It was 1997 when I first laid eyes on Eddie Santoro at a congregational lunch just after the weekly Tel Aviv Shabbat service. He and his wife Jackie had just moved to Israel, having left their own congregational pastoral role in upstate New York. Immediately after being introduced, Eddie, in true “Eddie” form began to brag about his wife’s incomparable mandel bread which she had baked for the event that day. It would not be the only time we shared a meal, and over these many years, I have lost count just how many times we have eaten together at one another’s house.
Eddie and Jackie were well-known for their gracious hospitality, opening their homes just about every night of the week to congregants, friends, neighbors and most anyone who crossed their paths. What was important to Eddie was the time spent, not just eating, but getting to know each other intimately and becoming deeply involved in their lives. It was what made him happiest.
A true shepherd, in every sense of the word, Eddie was so much more than a listening ear. The minute he was made aware of a need within someone’s life, he would stop to pray powerfully for them, no matter where he was. Eddie was convinced that prayer truly changed things, but it wasn’t a one-time prayer on his part. He’d follow up with many phone calls, visits and invitations to eat. Perhaps, that’s what we loved most about him. The fact was that he was the genuine article. No one was more true and committed than Eddie in his desire to be the pattern of a loving, caring and nurturing father.
It was in those early years of Congregation Tiferet Yeshua that Eddie saw a need and filled it. He would weekly gather the young adults, often new believers in the faith who either had no parents or parents who did not believe as they did, and he would provide a cozy, homespun setting for these 20 somethings to grow and mature in their faith, spending hours counseling and encouraging them. Some eventually became the next leaders of the Messianic community in Israel who would also care for those who needed a guiding hand and provide a source of blessing just as Eddie had for them. As the years went by and the group flourished and expanded, Eddie and Jackie knew that it was time to leave Tel Aviv and partner with Asher Intrater to birth a thriving Jerusalem congregation called Ahavat Yeshua (the love of Yeshua).
Just as before, Eddie and Jackie did what they did best – gathered those around them, providing a place where they could fellowship, feel loved, nurtured and well-fed. How many of us remember Eddie’s thin and crunchy homemade pizza, his many pasta dishes, chicken Marsala and winter soups of every kind. Eddie, joyfully, spent much of his time in the kitchen, concocting innovative meals out of whatever he had in his cabinets.
It was the rare evening that someone was not at his dinner table. Friday nights and holidays were usually open to whoever wanted to come, with crowds spilling out into Eddie’s beloved garden where he also cherished puttering around, planting and decorating to the nines for the holidays. He was so proud of his succa each year and invited most everyone he knew to be part of the celebration.
Eddie was simply a lover of people. He loved their souls and made sure that they felt it. In fact, I can remember one example where a needy family lacked the money to join the community swimming pool. This was unacceptable to Eddie, and so he paid for the entire family to join up, because he knew how much it would mean to them, especially the many children. In retrospect, it probably excited him so much more to see them enjoy that summer than it did the family who enjoyed that extremely generous gift.
Eddie had an almost childlike innocence about him which many of us never quite understood but most certainly admired. He always chose to believe the best about people even when sometimes giving the benefit of the doubt didn’t seem wise or prudent. He probably did so, because he knew that this was how God chose to deal with us.
Eddie also seemed to be impervious to what others thought about him. While many of us are more guarded and reserved, Eddie could be heard by his neighbors shouting praises early in the morning or he could be seen dancing wildly during a worship service. More important to him was his unabashed, unashamed devotion and expression of worship to His God. Only His approval mattered, and so if you thought Eddie was going a bit overboard, you just had to “get over it.” That was Eddie, and, secretly, don’t we all wish we were more effusive and less proper.
Eddie spent 22 years of his life in Israel, savoring each day, making the most of each moment and living life to the fullest, being with those he loved, sharing his faith and, most importantly, consistently living it before each one of us.
There aren’t enough Eddies on planet earth, and it is for that reason that he will be missed so sorely. We have lost a great prayer warrior, a great man of faith who still believed in miracles as an everyday occurrence, a loyal and faithful friend, a hospitable host, a generous giver, an effusive worshiper, lover of men’s souls and the warmest of humans whose own vulnerable humanity caused us to sit and take notice of someone whose faith was more than just words and platitudes.
One of Eddie’s last wishes which he spoke to his beloved Jackie was that he would sleep in the kingdom. He is there right now, enjoying all that has been prepared for him because of the life he lived here.
He is watching us, cheering us on and waiting for us to, one day join him, in the same way that he was ushered in by his Maker who greeted his enormous smiling face, dimple and all, saying, “Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
We will miss you Eddie. In life, your profession was that of a builder. Thank you for being the blueprint of the selfless and jubilant life which we are meant to live before one another and to one another! May your legacy remain with us until we meet again.