Family, friends gather to remember Berg

Hundreds attend service for man murdered in Iraq

May 15, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WEST GOSHEN, Pa. - It is a tranquil counterpoint to the grisly images of the beheading of Nicholas E. Berg: The snapshot of a bespectacled Berg, wearing a shy smile and a sleeveless T-shirt, released shortly after his killing, has become an icon of his family's grief.

Yesterday, Berg's father, Michael, joined hundreds of others at a synagogue just outside Philadelphia at a private memorial service in honor of his son. While others in attendance wore suits and blazers, Michael Berg offered his own simple, silent tribute to his youngest child, choosing not a jacket and tie, but donning instead a green T-shirt nearly identical to the one worn by his son in that suddenly famous photograph. The family had affixed it to their mailbox in the days after his death.

"I think he really wanted people to see that this kid wasn't into being flashy," said Bruce Hauser, a spokesman for the Berg family, said of the gesture by Michael Berg. "He had his mind into doing what he wanted to do."

And here in West Goshen and elsewhere, friends and acquaintances of Nicholas Berg paused to remember a life that they said was as focused as it was selfless.

About 400 people gathered at the Kesher Israel Congregation here for a 90-minute service in honor of Nicholas Berg that those in attendance said included moments both humorous and poignant.

"I'd look over at my wife," Hauser said. "And one minute she'd be laughing and the next minute, she'd be crying. That was true for everyone."

Those emotions were not just confined to West Goshen. In Manhattan, the offices of the American Jewish World Service were also stricken with grief. Nicholas Berg had applied to work as a volunteer with the group and was scheduled to begin working on a water access project with a group of Maasai tribes people in Kenya.

"He was an unbelievable person - highly skilled, highly humanitarian," said Ruth W. Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president who is president of the service. She said that Berg's great technical expertise, which included his work with radio transmission towers as part of a business that family members said he hoped to promote in his trip to Iraq, was matched by his altruism.

Messinger, who played host to Berg and other volunteers in a gathering at her home last summer, said that much of Berg's work with the service stemmed from a desire to get closer to his Jewish heritage, particularly the Hebrew concept of Tikkun Olam, or helping to heal or repair the world.

"This was something he firmly believed in," she said.

The Kenya project was to be an extension of that belief, she said. And there, the grief over Berg's death was felt as well. Messinger said that a group of Maasai, unsure about how to contact Berg's family, sent the service an e-mail message expressing their condolences.

"Nick made friends with the entire community in the area, and was even able to learn and speak some Maasai within a week," the message read in part.

The message concluded: "His life has been cut short too soon but we pray that his legacy will live forever: we can learn many good things from Nick's short life in this world."

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