A Tale Of Two Women – Two Incredible Souls
In the life of any congregation there are moments of joy and times of great sadness as well. In the past two weeks at Temple Sinai there have been 2 b’nei mitzvah, 3 weddings, 2 babies born and the death of two women. Two extraordinary women. One was Ellen Weiss Kander and the other was Tamara Silverman, lovingly known as Timmy.
They both touched hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Both in the Jewish community and in Pittsburgh at large, these women made life better for many.
One did so by focusing on education for Jewish youth and enriching life for Jewish college students. She also helped prepare the ground for the re-entry of the film industry back to Pittsburgh.
The other began her career as a nurse and then, through her work as a real estate agent, helped people establish homes throughout the Pittsburgh area.
Each woman knew of the other, if only by the kind of cross connections unique to Pittsburgh.
Each woman had a unique flair, a style wholly her own, a way of relating to people from any walk of life, yet never pandering or compromising herself.
I had the kavod, or honor, of spending time with both Ellen and Timmy in the weeks before their deaths. Most every day I would visit both of them where I would sit next to them, stroke their hands, softly sing prayers for healing or of acceptance. I hoped beyond hope for miracles to occur, even as I knew in my heart that they wouldn’t.
Both women spent their last days in their homes. No “white warehouse” of hospital or nursing home for them. No, each of them was tended to by family members who simply stopped the rest of their lives to attend to the holy moment of passage from this world into the next.
And because I visited each day, I was privileged to witness small acts of holiness family members performed without any second thought or self-consciousness: applying lotion to hands, offering small sips of water or juice through a straw, holding a spoonful of food with patience until it could be taken into the mouth, sleeping in the same room (if not the same bed!) at night, the administering of medications through pills and shots, the cleaning of fluids and wastes, the patient stroking of feet, hands and foreheads. All done with infinite patience, love and regard.
I will miss both Ellen and Timmy. I will carry their memories deep in my heart as well as the remembrance of the many wonderful acts they did while they lived.
But I will remember the acts of the Weiss, Kander and Silverman families just as much, with honor, tenderness and respect. Theses wonderful families show what it means to be brave and not run away from the unpleasant process of dying, to be present, even in the face of pain and long hours of nothing to do except be present with the women they loved.
Respect given in words is important. The respect shown in acts of lovingkindness is essential for sacred human dignity. I have been blessed to be present to see this freely offered gift day after day, even when hope was lost.
Yes, blessed to know the tale of these two women. Blessed to take a small part in this last chapter of their stories. Blessed to witness the presence of God in each act of caring shown to the living and the dead. I feel so blessed.
N.B. (Latin: Nota Bene – “good note”) – Next week I will be in Israel with 290 participants in the Mission trip of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. After that I will be pursuing my summer studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute. As I will be writing from Jerusalem, this blog will be published for the next three weeks under the title, “The View from Jerusalem.” jag