The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century. We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Dan Cedarbaum Eulogy by His Wife, Caryn Jacobs

Dan Cedarbaum was my husband since 1987, but we were together since 1981, when we were both students at Harvard Law School. He was the love of my life, and I – and our entire family – are devastated by this loss.

We started dating during our second year of law school and were together for the next 40 years. In him, I saw a handsome and brilliant man, funny, cultured and well-read. In me, he saw a pretty girl who knew how to cook. And Dan certainly had a legendary appetite. He also wanted someone smart, which I was, but everyone knows (and I will admit now) that Dan was much smarter. He was so smart that he would often pontificate on arcane facts that my sons and I suspected he was making up but rarely had the knowledge, ourselves, to challenge. We would come to call these DACTS (Dad Facts).

We had almost everything in common, and where we did not, we brought each other into our interests. I instilled in Dan a love for classical music and he became devoted to Mozart operas, so much so that we would always see Marriage of Figaro or Don Giovanni whenever it played in town. We even dragged the kids to a performance, with limited success (they are long operas). He knew the Italian words to the arias, and although famously tone-deaf, would always attempt to sing along.

For his part, Dan introduced me to Judaism, which continues to enrich my life. We both relished the cycle of holidays and traditions, especially with our kids. Every Shabbat, he would buy me fresh flowers, to decorate our table. We put up an elaborate Sukkah every year, and with it the inevitable arguments between the two of us over which parts went where. The kids would decorate it with the non-religious Christmas ornaments and paper chains. Dan always made sure we did the right blessings and screened ornaments to make sure they were appropriately Santa-free.

Judaism was one of Dan’s great passions and he eventually largely retired from law to pursue various Jewish causes. He founded and ran and Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood, and in that role, planned and presented numerous important scholarly programs. He sponsored such programs as One Jewish Evanston, which united all branches of Judaism in worship and study. And he was one of the world’s foremost scholars on the life and writings of Mordecai Kaplan. For 15 years he ran a Talmud study group, which I hope to continue in his name. He was a leader and board member of many synagogues and a founder of Camp JRF. During COVID, he led Shabbat and High Holiday services in our backyard; he kept the community going, and many said these services sustained them through those dark times.  

Dan’s greatest passion, however, was for his family. He was always holding and kissing our two boys, learning how to change their diapers even though he was very persnickety about cleanliness. I can still see the joy in his eyes as he would hold our babies during High Holiday services, enjoying the renewal of life in both liturgy and in fact. They knew from Day One that they had his unconditional love. And Jacob and Samuel, he was so proud of you and loved you so much.

Because of my work, which frequently required me to be out of town, Dan was a solo parent much of the time. He watched over the children with love and attention, going to pediatrician appointments and teacher’s conferences, helping with homework and college applications, coaching soccer, taking the kids to Hebrew School, playing board games, golf, and tennis with them … the list is endless. He even deigned to play Hearts with us, which, as a lifelong ace Bridge player, he considered to be “Bridge for Idiots.”  

He was at his best on family vacations. Sometimes we would play 72 holes of mini golf straight. Frequently accidents were incurred during these activities, especially biking. I heard about them only much later. Sometimes there was negligence, such as allowing our two toddlers play in the Florida sun for hours without sun screen, requiring a trip to the walk-in clinic for severe sun burn. The kids, who survived, loved him, all the same. The attempt by him, my mother, and our longtime nanny, Joy, to hide the incident from me was laudable but ultimately futile. But Dan was of the view that fathers were less careful with children than mothers, and that this was a good thing. I think he was right.  Our kids are intrepid because of Dan.

He truly loved our extended family. He was happy to include my relatives in all of our vacations. My sisters Laura, Julie, and Jessica, and my brother Jimmy, know how much he did for them and with them. And my mom, Ann, depended on him for everything from financial management and assistance with medical matters to card playing and printing online recipes.

Dan had his own enjoyments, too. He was a consummate foodie and wine connoisseur and knew his way around any wine list. We loved going out to dinner, and I loved for cooking for him. There was no more appreciative audience for a good meal. His own cooking skills were perhaps more lackluster. In law school, I once handed him a head of lettuce and asked, “do you know how to wash this,” and he said yes. Then, after a few silent moments, he said, “pretend I don’t know how to wash lettuce.”

He loved cars. His latest being a Shelby Cobra, a white Mustang with a big blue racing stripe. The more horsepower the better. He loved dogs, from his childhood dog, Cookie to our late family dogs Briar and Snoopy, and our new puppy, Lizzy, with whom he played fetch and raced around the yard endlessly.

As a husband, he was attentive and loving. He lavished me books and jewelry, and always encouraged me to go shopping or on outings with my sisters or friends. He plied me with candy, despite my ever increasing waistline. When I was obsessed with Colin Firth in the A&E Pride and Prejudice, he got him to send me a signed picture postcard. He even rooted for the Cubs during the World Series, despite being a die-hard Mets fan. He planned and emceed a huge 40th birthday party for me, with numerous speakers and roasts that remains among my fondest memories. And for my 60th birthday he planned a wonderful family trip to Paris, including multiple Michelin-starred meals.

Dan was a mensch. He was not superficial. He had depth and convictions and made every day count. He was a DO-ER. He had a happy and beautiful and complete life, and he made an indelible mark for the good.  

In his last few days, Dan and I would sit in the yard at night and watch the lightening bugs (which Dan called fireflies). Two nights ago, after Dan’s death, I was sitting in the yard at 2 AM, unable to sleep, and saw a lightening bug on the ground. It flashed its light for a time and then the light stopped. Dan was the light of my life; of our family’s life. And while that light is now out, the memory of the light will last with us forever.

The Mordecai M. Kaplan Center for Jewish Peoplehood

1574 Ashland Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201
Phone: 847-492-5200