I shouldn’t be writing this. Twenty years from now, when you would have hit the age where the Jewish community starts celebrating its leaders and handing out awards for distinguished service to the community, I should be writing some remarks about back in the day when we came up in AJC (later, JCRC/AJC) and our formative years in Jewish leadership.
I could talk about how I was the young one in the room until you (and Ariana and Jordan) showed up and usurped my junior status. I could talk about how thrilled I was to know you, to have someone who cared as much as you and worked as hard as you.
I could talk about the first Hanukkah-Diwali party, which we hosted in my basement during a snowstorm, and we could reminisce about how we thought all Jewish events should be overflowing with Indian food.
One year at AJC’s Global Forum in Washington D.C., we were at the ACCESS party for young leaders. All the sudden you ghosted us. We didn’t know where you went. It turns out that you had eaten a dish that was mislabeled and had ingested a peanut. You felt the allergic reaction starting and — instead of bothering us — you took a cab by yourself to the hospital. In the morning when you responded to my texts and told me where you were, I immediately jumped in a cab to pick you up.
You told me not to bother, but the Jewish mother in me knew that you were being ridiculous and you should not be on your own. I brought you back to the hotel where the conference was and had you nap in my room so I could check on you throughout the day as you slept off the mega-dose of Benadryl they must have given you in the emergency room.
That night, we went to a party at the Indian ambassador’s house. To our surprise, we were greeted by our friend Padma, there in her finest sari. Our non-Detroit friends thought she was the ambassador’s wife. We took a dozens of pictures despite the fact that your face was swollen as if you had been stung by a thousand bees. Yet again, the night was overflowing with Indian food.
Then there was the year at the Global Forum where we were tasked with lobbying on the Iran Deal. AJC had just taken a position against the Iran Deal and, as representatives of the organization, we were charged with arguing that position. I was personally in support of the deal — as I always assumed you were, though in hindsight, I am not sure if you ever said that out loud.
You accepted the task and we walked into Senator Peters’ office to advocate, placing whatever aside whatever your personal opinions may have been. You understood that sometimes in the role of community advocate, we had to put the organization above ourselves. Eric Feldman, Senator Peters’ Chief of State, listened to all of your well-made arguments and never called out the fact that he knew, as your friend, that you could not agree with that position. Eric and I texted about this moment yesterday — about how proud we were of you.
For many, being progressive and being active in the mainstream Jewish community may seem in conflict. Many people have given up on either their progressivism or their space in the mainstream Jewish community, finding the tension between the two to be too difficult.
You never did.
All of the parts of you seem to exist in harmony.
You knew who you were and you knew what you believed. Even if it didn’t make sense to everyone, it made sense to you. To be Jewish — to be a Jewish leader — meant service to the community. As Eric reflected, you epitomized the teaching of Rabbi Hillel that we cannot separate ourselves from the community. You lived in service to community.
Today, I placed dirt on your grave. I was among a sea of mourners who were there because they loved you. We should not have been there. We should have left other, younger people to mourn you when you left the world at 120 years old. We should not have been the ones to bury you.
I am sitting with only my memories of you and the hope that eventually the joy you brought to work and to life will shine through this cloud of grief.
But if I could talk to you today, I would tell you what a joy it has been to watch you grow through the years as a leader and how much optimism I experienced watching you — sometimes close up and sometimes from farther away — doing the work of repairing this broken world.
Now I can only pray that God gives us the strength to continue your work — the wisdom to embrace humanity that you possessed with ease — and a fraction of the joy that you brought to our community.
Your memory will always be a blessing.
You were truly a blessing to all of us.