Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Yehudit bat Aharon


Hanna Rose's actual name was Joanne Galler Rubin (Yehudit bat Aharon v'Esther V'dorah-Judith daughter of Aaron and Esther-And-Her-Generations).  She died on 24 April 2013 peacefully surrounded by friends and family.  Below are the notes Rabbi Jonathon Bienenfeld used to deliver her eulogy.

Joanne Rubin – Yehudit bat Aharon

·       We pay tribute today to Joanne Rubin, to Yehudit bat Aharon v’Esther Vedora—wife of Steve Rubin, mother of Isaac and Rachel, daughter of Mr. Aaron and Mrs. Esther Galler.

·       Joanne’s was a life that was cut far too short, finally succumbing to a protracted battle with cancer. Yet it is a life that one cannot do justice to—for she accomplished more and touched more souls in her shortened life than most people possibly could in ten lifetimes.

·       And it is difficult to speak of Joanne for another reason—because of her complexity. If you knew one facet of Joanne’s personality, you’d make certain assumptions, only to be thrown completely off guard by another facet. If you knew her from angle A, you’d soon be blown away by angle B.

·       Joanne was brilliant. Growing up in Chicago, she attended Northwestern University, then receiving a masters in musicology from University of Chicago. She was fluent in numerous languages. I was recently having a conversation about studying Talmud with Isaac, and she mentioned that she had a wonderful textbook we could use—the subject matter was ancient Aramaic, the instruction in modern German. She was a deep thinker and an avid reader—studying both secular and religious subjects passionately. If you knew Joanne’s brilliance, you would expect the cynicism that often goes along with it—a philosophy that all can be studied and all can be explained. And you would be completely taken aback by the simple, pure faith in G-d that such an intellectually sophisticated person could possess. Her brilliance made her shrewd and thoughtful, not cynical, never disbelieving. Her faith was awesome and awe inspiring. True faith is not the belief that something will happen, but that anything can happen. True faith realizes the G-d can do anything, that G-d can make miracles, but that the miracles don’t always unfold the way we might like them to.. Joanne’s take on miracles is best expressed in her own words, words she shared as “Hannah Rose,” her blogging pseudonym:

Such was Joanne’s faith—the recognition not only of G-d’s ability to perform miracles, but the recognition that those miracles already surround us. True faith requires a great deal of humility—the humility that makes you aware how much you’ve already received, and the humility that makes you realize you don’t have all the answers. To see that recognition in someone so brilliant, in someone who did have so many answers, is remarkable.

·       It is that humility that, again, makes it difficult to speak about Joanne. Every line mentioned in praise of her belies the way she lived her life—in complete humility and modesty. It becomes impossible to speak about Joanne in this manner without speaking about Steve. Even their very meeting was an exercise in humility. In an attempt to have his parents' piano moved, Steve called a woman he knew in the neighborhood who was a certified piano tuner—Joanne. Joanne put Steve in touch with the company responsible for moving the Chicago Symphony pianos, and saved him a lot of money. In return, Steve offered to take Joanne out to lunch. She finally conceded and Steve asked again and then again. Her mother finally had to explain to her, “he’s asking you for a date.” Her response? “No he’s not!” Such was Joanne’s humility, as it is Steve’s. While engaged, they met with a financial planner to discuss their finances after they would be married. At the end of their meeting he looked down at the information he had collected and said, “I have never, ever, met a couple that was so on the same page as one another.”

·       It was that humility that stood at the core of Joanne’s ability to give and give and give. First and foremost, to her own family. Joanne was the core of her home and family.  She served as a pillar of support both as Steve was getting his practice and career up and running, and beyond. She understood and related to her family in a way that only a wife and mother can, and brought the same penetrating insight she had for all people into her home. Joanne was the caring mother, but not the doting mother. She wanted to her children to understand their own abilities, to use them, and to see them mature. The pride with which she spoke of her children was intensely moving. She was so incredibly proud of the young man that Isaac has become, proud of his maturity, of his responsibility, of becoming an adult presence in his home and in his community. She recently told me how her illness had prevented her from meddling in his life as fully as she would have wanted, but she said so with a smirk, with the pride of a mother in seeing how wonderfully her son had developed, even without some of the additional meddling.

·       And she was equally proud of Rachel. It was amazing to hear Joanne speak about Rachel and see them interact. She did so in a way many would not, because she had insight into who Rachel was that many did not. Joanne would quote her daughter often, recognizing the depth of her thoughts and her words that most would not bother trying to see. Joanne saw Rachel’s special needs, but also saw beyond them, guided by her love for her daughter.

·       Joanne was a loving daughter, as well. She recently remarked to my wife, “I brought my parents here to take care of them, and here they are taking care of me.” Her greatest concern was for the health and well-being of her family.

·       And that care and concern spilled over to seemingly anyone else she had met. There are many people, seemingly on the periphery of Joanne’s life, who have commented about her, “She is the best person I have ever known.” She touched everyone because she could connect with everyone. She could be brutally honest, yet gentle and concerned all at the same time—another enigma of her complex personality.

·       In Parshat Vayeitzei, we read of a a very troublesome episode involving two of the matriarchs—Rachel and Leah is recorded. To understand the difficulty, we first must appreciate the back-story.

Jacob arrives at the house of Laban having journeyed from home to find a wife and having already set his eyes on Rachel. Jacob strikes a bargain with Laban, agreeing to work for seven years in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. But Laban had contrived to deceive Jacob. At the wedding, it is Leah, his older daughter, not Rachel, his younger daughter, who is hidden beneath the bride’s veil. Rachel understood what was happening, that it was her sister who would be heading to the chuppah and not herself, yet she remained silent, realizing that her sister would be completely humiliated if this secret was revealed. Rachel saved her sister from embarrassment, by allowing her wed Jacob.

Later on in the Torah, an interesting episode is recorded. It is a number of years later, and while Leah has had many children with Jacob, Rachel is still barren. One day, Leah’s oldest son, Reuven comes home with a bouquet of fresh wildflowers he had picked for his mother. Rachel is taken with the flowers and asks Leah if she wouldn’t mind sharing some. Leah explodes, saying, “Is it not enough that you’ve taken my husband, that you now also want the flowers my son has brought!? Rachel is silent, insisting that Leah will should be allowed an additional night with Jacob in exchange for the flowers.

o   How can we comprehend Leah’s words? And how can we comprehend Rachel’s reaction? How could Leah be so audacious as to accuse Rachel of stealing her husband, when it was only through Rachel’s kindness and sensitivity that Leah ever married Jacob to begin with? And how does Rachel hold her tongue? Why doesn’t she set the record straight and put Leah in her place?
o   The answer is that when Rachel heard these words come out of Leah’s mouth, she understood, “Mission accomplished.” Rachel had performed her kindness—her chesed—towards Leah with such humility and such sincerity, that Leah began to believe that she was worthy of it. Rachel’s chessed—her giving, her generosity—was done with the spotlight shinig on the other person, not herself. Leah was capable of speaking about Jacob as her own husband by right because Rachel’s every word and action echoed that same sentiment—he is yours by right, you have earned it. That is the chessed in the truest sense, that is the most pure way to give—to give in a manner that belies your own involvement and allows the other to feel comfortable and confident in what they have received.

·       This was how Joanne gave to the world. With humility, without the spotlight shining on her. By connecting to everyone she met in a way that allowed her to make them aware of their own strength and their own potential. She made everyone she met into a better person, and into a person worthy of the blessings they would receive. Joanne had the habit, in Steve’s words, of “collecting stray people.” Finding lost souls and building them up. And doing so in the model of Rachel—with the spotlight on the recipient, not the provider. With the message that “you’re capable,” “you’re worthy,” so that there wasn’t the shame that would otherwise go along with living in someone else’s home and being provided for by them.

·       It was true of how she wrote a check. There was always a conversation that accompanied that process, speaking about the wonderful work that the shul, or organization was doing. So that at every turn, the underlying message was, “don’t thank me—you’re worthy of it.” Her generosity knew no bounds. It is completely unusual to find someone who lives so well beneath her means for the express purpose of being able to give more to others, but that was Joanne. That was the life’s philosophy that she and Steve mapped out and followed, side by side.

·       It is completely impossible to speak of all the lives that Joanne has touched, because it would be to speak about anyone she has ever met. Neighbors, relatives, nurses, attendants, clerks, cashiers, and doctors. Through her deep, sincere insight she could connect with anyone, and show that person his or her own beauty.

·       A short while ago, Joanne commented to her doctor that she was concerned she would become addicted to morphine if the dose he gave her was too high. He replied that he had no concern telling her, “you love life too much.” How true that was. Joanne was someone who loved life—not for its occasional thrills or pleasures—but for the meaning and beauty that could be found. She found beauty in every human soul, found miracle in every breath of oxygen, infused every interaction with love and concern, expressing deep unwavering faith in G-d at every bump in the road.

·       Joanne, Yehudit, we ask for your forgiveness. For having left so much that still ought to be said, and for insulting your humility with what has been said already. Everyone in this room is a better person for having known Joanne Rubin. T’hay nishmatah tzerurah b’tzror hachaim (Hebrew for "May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life").


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I really wanted to hear it and felt so bad that I couldn't make it to Toledo for the service. It made me cry all over again, but that is healthy. I realized yesterday that Joanne was my only friend who would actually ever call me to talk! Not just the people who might call me for two minutes with university business or if I have had surgery, but really to talk! And we could tell each other anything. She was a blessing.

  2. Knowing Joanne was such a gift, that 3 years later, I am still ruminating on it. There is so much I wish I had told her and so much I wish I had asked. But in the olam ha'emeth, I think she knows.