It is 7:24 pm, Saturday, October 21st. I am at Tomatoes Apizza on Halstead ready for dinner and to re-engage with the world. I have ordered a small green and a chocolate piadina and spread out on my own over a table intended for four.
All day, I lounged and recharged, reading Buy Yourself the Fucking Lillies by Tara Schuster. Thinking about you and Laura and that I need to get each of you a copy. Especially the chapter on the frenemy within. You both need to read it, I keep thinking.
I switch my phone out of airplane-no-wifi mode and there are so many notifications.
I first look at the message from Josh.
His message reads, “I've tried calling you a few times. Let me know that you're ok.”
“Hey Josh. I had my phone off for Shabbat. I am good. Did something happen?”
And then I call Steph.
And then I know.
And I text Josh again.
“I just spoke with Rabbi Jeff and Steph. They told me.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
And that is it. That is forever the line in my life, and the lives of so many others. The line dividing time with and time without you. And that line is grossly misplaced. That line is eighty years too soon. The line is a knife cutting all our hearts in half.
Oh, Sam! I am shattered. Completely and totally shattered. You and Laura and I — we were just getting started. I have eleven years of memories of you, yet just eleven months where we knew that the three of us are soul sisters. And that is not even a fraction of enough time together, alive.
In 2012, when I first attended Kabbalat Shabbat at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit, the congregation was lay-lead. The energy was exhilarating and transcendent. Even more so for me in the midst of the first off-the-charts manic episode of my life with bipolar disorder.
You had such a distinct voice. You enunciated every word. You knew every melody and variation of every melody to every bracha and psalm we sang. I loved being near you as I tried to learn in the hope of one day keeping up.
Jeff and I reminisced about the Shabbat when you led the service and prepared for everyone the prayers with non-male pronouns for G-d. In shul as in life beyond, you didn't just lead — you carved a new path forward and empowered others to join you. Not as followers, as leaders in our own right with a shared love and pride of being Jewish and deeply and inextricably connected to HaShem.
I wanted to be with you no matter the ask. So I said yes to anything you invited me to. One of my first memories outside shul with you was at your apartment, when you lived at Broderick Tower. We called constituents in Henry Yanez' Macomb County district, asking what issues were most important to each and inviting all to a coffee meet and greet.
We canvassed together for Padma Kuppa in 2018. We walked together in the rain from door to door. And when it was time to leave, you asked if I wanted to grab dinner. And I said no even though I would have loved to — because I was so broke and didn’t want anyone to know.
Under your vision and leadership, Padma flipped her congressional district blue.
In February 2019, you encouraged Laura and me to go to "Galentine’s Day" at Chris Greig’s. At the time Chris was serving as the House Democratic Leader at Michigan House Democrats. And we did. It was my first time meeting Chris. She had cut outs of the Notorious RBG, AOC, Nancy. I elected myself the official unofficial photographer and buzzed around snapping photos of all the amazing women in attendance that night.
This wasn’t the first time Laura and I hung out. I met Laura through Michigan United in 2017, when I first came on board through the Women’s Leadership Program. I don’t remember the exact details, I just remember being absolutely astonished by her, as I was by you, as a leader and fully committed fighter for a better world.
I invited you to my storytelling shows. You and Laura were both at Go for the January 2019 Let’s Just Say. The theme that night was Lucky. And I confidently and naively shared my command over my diagnosis, “I am the necessary balance of experience and hypochondria.”
After the show, you told me I was an inspiration. And I couldn't imagine a higher compliment, especially coming from the person I admired so much.
And then — as though foreshadowed in my story and yet to my utter shock — the next major manic episode hit and I again was in and out of hospitals for a year. And just as I clawed to emerge the whole world was paralyzed in the grip of the COVID pandemic.
We walked in the 2022 4th of July parade in Clawson with Dana Nessel.
And then on November 20, 2022, you, Laura, and I stuck to a date we set and met at Berkley Coffee Oak Park Dry in Oak Park. It was the first time when the three of us were together with no agenda — just quality time. Laura picked up a bouquet of flowers and a card for you from us to celebrate your election victory reelecting Dana as Michigan's Attorney General.
I did not know yet how much gifts and appreciation were a part of your bond with your closest people. And that day truly felt like the beginning of our friendship. All three of us stumbled over each other’s expressions of gratitude to be together. It was again a window of stability in my mental health. I finally felt like an adult version of myself for the first time since high school graduation.
In the burst of our eleven months, so many wonderful things happened. Then came the unspeakable horror of October 7th. Then your murder on the 21st.
On the night of October 7th, we were together at the Downtown Synagogue. Rabbi Silverman navigated us through that impossible duality of agony and joy as the first day of the war collided into Simchat Torah. We held the Torah scrolls. We went into the streets of Detroit, our City, and danced and sang and walked proudly and defiantly. Am Israel Chai exploding from our hearts and lips.
As I started walking to my car, I heard my name. I turned around. You invited me to join you and Debby, Adam and Ben at Cafe D'Mongos. The five of us squeezed into a booth. We ordered drinks and bounced to the live music and overflowed with joy and solidarity. I drove you home.
That first week of the war! Endless graphic details of terror. Sheer anguish of the known and unknown. Unfathomable grief.
On the 14th, Laura and I met in the Z Lot and walked to shul together. We sat down next to each other. And then you came and sat on your own a few rows ahead. We moved up to join you. The three of us. Side by side. So connected. That last Shabbat morning service of your beautiful and too short life.
On Tuesday, you and I played phone tag. On Wednesday we had back-to-back Downtown Synagogue meetings for the Art Committee and then the Fundraising Committee. You threw on a blazer for the second, joking it seemed to call for it.
That week, I recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." And somehow it uncaged my heart. Giving me permission to continue to be sunny and loving and kind in radical resistance to hate and darkness.
As I lay in bed, I could see Dr. King’s words combining with the Israeli flag into a painting. And then I painted exactly that in blue and white and gold.
On Friday, October 20th, I texted Josh a photo of the painting. And said, "Shabbat Shalom!"
He responded, "Beautiful! And Shabbat Shalom!"
After your funeral, I looked at the painting and I could feel your energy. On Friday night, October 27th, the first Kabbalat Shabbat without you, we had a special program in your memory at the Downtown Synagogue.
The Thursday morning before, I had the idea to print stickers of the painting to bring to IADS. I called Lew. If anyone would know how to turn this painting into stickers overnight it would be him. And he came through.
On that first Shabbat night and morning at shul without you, we each had a sticker of the painting over our hearts.
When your family is ready, the painting is theirs.