shakers in the land, or lived elsewhere in the world. He wanted to write about it, but by the time he came around to it, his illness made it impossible.
His shelves were full of Polish books and he was always well informed about what was going on in the country of his birth. Many of his friends here had similar backgrounds. He was drawn to them, even if he didn't know them back home. Though for me, Poland is only a childhood memory and not a particularly pleasant one at that, I was grateful to Henry, for through him I discovered a whole new community of fascinating and attractive people who were part of multicultural Toronto, and I was also encouraged to explore my own roots in the old country.
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And he was Jewish, very Jewish. Though there was no Judaism in his upbringing, Jewishness was always there. To the extent that the Jewish religion mattered to him, it was only as part of the Jewish cultural heritage. Unlike most of the Jewish Communists of the previous generation, and notwithstanding the very Polish-sounding names circumstances forced them to adopt, his parents never concealed from their son that they were Jews. When Henry came to Canada, he connected with members of his Jewish family here. They became an integral part of his world.
Family and friends mattered greatly to Henry. His circle was vast, reflected in the stream of people at his sickbed. He never missed an opportunity to celebrate: birthdays, even during his illness; he even went to a wedding day after his latest operation. And that visit to Poland only a month or so ago to reconnect and relive and enjoy, despite the handicap and the hardship! It was his way of affirming life in the earnest belief that will and talent - and he had plenty of both - would overcome all adversity, even death.
*
Canada was yet another component of his personality. He had lived most of his life here and he regarded Canada as his home. Despite his love of so much Polish, including its language and its history, and his many connections in contemporary Poland, Canada became his home, or at least as much of a home that an émigré can have. Canada gave him new wings and turned him into an entrepreneur and a businessman - successful in his many undertakings. His achievements afforded him the opportunity not only to live in comfort but also to stay in touch with Poland while being at home of sorts in the rest of the world.
*
In more recent years, Agata knitted the various parts of his life together to make it as complete as any life can be. His love of her was boundless, and it was mutual. They shared so much, including the complex relationship to their Jewish ancestry, despite the fact that for much of their time together they were on different continents. In one of the last coherent conversations I had with Henry, he spoke much of Agata and how she made his life not only worth living but beautiful and filled with purpose, even in these months of pain, anguish and growing incapacity. Thank you, Agata for adding love and meaning to Henry's life, even at a time when so much else was being taken away from him.
None of us who were there the day Henry married Agata under the chuppah was free from the thought that in the not too distant future, alas, we would be gathering to celebrate Henry not by partying with him but by parting from him. That day has now come. Our joy has been turned to sorrow, but our gratitude for having been touched by his rich and varied life has remained intact. We remember him with affection in this hour of grief and will continue to think of him, even though we can no longer be with him.
I hope and pray that, for all the pain of seeing your father suffer and be taken from you in his  prime, you Nicholas and Daniel will remember him as the caring and loving father he was anxious to be and that, in the way you lead your lives, you will honour his memory. I talked to him on many occasions about you. He would always tell me how proud he was of you. It's a precious legacy and I hope that you will cherish it.
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Jewish tradition regards every death as a scandal. It looks forward to the unidentified Messianic future when God, as the Prophet Isaiah foretells and as the funeral liturgy states, "will destroy death forever" and "wipe away tears from off all faces."
Death at an age as young as Henry's is particularly scandalous. There are no words of consolation, let alone explanation. There is only hope that there is more to life than the episode between birth and death that make up the days and years of an individual.
And then there is memory. We must remember Henry not as we saw him in these last months when surgery and steroids disfigured his body, and at times perhaps also clouded his mind, even when his spirit and iron will always remained intact. We must remember him as dashing Daszkiewicz-Dasko whom we knew and loved and respected and usually learnt from. We must try as best we can to curb distress and anger that so often accompanies grief. We must remain close and loyal friends who loved not only him but also those whom he loved.
It won't be easy, for grief is never easy. It's not meant to be easy. But it's possible. Jewish tradition bids us to mourn, but it also bids us to stop mourning, because grief for a particular life must be followed by reaffirmation of life in general as a gift from God. In our special case, this reaffirmation entails continued commitment to the causes that were close to Henry.
But the greatest cause of them all is to reach out to you Agata, Nicholas and Daniel with helping hands and warm hearts. We can't make up for your loss, but we can try to shoulder a little of your burden with you. I can think of no better way of honouring Henry's memory. May it be a blessing to all who cherish it.

NICK DASKO:

I was born on my father's 40th birthday. I watched my first Wimbledon match with him when I was five days old. I'm speaking for myself and my brother Daniel about what it was like to be Henry's sons. We had the opportunity to be exposed to his many and varied passions.

Henry was a man of diverse interests. One of the deepest was cars. And not just any automobile. We learned about little known European cars like Iso and Tatra. Not many 12 year olds knew the German word for fuel injection. But it was part of our education. We went to auto shows, read magazines and watched "Grand Prix."

Daniel and I didn't play hockey or football with our father. He coached soccer, saying that Daniel's team's first place medal was the only athletic medal he ever won. But to him, individual sports were more important, so we biked, skied and roller bladed. Dad hated contact sports - especially if it related to roller blades, his skin and the pavement.

His cooking skills were less exotic than his other interests, but he was very proud of his roast duck. Daniel and I never could quite understand his taste for Polish comfort foods - red cabbage and strange meats - but he kept trying to get us to taste them.

You're going to hear a great deal about Henry the translator, the business person, the editor and the person committed to bringing Poles and Jews together. But for us, it's just about being his sons. And this means being a part of those many passions and unique way of looking at life.

MAREK DENISIUK:

On a few occasions over the last few days when I would tell someone I was leaving for a funeral in Toronto, they'd ask me whose funeral it was. Each time I would say, "a dear friend" and then immediately add, "and a mentor." Because truly few people had the same impact as Henryk did in shaping my interests and serving as the model for an intellectually engaged and thoughtful person.  But I would have to add that he was more then a mentor he was also. "a friend." This was not just a redundancy on my part. Because of the type of attention and affection Henryk was capable of giving, I was lucky enough to have with him the type of relationship here these two roles were indistinguishable.

Henryk first stood out to me from among my parents friends by virtue of his Porsche that I would see in our driveway when he came to visit, and because he was the first of their friends who openly and somewhat frequently swore in my presence. To a 14 year old this is really a very significant gesture of respect and approval.

What, I think first stood out to Henryk about myself was the fact that at that age I was a devout and committed Marxist. I honestly remember the look of amusement and delight on his face when I told him this. Shortly after he found this out, he came to have lunch at our house and he came up to me and handed me a brand new red Swiss Army knife, casually telling me "Here, you can use this to cut the throats of the bourgeoisie." This wasn't only an example of Henryk's particularly canny sense humour, but also his sort of everyday generosity. Though that was the last weapon Henryk would give me, over the years I received many gifts from Henryk, rarely as a result of a particular occasion. He would give me book by some of his favourite authors like Isaac Babel and Philip Roth (who in turn would become favourite authors of mine). When Henryk found out that I didn't read or even know about the New York Review of books, he quickly jotted down my address, and for the next five years it came to my house every month.

But the most endearing aspect of my relationship with Henryk was the manner in which we communicated with one another. When I was 14, most of my parents' friends treated my political beliefs as either a comical oddity or a phase that I would eventually outgrow.  Henryk took a very different approach. He saw these views as an opening through which to broaden my intellectual horizons - which he did undeniably did and for which I am very grateful for -- and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with me. This was a dialogue that for the next twelve years I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of participating in. When I think back to some of the ridiculous things I used to argue for at the beginning of our friendship, I'm touched by the degree of patience, respect, and faith Henryk was capable of. There was nothing patronizing or condescending about how he spoke with me. He never said things like "We'll see how you feel in fifteen years" or "What makes you think you're so much smarter than everybody else?" Instead he asked me sincere and probing questions, without anticipating particular answers. He suggested different perspectives and facts for me to consider, but never insisted I draw his conclusions from them. And also, he was very attentive to what I had to say. I'm sure none of us would disagree that Henryk liked to talk, but we can't underestimate how attentive he was to what others had to say. Often our conversations with start with Henryk asking for my opinion of certain current events, or even asking for advice about more personal matters that concerned him. In short, I always felt, and continued to feel for the next 12 years, that Henryk was as interested in my thoughts as I was of his, and that he was as excited as I was when the two of us would go into the kitchen during a dinner party to discuss politics, history, literature, women, etc. It's really tough to describe how incredible it is to feel this way about someone whom I admired and respect as much as I think I possibly could.

I want to finish by saying that this manner of communication Henryk had wasn't just about having an open exchange in the pursuit of knowledge. It had, I believe, a great deal to do with the deep interest Henryk had in the lives of others. When Henryk would meet my friends, for example, I was always taken with the numerous questions he asked them about themselves. What they were interested in, where they were from, what their families did. And, again, I was taken with the attentiveness with which he listened to their answers. Henryk had a real desire, both intellectually and personally, to really get to know people's stories, to try and understand who they were. Perhaps most importantly, I think that from this persistent interest in the lives of others, Henryk had developed a very impressive capacity to empathize with and care for those that were close to him when they were in need of such things. This is something I and certain many of us here personally experienced. It was something that made him stand out among my friends, but also gave, and continues to give me, a model of friendship to aspire to with those close to me.

FRANK BIALYSTOK:

Henry was an only child, but, Henry being Henry, had brothers and sisters across the globe.  Many of you are here.  The rest are grieving in Poland, Sweden, Israel, the United States, and elsewhere.  I'm Frank Bialystok, one of Henry's brothers.

A major strand of Henry's life in the last two decades was his commitment to building bridges between Poles and Jews.  As a Polish Jew transplanted into a Canadian, he understood that the strength of our country lay in multiculturalism, or, more accurately, tolerance and understanding.  His American friends, also transplanted Poles and Polish Jews, had established the American Foundation for Polish-Jewish Studies.  Henry wanted to create a Canadian equivalent. He was joined in this endeavour by three remarkable people from different backgrounds:  a Rabbi, Dow Marmur; a Bundist and Holocaust survivor, Louis Lenkinski, of Blessed Memory; and a Zionist, Sharon Weintraub.  When I returned from a year at Oxford, I was asked to join this group, and the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada was born.

While the Foundation had general principles, each of us had personal reasons and goals for this project.  For Henry, I believe, the only one of us with a constant direct link to Poland, it was not only to build bridges, but also to explore his own identity.  Our Foundation has flourished, and Henry has been the driving force.  Henry knew most of prominent intelligentsia in Poland and Polonia, the leading writers, thinkers, politicians and scholars, those who contributed to our knowledge of Polish-Jewish relations and the history of Polish Jewry.  Further, he had the foresight and the insight to bring them to Toronto.  So, over the years, we have hosted Henry's friends and contacts, including Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, Marek Edelman, Konstanty Gebert, Agnieszka Holland, and Eva Hoffman as well as prominent thinkers from Europe and North America.  Henry always insisted that we could do this, that we could raise the funds, arrange the venues, find translators (including himself), and bring in the crowds.  Of course, these programmes were successful, and they educated our community.  Now, we know that Henry was not an easy person.  He was strong willed, opinionated, at times caustic.  Our meetings were not always love-ins.  True to our heritage, we argued, debated, and often left frustrated.  But there was an inner drive, a belief that we were contributing something useful, that we were a piece of the mosaic that is Canadian society.

Two years ago, Dow, Henry and myself, were decorated by Consul-General of Poland for our contributions to Polish-Jewish relations.  For me, it was a humbling experience, one which I felt that I really did not deserve, that I was riding on Henry's coat tails.   But, for Henry, it was an experience altogether unique.  In his acceptance speech, he said that as a Pole who had been expelled from university and forced to emigrate because of his Jewish ancestry, he would never have imagined that the President of Poland would bestow this honour up him.  He had come full circle.  His dream of building bridges, of exploring his identity, was in the process of realization.  In fact, had it not been for Henry, there would not have been such a ceremony, there would not have been a Foundation, and there would not have been this understanding of our shared history as Poles and Jews.

On a more personal note, Henry was, in a certain way, my alter-ego.  I was born in Poland a year before Henry.  But as a baby, we left.  Seeing Poland through Henry's eyes, talking to him about his life as a child and adolescent, learning of his pain of exile, and of his embrace of Canada, I began to imagine what my life would have been like had we remained.  Through Henry, I regained my lost Polish past.  Farewell my Polish brother, farewell.

 

PIOTR WROBEL:

Family and friends:

I came to know Henry 12 years ago, when I moved to Canada. Henry realized that I was a newly appointed professor of Polish history at the University of Toronto and invited me for lunch. After an intense conversation about Poland and Jews, Henry convinced me that I should join the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation. Soon, we became friends. Henry was an unusual person: a rare combination of a successful businessman and an intellectual. He had an impressive knowledge and deep understanding of Polish and European history and literature. I have learnt a lot from him. Under his influence I returned to several topics that I considered boring or outdated. Because of Henry, I started reading Nabokov and Remarque again; I studied a history of the Spanish Civil War and the McCarthy era in America; I decided to improve my Russian. He inspired all of us in many different ways and he knew how to talk to different people.
Henry had a lot of plans. He had always wanted to write. Yet, after his emigration from Poland, he had to work hard to support himself and his family. He wrote only occasionally but every piece he published was great. Two or three years ago, he decided to retire from his business and concentrate on writing. A terrible illness made it impossible, but he gave us another lesson: how to struggle with death and how to do things that seem impossible.
Finally, I would like to say some words in Polish. To był jego ukochany język. Mimo wielu lat spędzonych zagranicą był jego mistrzem i w nim rozmawialiśmy do końca. Which would translate: this was his beloved language. In spite of many years abroad, he was the true master of the Polish language and we spoke in Polish to the end. I will never forget it.

PIOTR JASSEM:

Henry had always kept his word. 
He only broke one promise.
When he was diagnosed with the tumour and announced the news to me he noticed instant change of expression on my face and quickly added: "Piotr, I promise you, I will not die".

Henry, I know how incredibly hard you tried to keep this promise. 
I forgive you.

PHILLIP COX:

I met Henry 32 years ago. He was already the person we each came to know when we met him: engaging, charming, curious, funny and bright.

Instantly, we became friends, and soon after, business partners for the next 25 years.

Our chemistry consisted of a simple formula: unshakable trust and loyalty.

We challenged each other constantly, always seeking better ways to do things. It was a constructive process because we never had a disagreement that didn't get resolved within a couple of sentences.

Henry knew how to ask good questions, listen attentively, follow his hunches and keep a sharp eye and keen ear for things that interested him.

He embraced risk and had an uncanny instinct for knowing when to cut his losses and when to go for it. He lived by the maxim: 'the devil is in the details.' His standards were uncompromising and he always sought higher ground and more effective ways to present and deliver what others may have considered adequate and acceptable.

Henry was a remarkable teacher. His sharp wit, unique brand of humour and immense knowledge combined in an unusual way to bring out the best potential in others. He certainly did that with me. He was encouraging, supportive, generous and giving.

We saw a lot of the world together and established enduring business relationships with colleagues in Europe, North America and Asia. Those people, most of whom became friends over time, expressed deep concern and love for Henry when they learned of his illness. And he felt comforted and encouraged knowing they felt that way about him because the one key thing he earned from each of them was respect.

Henry looked at life like a sculptor looks at a block of stone. He saw potential for his dreams and had his own vision about how he wanted to find purpose and definition in his endeavours.

He was a finisher, someone who delivered his own brand of excellence as if his signature and work were testament to his value. It was pride without vanity, principle before satisfaction, and understanding the fundamental importance of giving others what they needed firstly in order to get what he wanted.

One of our close friends in Hong Kong, Bernie Auyang, wrote to Nick and Daniel yesterday saying Henry's insights and creative advice were always conveyed with honesty. Henry didn't feather his own nest but used his keen instincts, exceptional knowledge and talented skill with people to win many difficult battles for others who needed his help.

As we know, Henry faced insurmountable conditions in his last battle. It's a great loss for each of us that despite the best care he received from gifted professional medical teams and many friends who rallied for him in different ways during the past 18 months, there was no road back.

We will miss you Henry.... 

 

DANIEL COOPER:

Henry was truly a great man. Your attendance here, and all we have heard, is an attribute to that. I met Henry a mere 12 years ago. Somehow we bonded instantly, and became close and intimate friends. We saw or spoke to each other almost every day. I can only speak to you from the private perspective of a close friend, and I would like to share with you just a few personal anecdotes - about crosswords, music and conversation.

Henry was extraordinarily well-read. Among his interests were history, popular culture, movies and cars. The Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles are a great test of knowledge in many fields, including all of these. My wife Ana and I have learned to do them quickly, but this has taken years of practice. Henry was always fascinated by how Ana and I managed to do them, and I can claim to have introduced him to the world of crosswords. On many a Sunday morning, Henry would come over to our house to take part in the ritual of unraveling the puzzle. He would usually sit with us, or between us and watch us fill in the squares, often participating, and sometimes exclaiming "brilliant!"    

I introduced Henry to the world of new music - music that is sometimes not easy to listen to, and often difficult to absorb. On occasion I would drag Henry to concerts of new music in unusual venues. I recall that a few times, during a moment of silence in the music, Henry would stand up a shout 'bravo' - not realizing that we were still in the middle of the piece. 

Henry was a great conversationalist, and we often enjoyed conversations and debates, exchange of ideas. This was fuelled by the books we read. Some times we read books in parallel and then discussed them. We were both avid readers of the New York Review of Books and we often raced to read the latest issue, and then compare notes and ideas. During Henry's illness, I read to him, sometimes a chapter from a recent book, sometimes a book review from a recent issue. The last thing that I read to Henry was a review of a book about the art conversation. Henry could then barely talk, but he was fully aware of the cruel irony.

I will continue to have my own conversations with Henry.

ANDRZEJ KOLACZYNSKI:

Dear Family and Friends,

Every death is a tragedy but this one is especially difficult to comprehend. Henry, a man in his prime, with an enormous intellectual capacity, was a role model for all of us. A talented businessman, Henry had also an amazing literary talent.

Jego eseje ukazywały się w wysoko nakładowych pismach tego kontynentu i Europy. Posiadał on wielką przenikliwość w poszukiwaniu prawdy w tematach wymagających ogromnej wiedzy naukowej. Ta chęć poznania prawdy kierowała nim rownież w zbliżeniu polsko-żydowskim.

His actions resulted in being awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Henry also had an extraordinary talent for bringing people together.

Jego długa i ciężka choroba otworzyła w nas uśpioną potrzebę otwierania serca ludziom potrzebującym pomocy. Dzieki tobie Henryku czujemy się znacznie bogatsi duchowo. I to jest twój sukces.

Nick and Daniel - you were his pride. I'm sure you'll keep developing the intellectual values cherished by your Father.

Agato, byłas jego wielką milością. Związek wasz przeszedł przez radości życia i wielką tragedię.Wielokrotnie pdkreślał, iż marzeniem jego jest twój sukces literacki. Mam nadzieję, że go nie zawiedziesz, czego Ci rownież serdecznie życzymy.

My dear Friend, rest in peace.
Cześć Heniu, do zobaczenia.

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"El Maleh Rachamim" the traditional Jewish memorial prayer
asking God for giving the deceased a peaceful rest.
Sang by Cantor ERIC MOSES

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Procession to Pardes Shalom Cemetery

CONSUL GENERAL PIOTR KONOWROCKI:

(Placed the wreath from the President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczynski)

A great and good person has passed away. Patriot, intellectual, citizen of Poland and Canada, co-founder of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada. In December 2004 he was decorated by a high award of the Polish State - the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

Henryk Dasko was a devoted spokesman of preserving all the most valuable things in Polish-Jewish relations, all things that both nations were tied with, everything that united them, not divided them.

He also used to maintain close relations with the Polish Consulate in Toronto. For me, he was one of the first persons I met after coming to Canada. His kindness and erudition impressed me. Conversations with him were a real pleasure.

Henryk Dasko had a lot of friends. He liked people, he needed people and he helped a lot of people. Now it's hard to believe, he is not with us anymore.

Henryku, wiem, że chciałbyś aby brzmiała dziś tutaj również polska mowa, polski język, w pięknie którego tak świetnie się orientowałeś i którym tak pięknie potrafiłeś się posługiwać.

Powiem Ci więc po polsku, tak jak to się mówi u nas nad Wisłą - niech Ci ziemia lekką będzie. Będziemy o Tobie pamiętać.
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Once again: "El Maleh Rachamim".
Sang by Cantor ERIC MOSES

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Shiva: Family and friends met at 6 Admiral Road, Toronto.

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Warsaw Ceremony, Thursday, September 21, 2006.

Nożyk Synagogue, Grzybowski Sq., Warsaw

The Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich conducted special ceremony in the memory of Henry Dasko. 

The following friends of Henry spoke at the event:

  • Anna Bikont
  • Ryszard Bugajski
  • Janusz Głowacki
  • Ewa Juńczyk-Ziomecka

Texts of the speeches from the Warsaw ceremony are unavailable.