Monday, March 26, 2012

Blogging the Exodus Day 3: Learning

I suppose I could say something wonderfully rabbinic about the importance of Torah Study. Instead I'm going to let happenstance speak instead. Today I'm leading a memorial service for a woman who (along with her husband), in her late 50s, after raising her children, converted to Judaism. She chose Judaism not because she was dissatisfied spiritually, but because her own studies of history and Torah led her on this path. She was what we all hope to be and what every rabbi wants in a congregant: she was a lifelong learner, not only in Judaism, but art, poetry, physical activity, etc. How many of us fail to learn beyond what we already know, seeking instead to reaffirm truths long held? Better to put ourselves out there and learn anew.

(This, by the way, is why I get excited when kids share their music with me. Of course I'm happy listening to my old REM stuff, but if I stay there, I'll never grow. Probably will never get dubstep, though.)

Below you'll find my eulogy for Jeanne Davis. Zichrona Livracha.

Jeanne Davis
Ariel Bat Avraham v’Sarah
 This week we read in Torah that there should be a flame burning on the altar in the ancient temple. Specifically the text says “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.” (Lev. 6:6). Often this text is used to explain the ner tamid, the eternal light found in all synagogues. But there is a deeper meaning to this text as well: that the fire shall be kept burning on the altar of our hearts. That we should be, as we say in Yiddish, frabrenteh, literally ‘on fire’, passionate in our devotion to God and to each other.

Jeanne was someone who was frabrenta, who’s heart was an altar aflame. She led such a myriad life full of art and learning, of love and strength.

Jeanne was raised in Chicago. Her parents divorced in the 1930s, and both remarried, so in addition to her sister Judy, who today lives in Iowa, she grew up with two stepbrothers in her life. She met Ed when he was in the navy, in a cadet training program during World War II. Jeanne went to a program with her girlfriends and there was Eddie. They were married soon thereafter—he at age 20, she was 19. After the war Eddie went to work for DuPont and they found themselves first in Orange Texas, then to Nashville, where she took up golf for a time, and finally to Wilmington. They had been married 65 years, always supportive of each other, and brought two girls, Victoria and Beth, into this world. Which of course led to her grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
Jeanne was a strong lady. There are two pieces to that idea. First the strong part: she was one to accept things that are difficult to accept. The quintessential volunteer, she was a Girl Scout Troop leader, part of the Howard Pyle Audio group, and an officer in the National League of American Penn Women. She was colorful, literally and figuratively. She loved color, loved to party, belonging to 4 different bridge groups, and always going to socials, as well as having people over to entertain them. She painted, sculpted, created collages, and was always learning and stretching herself. She taught swimming for many years, and when she was promoted to a supervisor left the position because it took her away from the kids. She took up SCUBA diving at 50. Her choice of Judaism (along with Eddie) came late in life. She was swimming at the JCC and took a history class. Which lead to a Bible study, and this struck a chord with her (though she insists that she had always been a Jewish mother at the very least). Discovering that the two of them had always been philosophically Jewish, they took the plunge in 1986 when she was 59. And it goes without saying that she carried herself with tremendous strength even in those moments when you or I would choose not to be strong.

Now the lady part, because she was always a lady, and Ed was always a gentleman. Jeanne was poised and self-confident: enough for everyone. She was always totally tuned in to what was around her. She was the only person who could carry on two separate conversations and pay attention to three others simultaneously, and could juggle 2-3 thoughts at once. She and Eddie were greeters for new member programs at the Synagogue, and she loved to introduce herself to anyone, stranger or no. One time she did so and it turned out she had introduced herself to the DuPont who was hosting that particular party, in his manor. “Nice house” she said, without missing a beat. More recently, she began hosting tea parties for her great-granddaughter, along with 5 brothers. She brought out the china used when her mom hosted tea parties for her daughter, and in so doing brought out an old-fashioned sensibility of a woman being a lady.

Jeanne has departed. But her fire has not gone out. Her fire burns still, in our hearts, in our eyes, in our loves and our actions. Zichrona Livracha, may she be remembered for blessing. Amen. 

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