Friday, January 14, 2011

Shabbat Shira: In Memoriam

Each week, I begin my studies with my high school Jewish Studies classes with a dedication to inspire us in our work through the coming days. I have used this practice from time to time and decided to reinstitute it after the events of the past few weeks. In the personal and public lives of my family and friends, we have been deeply touched and affected by two passings these past two weeks. The first occurred on Wednesday, December 29, 2011. A wonderful young woman who had been part of our lives for many years along with her family died after suffering from chronic illness all her life. She and her wonderful parents have been an inspiration to all who have met them. Then on Sunday, January 9, 2011 our Jewish world lost Debbie Friedman.

There are many words I could use to explain how incredible Rina (z’l) and her wonderful parents, Ari and Stacy Goldberg are and our feelings of respect, regard and love for them, but I will defer to these thoughtful words crafted by my daughter Rachie, who long with Talie (her twin sister) had the privilege of learning with and from Rina on an ongoing basis some years ago:

Around seven years ago, we met Rina through The Friendship Circle, a wonderful organization that facilitates friendship between children who have special needs and volunteers from their local communities. From the start of this relationship, Rina's innate ability to relate to anyone and everyone was very clear. Together we practiced reading Hebrew, learned various Jewish prayers and discussed other topics relating to Judaism. We would sing songs, make up games and together develop a routine that we all approved of. Toward the end of our sessions together, we would also make sure to discuss other pressing topics like the Philadelphia Eagles and American Idol. Her offerings on all of these subjects, along with many others, revealed a multi-dimensional knowledge and commitment beyond her eight/nine years. We became friends, equals that all had something to share and the capacity to learn.

That same desire to share that she exhibited all those years ago has progressively grown to include her dedication to her Caring Bridge community, the fulfillment of her goal to create cool clothing that also accommodates medical equipment, her career as a movie-maker and the genuine worldview that a positive attitude, not a difficult circumstance, can be the defining factor in anyone’s life, regardless of the challenges to be faced. She was, is and will continue to be present in all that she has given and all that she has taught to those lucky enough to have been a part of her life.

One memory that will endure for us is when we used to study the prayer, anim z'mirot ("I shall sing sweet songs" - a song sung in synagogue on Saturday morning) together, there was one line that stuck out, that we would tell Rina reminded us of her....
In Hebrew: sheet hamon, sheerai na alecha, V'RINATI tikrav eilecha. In English: I humbly place before You (God) this noise, my songs, so that my JOY will draw near to You (God).

This line will forever bring to mind all the joy that she has brought to us and others. She was, is and always will be a vessel of God's vision for a friendly, passionate and positive world. We will continue to live out the lessons she taught us and sing her songs so that Rina will continue to bring us (and so many others) closer to that which is Divine, whatever that may be for each of us.

We wish all peace, love and comfort in this difficult time,
Rachie and Talie

One person among many who was so important to Rina was the well known Jewish composer/singer Debbie Friedman. Debbie too suffered from many complex health challenges through many years. We were professional colleagues, part of an amazing community of Jewish educators who came together year after year more than three decades at the best Summer Camp for Jewish Educators called the Conference for Alternatives in Jewish Education (CAJE). Year after year, Debbie introduced us and took us through the history of the development of this new genre of Jewish American Music, for which she was at the forefront. As this musical phenomenon has grown and matured, Debbie shepherded it through its development. For this we are all eternally grateful to her. I found it supremely ironic and sad that Rina and Debbie left this world within days of each other. I suspect that they are walking through Shamayim arm in arm singing, joking, smiling – not held back by the physical challenges and limitations of their earthly bodies.

MiSheberach….. May their names be for a blessing always on this week of Shabbat Shira -- during which we read of the songs and music of women in our Torah service. May we all continue to sing the songs Debbie taught us and carry in our heart the positive messages of surviving and thriving that Rina, in her fifteen years on this earth exemplified every day. Shabbat Shalom to all.

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