The TLC school year concluded on a high note with a meaningful last day in May, with awards, a video montage, crafts, Israeli food, and heartfelt wishes for a nice summer. It was also a joy and pleasure to honor our 7th grade graduates, CDS Minyan makers, and our Madrichim (teen helpers) at our Shavuot dinner and ceremony the next week.
Then in early June my mother passed away. I have to thank the staff and the entire Tree community for their instant support. Suddenly my personal life and professional life became one. Working at TOLOLS and also being a member of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills provided me with two strong support networks. I experienced shiva in the city and at my home in the South Hills. People crossed bridges and rivers to come to shiva that worked with their schedules, not so much with where they lived. I was beyond touched and felt lifted by the entire community.
My mother, known as Ruthie, was my rock, my support, my cheerleader. A homemaker her entire life, she was so proud of my work, and especially proud of my work at TOLOLS. Weekly I shared stories and pictures of our students. Monthly I brought her the Simcha Tree to read, and she loved it. She was also so excited whenever anything connected to the Tree was written in the Jewish Chronicle, and she would excitedly call me to tell me all about it. Weekly, I combined my trips to Sq. Hill with a quick visit to see her before or after work. During my first couple years at TLC she could come by the Tree to visit, or be at a service or event. The last two years she lived at the Weinberg Terrace and getting out was more difficult.
A moment that will forever stay with me was when I took our 7th graders out on Tuesday, May 16 to deliver paper goods to the JFCS. It was Emma, Rachel, and Teadora, along with madrich (teen helper), Zach Spodeck. The JFCS is right next door to the Weinberg Terrace. My mother was sitting outside on a bench enjoying the beautiful afternoon. She was so excited to see me and my students. After the drop off of the items, I took our students and Zach, over to visit with Ruthie for a few minutes. What a smile this brought to her face, what a simple blessing this was for her on this afternoon! Each student said hello and introduced themself by name. When she met Emma her face just lit up even more. Ruthie turned to us and said, “Emma, that was my mother’s name.”
During our drive back to the Tree (with a quick stop at Starbucks - special last day treat for our graduates), I explained to the students that my mother had dementia. We talked about what that meant, and I also explained to them that they did an additional mitzvah of bringing joy to my mother. She loved children and meeting my students from the Tree was even more special on that afternoon. Hearing the name “Emma” brought my mother another significant moment of thinking about her own mother.
Reflecting this summer, following my mother’s death gives extra meaning to the passion I have for Jewish education. Our Judaism, and our community begins before our birth and lasts our lifetime and beyond. Being part of our Jewish community is about the people, the events, the meaning we bring into all the various stages of our Jewish life cycles. The support I felt and continue to feel as I say kaddish for my mother this year comes directly from all of my connections in the Jewish community.
I am honored to begin my 5th year at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation. I look forward to learning and growing with our Torah Lishmah Community students and families. We will build on what we have and add family programming on Sundays and Shabbat for our young families and children.
If you would like more information about Torah Lishmah Community, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org