There it was, a large commodious chair with a tallit laid across its arms. It was the first thing the Study, Snack and Service group members saw as they entered the library at Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody the first Saturday morning after Arnie Sager’s funeral.
Everyone agreed that no one should sit in Arnie’s chair. With the tallit and siddur, perhaps we could feel that our friend was still with us, at least in spirit. Arnie was the first person in our close-knit group to pass away and his death has affected all of us. We have lost a treasured family member.
I can recall when I first met Arnie. It was about three years ago when this bigger-than-life gentleman walked into the room and announced he and his wife Barbara had just returned from wintering in Florida. Arnie was there to check us out. This was a first for this unique man who had been a loyal and longtime member of Temple Tifereth Israel in his Malden hometown before it merged with Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody. Arnie also had been president and chief fundraiser for Temple Ohev Shalom in Florida for many years. Like any good businessman, his visit to our newly merged temple was “Try before you buy.”
There was no doubt about it. This army veteran was definitely a good businessman. His charming manner and ability to crack jokes and make everyone feel comfortable all contributed to his success. Arnie could sell anything to anyone, which is why his salvage and surplus business filled three warehouses in Orlando and was a phenomenal success. It was a mecca to anyone looking for a bargain.
His motto was, “You can sell anything. The whole magic is in buying it.”
When Arnie first showed up at our Saturday morning session in Peabody, his amazing business life was behind him, as were the winters in Florida. Although we didn’t know it at first, Arnie was dependent on dialysis. Four days a week, he spent hours attached to a machine in his Danvers basement. It’s not surprising that the two nurses who took care of him became part of his extended family.
Replicating something like this in Florida would have been too complicated and cumbersome. The Sagers’ days as snowbirds had come to an end. It was time to stay home.
It wasn’t long before Arnie and Barbara became an integral part of our Saturday study group. And he loved it. Many, many times he would say how grateful he was to be with us, how caring we were, and how many folks would contact them if either he or Barbara was missing.
Even though Arnie had to watch what he ate, he enjoyed bringing in special treats for others.
Sometimes it was herring in wine sauce, gefilte fish with delicious red horse radish, or even a whole smoked whitefish. When he was well enough, Barbara and Arnie would stop at Costco after services. I would bump into them separately as Barbara went in one direction and Arnie another. You could usually find him holding court chatting with people he knew or didn’t know. They all gravitated toward this friendly, interesting guy. Arnie often checked out the demos, stopping to talk to Sherwin, who was originally from Chelsea, a community similar to Arnie’s beloved Malden.
“Do you remember Arnie?” I asked Sherwin after Arnie’s death. With a big smile, Sherwin noted Arnie would come up to his stand, chatting in Yiddish and sharing jokes. Sherwin already was missing him.
Through our Saturday morning group, we all got to know each other pretty well. Even though Arnie had been a business success, in our group he was just our dapper friend. Arnie was the only member of our group who had several different yarmulkes and more than one beautiful tallit in a matching holder. You knew Arnie came from an Orthodox background when he started chanting prayers before anyone was ready. Arnie’s chanting brought back memories of shuls many of us attended as children.
Some days, Arnie and Barbara would leave after the Kiddush and Hamotzi. Their son Bobby ordered an Uber that would take the couple to a Boston area restaurant to dine with the family. The Sagers became so friendly with their driver, the man offered to make a special dinner for the couple at their home. And he did.
At our weekly Modim Anachnu Lach – “We are grateful” – when we share some good things that happened during the week, Arnie or Barbara would reveal unusual experiences, like how Sting had called to wish them each a happy birthday or a happy anniversary from wherever he happened to be. It sounds like a fantasy, but it wasn’t. Sting is their son Bobby’s best friend.
Arnie and Barbara shared many wonderful experiences in their life. They traveled to different countries and different areas thanks to Bobby Sager. The couple also visited Israel multiple times, each time more interesting than the one before. But most important of all, they shared 66 happy years of marriage.
Arnie’s death has left a huge void in our lives that can never be filled. Yet, as one of our group said, “I’m so glad I got to know him.” And so are we!
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.