I have no doubt that I will be writing many pieces about and inspired by her in the future, but right now, it's hard for me to breathe, let alone write.
Here is the eulogy I delivered at her funeral, and below, links to other pieces about her, published in the Jewish Standard, where she served as managing editor a while ago.
May her memory be a blessing and inspiration, to me and to others.
I wanted to share with you three short stories about my mother.
Story #1 started with my mother’s proclamation that chocolate chips taste best in other things – after they’ve been baked into cookies or banana cake, or folded into vanilla ice cream. Having received this hint loud and clear, we made her chocolate chip pancakes on her birthday (and sometimes Mother’s Day) every year that we were able to. Then one day, after we’d all grown up and moved away, we finally learned that she appreciated the effort so much that she hadn’t had the heart to tell us that the one place she didn’t really like chocolate chips was in pancakes.
Story #2 : When we were kids, our mother made challah every week. When we became adults and were interested in making the challah ourselves, she sent us copies of the recipe – after listing carefully all the ingredients and how to assemble them, how to braid and bake the loaves, etc, there was one final paragraph, which read – in paraphrase – now that you have this recipe, don’t use it. She feared it would take over our lives and we’d spend our days in the kitchen, constantly baking. She urged us to go out and experience life instead.
Story # 3: When life seems overwhelming and there’s so much to do that you can’t think straight, my mother always advised me to make a list: the first thing on the list should always be “make a list,” that way you can cross it off immediately. I never did this of course, or on the few times I did, the first thing I did was to promptly lose the list.
I have so many things I wanted to talk about today that not even making a list helped. I wanted to talk about my mother’s inspiring courage during years of illness, about her unwavering maternal instinct, about her ever-increasing passion for Israel and devotion to family. But in making my list, I realized that I should focus on one aspect of her legacy. Of course, she gave us all the gift of our physical existence, but also embedded in all of us a deep commitment to storytelling that followed us through our childhood and even into our adulthood professions.
My first exposure to writing as a career was her first book - “A First Haggadah,” which my mother wrote because I was about three years old and there was no Haggadah she could find that was written for children. Throughout my childhood, I watched her blossom as a newspaper writer, an editor, and again an author. I first learned about journalism at the Jewish Standard office, and Ema and I co-authored a book review together. Her articles and bylines piled up, on subjects varying from Jewish holidays to Israel advocacy, and throughout, I watched and listened as she developed her distinct and passionate voice as a writer.
I came to understand that my mother saw writing as an extension of what she always viewed as her most meaningful role – as an educator, helping us understand the world at large as well as our place in the Jewish tradition. But by sharing those lessons with us at home and with others in writing, she expanded her commitment, challenging others to think about their roles, whether or not they were Jewish, whether or not they had an affinity for Israel or Jewish tradition.
About a year ago, my brothers, sisters-in-law and I began to create a compendium that collected some of our mother’s articles – represented were some of our favorite pieces or the ones we felt best illustrated her voice. During this process, we realized that although Jack, Simmy and I are strong in different academic areas, my mother’s passion for the written word has been a constant and inspiring thread throughout our Jewish and creative lives.
Even though today is a very sad day for us, I know I speak for all of us – my father, my brothers and sisters-in-law and my nieces and nephews, as well as the cousins and extended family and friends who are here today – when I say that we are so proud of all that Ema accomplished during her life.
We honor the same spirit that valued our love and effort so much that she wouldn’t tell us that the breakfast we had worked so hard on wasn’t what she wanted. In the weeks that come, we will try to heed the advice at the end of her challah recipe – you can bake challah every week, but it’s better to go out into the world and live your lives. And we will always love her, for being our mother, and for inspiring us to keep creativity and commitment as our constant companions, whatever we do.
May her memory keep us as safe and loved as we felt while we were blessed to have her with us, and may her words, memory and generous spirit continue to inspire us toward creativity and meaningful relationships, with Jewish life and tradition and with each other.
We love you, Ema.
And in the Jewish Standard: