Honoring the Members of MMAE who Passed Away
Many of you know some or all the people I will be speaking about. Some of you don’t know any of them. Either way, the human stories I will tell and the incredible lessons these people have taught by the way they lived is much more inspiring than any speech I could give. Let’s give them the honor of trying to learn their lessons and walk in their ways.
Melvin Pollack – Yitzchak Meir ben Efraim Hakohen and Chana Leah
Beloved husband of Phyllis
Father of Andy, Wendi OBM, and Eileen OBM
In all the years I will be a rabbi, I can guarantee you that this will be the only Yizkor drasha in which I thank someone for giving me a chainsaw. It is especially meaningful when I heard that his son Andy had been vying for that chainsaw for years, though I think Mel probably thought, if someone needs to lose a finger, let it be the rabbi. Just kidding Mel. Ok, I have to admit he also gave me a treadmill, but you can see how well that worked. I use the chainsaw much more often.
Mel was a wonderful husband. The day he gave me the chainsaw, was when Mel and Phyliss were getting ready to move from the house they had lived in for decades. It was a house that Phyllis had proudly told me Mel had built with his own hands. Notice, Mel didn’t brag about it or tell me. It was Phyllis. That’s when you know you’ve done a good job. When your wife brags about your accomplishments. He could built anything. His philosophy was, “If you really want to do it, you’ll do it”.
Mel and Phyllis had a blessed marriage and as much as Phyllis respected Mel, Mel respected and listened to Phyllis. In her own words, “he had no choice”.
She said to me when he passed, “I’ve lost my boy”.
Mel loved to eat. It didn’t need to be fancy. Noshing a hot dog or a corned beef sandwich were all it took to put Mel in a happy place. And he could make a mean corned beef. He even owned a couple delis over the years.
Mel was a hard worker always doing whatever it took to provide for his family. “Whatever it took” is a wide range of things including:
Multiple hardware stores
A fruit stand
A delivery business
A grocery store
A carpeting business
And a Real estate business
When he owned real estate he was kind and understanding when his tenants fell behind in their rent. He didn’t like conflict or fighting. Mel was a peaceful guy. He held no grudges and there is no one who thinks ill of him. He has a good name and he earned it.
At times, life brought him great pain and disappointment. He suffered through much illness and even more from the loss of loved ones. Mel saw most of his siblings die at a young age and he lost his two beloved daughters. He never complained and the holy words of the shema were lovingly spoken from his lips many times during his last days, including with me when I came to visit and pray with him.
In Mel’s memory we will make our spouses so proud of us that they brag. We will enjoy the simple pleasures like eating. We will work hard to support our families. We will be peaceful and not hold grudges. And we will take whatever life throws at us, even the bad, and continue to live with faith.
Goodbye Mel. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Rae Bazensky- Rochel Leah bas Naftali V’Sarah
Beloved wife of Sid
Mother of Eileen, Mel, and Marty OBM
Here’s another first. Someone who is so organized and put together that they write the eulogy for you in perfect handwriting so you can read their own words at their funeral. Rae did that. She had everything planned out for her funeral years in advance. She was a very organized person. She was aware of her skill set as she alluded to twice in her autobi-eulogy:
I was very active for 50 years in the Morris Feld Lodge of Bnai Brith which was named after my brother. I was the treasurer, of course.
I was a founding member of the Golden Circle club at MMAE and looked forward to all the luncheons and entertainment. I was the treasurer, of course.
Rae was cool and funny. She was still posting on Facebook a year ago. This story can really sum it up: Two years ago, Rae’s daughter Eileen had surgery on her hip. She was very nervous to be alone so for the first time, she allowed her friend Maish to sleep over. Afterwards, she told her mom that Maish had slept over and Rae’s response: “Well, did you do anything?”
I once asked her what she thought about Maish. She said, “I love Maish so much because Eileen loves him, so I love him”.
Rae had an incredible relationship with her husband Sid.
Sid and Rae met in 1942 at a bowling alley. He had a girlfriend, but when Rae saw him, she said to herself, “I’m gonna be his girlfriend”. He had to go fight in WW2, but when he returned, he took her to her prom and proposed. What followed was 70 beautiful years together.
I remember when he’d tell me, “God has given me the biggest blessing” and he’d point to Rae.
She told me, “He’s everything I could have ever wanted.”
In 1970, they went into business together and opened “The Custom Dinette Center”. Does anyone remember those stores?
Every day they’d work together. She made him lunch and dinner but everyday he’d make her breakfast- it was oatmeal which she would eat in the car on the way to work.
They were always together. Rae loved shopping so Sid would drop her off at a store, usually chicos, to shop, and he’d sleep in the car while he waited.
I’m so proud to be part of a shul that remembers our older members. This past year, about 40 shul members did a travelling minyan to Springhouse to be with Rae, as well as Lenny and Ted. To Rae, that visit from her congregational family meant everything. She told Eileen that it was one of the greatest moments for her in a long long time.
Rae loved our shul. She wrote:
I enjoyed being a member of MMAE and meeting new friends through the shul. I was the greeter with Eileen the 3rd Shabbos of every month. I loved talking to the members coming in, giving them the bulletin, and saying “Good Shabbos!”
Most importantly, I love Rabbi Shapiro.
I’m not embarrassed to say that because she said it to me so many times. I had a special relationship with Rae. She was not just a congregant, but a friend and an adopted grandmother.
People are always telling me how much they love me and how great and wonderful I am. They say I did amazing things for them and their family. I appreciate all their words, but very very very few of them send me money. That’s a group I can count on one hand.
Every so often, I’d get a letter from Rae with a check for $150 dollars or something similar. Not for the discretionary she wrote, not for the shul…this is for you and your family. For all the praise I get for a job I’m paid to do, Rae Bazensky thought it appropriate to give me random gifts.
But it was the way she smiled when she saw me and said, “Rabbi!!!!”.
She made me feel amazing and valued. Her smile bathed me in the warmth of her love and she made my world a brighter place.
A few days before she passed, I was able to visit Rae one last time. I thought she was going to be very sick, but there she was sitting on her couch, makeup and hair beautiful, in her nightgown and eating a donut. I’m so happy that I got to see her like that, it is the image I will always remember.
Ohh Rabbi, you came to visit me….
“I’m in no pain. I feel great!….And it’s because of you”
“Thank you thank you thank you, I feel fine, I feel great. It’s because you of. You’re the greatest rabbi. All the other shuls are jealous. Oh rabbi you are wonderful. But when you tell people you saw me, you’re going to say, I saw Rae in her Night-gown”.
In Rae’s memory, we will try to be more organized, and keep our sense of humor. We will have beautiful relationships with our spouses, and be leaders in our shul. And we’ll use the power of our smiles and our kind words to uplift the people around us.
Goodbye Rae. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Harry Kessler- Yechezkel ben Yekutiel and Zeesel
Beloved husband of Sheila
Father of David and Jeffrey
Harry was such a good person- a true mentch in every sense of the word. He had a good name in the community and you can’t find anyone who doesn’t have nice things to say about him.
In the 24 hours after he passing was announced, over 100 people posted wonderful words and stories about him on the Levinson’s website. Here are some of the expressions people used to refer to Harry:
Wonderful, kind, gentle, knowledgeable, pleasant, warm-hearted, caring, patient, a good neighbor, a good soul, friendly, thoughtful, an asset to his coworkers, intelligent, funny, soft spoken, revered, his smile made you feel comfortable, we loved him and he will be missed.
He went through a lot of tribulations during his last years. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fair for a person of his moral caliber to have to suffer as he did. He never lost faith.
Harry was an incredible teacher of Judaism. He taught at the Oheb Shalom Hebrew School and helped hundreds and hundreds of children prepare for their Bnei Mitzvahs.
He taught with a deep love of yiddishkeit. He was a patient and sweet teacher, and he made what can sometimes be a tramatic experience, something that the kids would look forward to, something fun and positive. They actually liked going for Bar Mitzvah lessons with Mr. Kessler. His attitude will have a lifelong impact on his students in terms of how they look at Judaism.
Harry never stopped learning Torah. He liked Judaism so much that he had two shuls- MMAE and another small one down the street that rhymes with Shmeth Shmafila.
Harry went to college at U of MD College Park and had a long career working for Social Security and Medicade as an analyst. He was the guy in the office who did the work for 5 people and he won many office awards.
It is a reflection of everything Harry did. He was incredibly meticulous, hard working, and honest. Basically he did everything right, and he did it right away. As soon as a task would land in Harry’s mailbox, or on his desk, or in the house, he would solve, fix, and completed the project right away. He didn’t like to have tasks hanging over his head.
Zrizus- alacrity or zeal.
He most of all loved to spend time with his wife Sheila. They had a beautiful marriage full of love and mutual respect. Harry and Sheila were born one day apart at Sinai Hospital so they were probably in those little bassinets next to each other in the baby room. That takes first prize for- How old were you when you met?
In Harry’s memory, we will try to be mentches, we will try to not lose faith even when illness strikes, we will teach Torah to others, and keep learning Torah ourselves. We will try not to procrastinate and to do things quickly and correctly, and we will work on being loving to our spouses.
Goodbye Harry. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Howard Gersh- Chuna Baer ben Yaakov v’Malka
Beloved husband of Edie
Father of Steven, Shelley, and Ellen
Howard taught his children and grandchildren to walk in his ways. To pursue their dreams and to find happiness, but not ever to bend when it comes to their integrity or core values. He’d tell them to be careful to not ever break the law… even when it comes to speeding. “Make sure you don’t get a ticket”, he’d say.
He’d tell them, “You have to live with your name all your life.”
He excelled as a family man in every way. When the kids were young, every Friday night, the whole family would head to Howard’s parents for a Shabbos dinner. When his father was declining, Howard was by his father’s side every day.
The bond with his grandchildren was incredibly strong. So strong that each of them would call their grandfather and speak to him every day! There are 8 of them and they all feel like they were his favorite grandchild. That’s pretty extraordinary.
Shabbos dinner was an important time for togetherness in Howard’s family and in his memory they have set up a fund to help our shul send Shabbos meals to people when they are going through illness, loss, or could use some help like when they move into the community or have a new baby. What a merit for Howard!
Howard worked 27 years as a prosecutor in the homicide department here in Baltimore. He was extremely talented. One of his mentees mentioned that if not for Howard’s mentorship and training, there is no way he would have solved 42 unsolved murder cases.
His success was rooted in chutzpah that helped him believe in himself and in the values he stood for. He wasn’t one to be afraid or back down. There were times when he prosecuted cases that could have put him and his family in danger. It didn’t matter to him. When he set his mind to something, he’d work towards it with stubborn persistence.
Howard had an incredible balance of truth, integrity, and justice, with kindness, mercy, and love and care for all people. We can see an example of that in his many years of putting criminals behind bars while at the same time volunteering with the Maryland Food Bank, making sure that impoverished families would have food to eat.
He taught for 43 years at U of Balt law school.
He also served as the Legal Director for the Baltimore County Police Department and as the Prosecutor for the Maryland State Police Department.
He chose public service because he always said, “I don’t need to make a lot of money. I just want to have the time to spend with my family.”
Howard was a beloved member of the group of Zoomers who showed up every evening for minyan. Otherwise known as the MMAE “Brady Bunch” or “Hollywood Squares”, Howard was the unofficial leader of the zoom minyan and would kibbitz with everyone. He always wore a bright red Kippah and became known as “The cardinal”, also known as “Zoom Zeidi”. There was a love and friendship that held everyone together through Covid years and Howard was a major part of that good energy. He couldn’t have done it without his beloved wife Edie who helped him sign on every single day.
He couldn’t sign on himself because Howard was blind. He lost his sight a few years back and that made his life tough in many ways, but I never heard him complain, nor did he withdraw. He took help from Edie, his brother, his kids, grandkids, and others and made sure not to miss a thing.
That is one of the most important lessons we learn from Howard. The value he placed on being there, showing up, consistency, and not missing out on life. It wasn’t FOMO- fear of missing out, it was because Howard loved life, he desired life.
In Howard’s memory, we will try to have integrity and have the courage to stand up for our values. We will do our part to make Baltimore a safer, kinder, and more lawful city. We will nurture strong bonds with our parents, children, and grandchildren by being in touch more often. We will try to attend MMAE minyan more often to help nurture that supportive community. And we will never give up on living life to the fullest.
Goodbye Howard. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Marty Kurland- Moshe Dovid ben Yaakov and Liba
Beloved husband of Arlene
Father of Michael, Edward, and Richard
Marty was a real clown… Like literally, Marty was a master clown. Known as Happy the Clown as well as Mr. Shenanigans, Marty made countless children and adults laugh and smile with his silly antics. He showed up to his son’s wedding in clown shoes.
He once told me that he had been quite the mischief maker when he was young, so he must have channeled that energy positively into his clowning.
I remember how he made all the children laugh and stare in amazement when he came out of clown retirement to do magic and clowning for my son Avi’s 4th birthday. He was amazing, but after his performance, with squiggling 4 year olds bouncing off the walls, he turned to me and whispered…I’m getting too old for this!
Every year, he was invited to the White House to entertain the children at events there. They even got him kosher for Pesach food one year when he went for the annual Easter Egg Hunt he didn’t find any eggs but I hear he found the afikomen. He got to meet multiple presidents over the years of his visits.
Every year, around Labor Day, Marty started to grow his beard. And it grew, and it grew, and it grew, until he was a spitting image of Santa Claus. The whole month of December he could be found at Malls and community events checking if the kids were naughty or nice. The kids didn’t know he wasn’t Santa, and their parents didn’t know that he was a religious Jew. On December 26th, the beard came off in a flurry of whiskers.
Marty was a deeply proud and dedicated Jew. I remember the effort he put into saying the shema with me when I visited him on his last day. It was a holy moment.
He had a wonderful relationship with his wife Arlene and appreciated all the care she gave him. Every year, him and Arlene put up a big succah and invited all their friends and neighbors join them inside to observe that wonderful mitzvah. I visited them frequently and when he lost weight, he gave me all his old shirts. When I lose weight, I’ll give you all his old shirts.
In Marty’s memory, we will learn a few jokes to tell or some funny tricks that can make people laugh. We could all use a little more laughter and silliness in this very stressful life. We will take the holiday of succos more seriously and try to put up our own succah or at least make sure to visit one during the 8 days of the holiday. And we will try to bring people together.
Goodbye Marty. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
David Thaman- Dovid Pesach ben Nachum Yisrael V’ Miriam
Beloved husband of Toba
Father of Mindy, Jamie, and Stacy
Judaism was very important to David. He probably would have been in shul every Shabbos if not for his favorite pastime. On Saturdays, David would head down to the track at Pimlico and watch the horses. That was his happy place on the day of rest.
During the week, David was volunteering.
After he retired, David gave of his time and tremendous talent to the Myerberg Center. It was the perfect job for him and kept him occupied with meaningful work. He was the guy who could fix anything, and never complained or said it was too difficult. He had a natural talent to learn any skill and was not afraid to get his hands dirty. He changed a toilet there this past year. He painted the lines on the parking lot. He was still working under cars at 84 years old. Though he was known as “Mr. Myerberg”, David never stood in the spotlight or wanted praise. He did it purely out of the desire to be helpful. The day of his funeral, they closed the Myerberg because all the employees and many patrons wanted to be there to pay their respect.
David was a teacher to his family and those around him through his actions and his words. Here are some of the lessons he told his family in his wonderful role as “Poppy”:
Don’t take things too seriously- don’t sweat the small stuff- most of the things that we worry about are really not that important. Do your best and then don’t worry if it’s not in your control.
Have fun and be happy no matter where you are. If you’re bored, it’s not because of your surroundings, it’s because you’re boring, so look around and find something to enjoy.
Details matter- when you do a job, do it right. Take pride in everything you create and do.
Be generous with others, don’t pinch pennies- use them to treat the people you love.
Do your best to always be a positive person.
He had the opportunity to live up to his teachings when he was given a bad cancer prognosis this year.
David was a true inspiration in the way he faced his tough illness. He didn’t worry or complain. He didn’t solicit pity, mercy, or attention. I remember when I first heard and called him, he was so upbeat. He wasn’t going to let anything slow him down or change the way he chose to live.
He said, “don’t worry rabbi, I’m just fine”. We prayed together and his faith didn’t falter.
He had a very strong will, and a spirit of giving, and with a strong and healthy soul like that, there was no platform for self-pity to land. His good attitude never went away and he worked productively without pain until his last day. His beloved Toba by his side.
Anyone who was in his presence during this time couldn’t help but be inspired by him. When they heard that he had passed, his cancer nurses were crying and said, “it was such a blessing to have known him.” As the cancer was harming his body, his soul and spirit remained completely untouchable.
In David’s memory, we will find a way to volunteer in the community. We will be more generous, positive, and faithful and to try and teach our core values to our loved ones so they remember them even when we have left this world. If we should have to face illness, God forbid, we will face it with bravery, a strong will, and never give up smiling and being kind.
Goodbye David. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Paulette Pollack- Pesa Gita bas Tevya V’Itka
Beloved wife of Jay OBM
Mother of David and Bret
One of the coolest things about Paulette is that she had owned an ice cream parlor. It was called The Ark. It’s too bad for her that I wasn’t around then. Me and my kids would have been her best customers.
Paulette and her husband Jay had a beautiful marriage and they completed each other…she spoke and Jay listened. Kidding aside, the two of them participated in Rabbi Seymour Esrog’s Jewish Marriage Encounter group for 25 years working on growing ever closer in marriage. Jay, who was not the touchy feel type at all, used to write love letters to his wife. 60 years together. They met at an AZA dance when they were just 13 years old.
MMAE was Paulette’s other family. She received a lot of love, friendship, and respect from her shul peers.
She was a leader of the social club, she helped me with whatever tasks I asked her to do, and with great dedication and labor, she helped her friend Betty run the most crucial part of the shul- The Kiddush. It was the two of them who masterfully revived the Kiddush when Covid was over.
She was smart, proud, confident, and decisive.
Until her illness, she was always young…didn’t show her age at all. She’d be insulted if I mistakenly assumed she wouldn’t want to take something on like helping me with fundraising calls or planning events. “Paulette, I just figured you wouldn’t want to deal with that type of stuff.” She’d say, “Rabbi, don’t you know this is what I do!!”
You didn’t want to be on Paulette’s naughty list. She’d give you a stare down like nobody’s business.
We became close because of all her volunteering and I can picture her riding in my convertible to lunch at Accents just a few months ago. I put her walker in the trunk and helped her in and out and she was definitely enjoying herself. The wind in her hair. She loved it.
Years ago, when she used to work at Chizuk Amuno, she was always the one who answered the phone in the main office, so that’s where I’d call if I wanted to speak to her during the day. One time, I had to speak to the rabbi of Chizuk about something and I called the shul. Who picks up? Paulette. We proceed to have a long conversation and I hang up. Then I remembered, I had called to speak to the rabbi.
So I called back, and Paulette hearing my voice answers, “Yeeees?”
I’m so glad I got to see Paulette one more time at the end. When she opened her eyes and saw me, she said, “what a face”, and I said, “that only a mom could love”, and she laughed. She said, “what a strange world.” I sang her a Jewish song and I saw her foot dancing to the beat. Dancing till her last day. “You know everyone at the shul loves you Paulette- you’re a celebrity”, another big smile. I told her I loved her and we sang the shema together. She looked at me with her beautiful clear blue eyes and said, “I love you too rabbi”.
In Paulette’s memory, we will continue to work on our marriages so that they stay fresh even after 60 years. We’ll get more involved at MMAE and see if we can volunteer in ways that make this community stronger. And we’ll never turn down a ride in a convertible no matter how old we are.
Goodbye Paulette. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Bernie Sher – Boruch ben Shmuel and Leah.
Beloved husband of Sue
Father of Jeffrey and Bruce
Bernie was a sweet guy and I was so happy to become his rabbi and friend. Rabbi, because he joined MMAE, and friend because I joined the Panthers. He was sweet and funny with a dry sense of humor. He knew how to make his family and friends laugh with his sarcastic wit. It was fun being with him. You felt at ease and could be yourself. He was a good person, a good man, a devoted husband, and a loving father- a mentch.
Bernie joined the army and served our country during the Korean War from 1950-1953.
Bernie made so many good friends through his many years of participation in the Panther Club. He didn’t just participate, he was a leader in the club and helped plan and carry out many wonderful events. When Bernie was sick and couldn’t make it to the Panther events, he missed it terribly, but his friends stayed in touch, called him, and visited him every week.
He had a wonderful marriage with Sue. They were set up by a friend, and that night was one of the greatest nights of their lives.
They ended up going to the hottest night club in Philly- the Old Latin Casino- where they saw Sammy Davis Jr. and Diane Carol perform. Sue taught Bernie the cha-cha that night. They danced and they danced and they didn’t want the night to end, but when it did end, they were in love.
Bernie didn’t have an easy time these past few years but Sue stuck by his side and was with him every day at the assisted living. When Sue would get ready to go, Bernie would say, “thank you for coming…I love you forever”.
In Bernie’s memory, we will strive to be mentches. We will nurture our friendships so that there are people who have our back and we theirs. And we will strive to appreciate the love we are given by our spouses.
Goodbye Bernie. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Marvin Miller – Mordechai ben Shmuel Shaul v’ Anya Liphsha
Beloved husband of Ruth
Father of Jodi, Neil, and Shelley
I don’t know very much about Marvin and the rabbi who did his eulogy is from Talmudical Academy and didn’t respond to my emails. Probably checks his email once a year on his flip phone.
Luckily, Jeff Forman has an amazing custom, which is to post a letter on behalf of MMAE on the Levinson’s website when anyone related to the shul passes away. This is what Jeff wrote to Marvin’s wife:
Your friends and fellow congregants offer you our words of condolence on the loss of your beloved Marvin. We have fond memories of both of you in shul on Shabbos. I specifically recall the day several years ago when I offered Marvin an aliyah and, as usual, he wouldn’t take it. He then had some chest pains and when Hatzalah came and he was on the stretcher, I went up to him in the hallway and said, “You should have taken that aliyah”. We both had a good laugh about it, and he gave me the thumbs up. So I knew he would be OK. I will always remember him with a smile. May all of your memories of Marvin always be for a blessing.
I checked in with Lee and Sid Cooper who were his neighbors. Lee told me Marvin was a really funny guy with great stories. Her and Sid would go and visit him on Shabbos to hear his stories.
He was a lawyer, owned a bar, and traveled abroad every year. He was smart and knowledgeable, knew how to get things done and gave good advice.
When Sid got sick, he called her every day.
“It will be alright dear” He called her “dear”.
He was a religious man who studied Torah. He got in a lot of trouble as a kid at TA, but loved it and stayed connected with the rabbis there his whole life. He gave Lee his Mishna which she said is filled with his notes so when she studies, it’s like he’s talking to her.
In Marvin’s memory, we will study more Torah. We will tell good stories, and we will give people calls to check on them and support them in their times of need.
Goodbye Marvin. Even though I didn’t know you well, there are others who do and you will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
Anita Baron- Etiella bas Fievel v’ Chaya Leah
Beloved wife of Alan
Mother of Gabi and Ethan
Everyone loved Anita. She was wonderful. She was easy to love. She was fun, kind, cool, and giving. I’ve had a lot of people tell me “Anita was my best friend”. Like at least 7 people have claimed the best friend title, and guess what, Anita was a best friend to many.
Because she was so real, she had the capacity for that much love. She listened to everyone and took their words to heart.
Anita was up for an adventure. She was the leader of the family and took them to places they never would have gone. And always found the best ice cream place wherever they were. Her husband Alan was drawn to her for this reason. He had never met someone so independent. For their honeymoon, they bought an old Ford van and in January of 1982, they set off on a six month adventure out west. She was the driver too. She was always a good driver, and eventually, after a successful career in sales, took a job driving Uber and loved it.
Anita was up for a challenge.
When we started the custom at our shul of the women reading Song of Songs, Ruth, and Kohellet, Anita was one of the first to jump on board. She had never done anything like that, but she loved shul, she loved Torah, and she loved to sing. When the day came to read- on the Shabbos of Pesach- Anita was the star of the day.
She was an amazing mother to Gabi and Ethan. She’d wake them up every morning by singing to them, she’d read Harry Potter to them, she once drove up to New Jersey to take care of Gabi when she got sick in college. When Anita got sick, her mothering didn’t diminish. Her children said, “Even when she could barely move, she made sure we had good food and were taken care of when we’d visit.”
Anita encouraged her children as they pursued careers in the arts. It was Anita who encouraged Gabi to try out for the short movie “Noisy”. It wasn’t an easy role to win because they were looking for an actress who was fluent in sign language and Gabi had only recently started learning. Anita believed in her and Gabi got the lead role in this movie which ended up winning first prize at the Cannes Film Festival. When we showed the movie at MMAE in a big celebration to honor Gabi, the pride and joy Anita felt was palpable.
She told her children, “You are the best blessing of my life.”
ALS is a monstrous disease. Anita faced it realistically and bravely. So many tears were shed, but she never gave up hope in a miracle. She researched for any rare examples of people who beat ALS, and she tried to do whatever they suggested. She wanted to live with all her heart.
One of the cruelest aspects of ALS is the progressive loss of function. So Anita would be thrown a curveball, something would become more difficult to do, and immediately, Anita set herself to figuring out a way to overcome. A way to bypass the disability. A way to keep living and enjoying life.
Programs and devices to help her speak. Then becoming fluent in sign language.
A cane and a chair to help her move. I remember when she first got the chair, I went to visit Alan and Anita and we took a walk. Anita said, you want to see how fast this thing goes, and we ended up having a race around the BT parking lot. It ended with a lot of laughter and Anita held her arms up in victory.
Her family, friends, and this community were rock solid for her. A big group of people learned sign language with her, and joined in a sign language performance with Anita in the lead at the yearly MMAE talent show. She watched the Shabbos livestream each week and it was her lifeline to Shabbos services. There were walkathon fundraisers organized by her friend Adva which were heavily attended by shul members to help Anita and Alan with the heavy financial burden of their fight.
When she began her fight against ALS, she asked me to start a healing circle at the shul. Anita’s healing circle was a Godsend to many of us who were going through difficult illness or loss. I was the facilitator and I would lead, and give thoughts, and sign V’shem Hashem…
And then, just like that, I was a member and participant. I was being held up and supported in my time of need. The giver became the receiver and Anita helped me fight against my illness.
When I was really sick from Chemo, I said the words during one of the healing circles, “I have to just keep swimming.” Anita said, “Yes!” A few days later I found on my desk a little metal keychain that said, “Just Keep Swimming”. I have no idea where Anita got it but that was such an Anita thing to do. To be so thoughtful that she hears you say something and then goes and finds it and brings it to you as a gift. I still have it on my keychain and will never take it off.
I wasn’t the only one she helped. She helped so many people heal. She was a healer, actively mentoring other people who were in the early stages of ALS.
Anita kept her faith. She knew she was in Hashem’s hands.
The last time I saw her I asked:
Are you angry with Hashem? She cried and nodded her head.
I told her I understand.
Do you want to say Shema?
She nodded yes and sang along as best she could.
A truly truly righteous woman in our midst.
In Anita’s memory, each day we will appreciate our health and every aspect of our mobility and function. We will be adventurous, curious, fun, and brave. We’ll learn to cope with adversity with incredible grace and learn to pivot to make the best of any situation. We’ll love our family and friends fiercely and loyally and be universally loved and admired when we leave this world.
Goodbye Anita. You will always be remembered and loved at MMAE.
If you’ve lost a loved one this past year, whether on this list or not, please stand now ….
As a shul, we give you our love, support, and prayers for healing and consolation. May your loved ones always be remembered and emulated as they live on in you.