The Fair Lawn community has lost a “beautiful man,” said Barbara Bender, whose brother, Jay Bender, died on June 3 at the age of 66.
His life, she said, was marked by passion — whether as a volunteer fireman for Fair Lawn’s Fire Co. No. 4 for 45 years, “helping people from all walks of life,” or taking on the responsibility for saying kaddish when a relative died.
He was a man of faith, she said, noting that her brother davened regularly at Fair Lawn’s Anshei Lubavitch. “Any time a family member would pass, he followed the tradition of going to temple every morning for 11 months to say kaddish. He truly adored Rabbi [Levi] Neubort, and any time the rabbi came to visit him in the hospital, his eyes lit up.
“Jay’s faith in God brought him peace.”
Jay Bender was also passionate about his dogs, recalled his sister, noting that he ensured that his two rescue dogs, Danny and Gail, would be taken care of after he died.
Barbara Bender, a board member of the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, has nothing but praise for her brother, who moved to Fair Lawn from Elmwood Park in 1959.
“He stayed, I moved to Mahwah,” she said, adding that despite her move, Jay remained extremely close to her and her husband, Arthur Fordos, often going to their home for food and friendship. “I will miss his advice, cooking for him, the many lunches and dinners we often shared, the things I would pick up for him when I was at Costco and the supermarket, and of course just spending time together,” she said.
Chief fire marshal of Fair Lawn for 23 years, Jay Bender truly loved his job, his sister said. “How wonderful is it to be able to get up and go to work every day and not consider it just work?” she asked. “Being the chief fire marshal of the town he loved so much was his true passion, and he had boundless energy to do whatever it took to get the job done in a responsible and diligent manner.”
He was also committed to children in need, volunteering as a Big Brother for three nonprofit organizations and mentoring teenagers who had problems with arson. On his 66th birthday, he shaved his head to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, raising funds for childhood cancer research.
“His sole purpose in life was to help others,” Barbara Bender said. “He never bragged about it but did it quietly and compassionately without compromising his identity.”
Her brother did more than she knew, she added. “Jay never bragged about the things he did for others and certainly never expected anything in return. Actually, I’m finding out that there’s so much he’s done over the years that I don’t even know about. He always stayed low profile about his good deeds and accomplishments because it wasn’t about him — it was about the people he enjoyed helping so much.”
He was also, she joked, “the jolliest Jewish Santa Claus,” playing Santa for the fire department to raise money for families in need around holiday time.
“Tradition was very important to him,” Ms. Bender said, noting that as chief fire marshal, he took issue with how the department performed funerals for firefighters and wrote a completely new fire department funeral protocol. His own funeral, she said, befitted “a high-end military dignity.”
As they left Louis Suburban Jewish Chapels after the funeral, the mourners were accompanied by 10 fire engines. “The procession went to Fire House No. 4, where there were three honor guards. They brought out his fire gear and bell and did roll call one last time.” This time of course, she remembered sadly, he did not respond.
After a ceremony that included a changing of the guards, who all saluted the casket, “white-gloved firemen came up two at a time and put their white gloves on the casket,” she said. “This continued until they had all put their gloves there. Then they lowered the casket into the ground.
“Jay lived life as a simple man,” she continued. “He had a wacky sense of humor and loved a good hearty laugh.” But “what I respect most about Jay is that he lived his life on his own terms and wasn’t easily influence by others.
“Jay was a strong man, with a strong will to do good for others without compromising his integrity.”