Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Eulogy for Lila Sosna
As I was reading this week’s parashah, there was a pasuk that really stuck with me as I thought about Lila’s life.
Deuteronomy 4:9 But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children.
We have a very special religion and story. In our parashah this week, we read the famous Ten Commandments, in it, the commandment to honor your father and your mother, but there is no mitzvah to honor your children – why? Because it comes second nature to us, it is as instinctual to most of us as it is to breathe. But we do have this commandment, among many others regarding our children: make these teachings known to your children, and to your children’s children. You see, it’s not just about the children, but also about the grandchildren. There’s an old joke, what do grandparents and grandkids have in common: they share a common enemy. But, The Talmud tell us something interesting about this special relationship when it commented on this quote from Dvarim, “When a child is taught by a grandparent, it is as if that child received it at Sinai.” In other words, when we teach our grandchildren, it is a divine act and it’s not easy. It takes being involved and being present when you’ve already been there and done that. And Lila taught us all.
So today, I would like to speak about a woman who excelled in this great mitzvah, of teaching through example and making a great impact upon our family.
Born in Brooklyn, but she was raised in the Bronx. Her parents, Harry and Eva, had two girls, Arlene and Lila. Arlene always called her Bunny – because when she was young, she used to hop around like a bunny.
She met her late husband Jerry when she was a hostess at an Air Force dance (Jerry was in the airforce). Were together for a couple of years until they were married in 1953, had their son Larry in 1955, their daughter Marcia in 1959, and Mark in 1963.
Raised their family in Farmingdale. A lot of weekends they would travel to the Bronx to visit their mother’s family. Had almost an annual ritual, they would pack up their car, and drive to St. Louis to visit “the cousins”, Jerry’s family, they would Mark in the middle so they could take turns punching him.
She was a working mom, working as a legal secretary full time.
Unfortunately, Jerry and Lila were divorced after two of their children moved out and got married. It wasn’t a contentious split, it was like they grew apart after Jerry traveled around for work, but the funny thing was, they grew closer the more they were apart. Lila nursed Jerry back to health after his liver transplant.
They did not grow up affluent, her father Harry was a hard worker, working many hours for little pay, her mother did not work and raised her two daughters. She had an amazing life long friendship with her sister Arlene, growing up together, spending time with her on cruises, and helping Arlene and her husband Mickey when they lost their son Howard right after our wedding. She loved to go on cruises with her family and friends and she loved life.
So here is a taste into Lila’s story, and I think it’s important to know it, but there is much Torah in the way she lived her life. Our tradition teaches us that we must be like walking Torah scrolls; it’s not enough for us to learn Torah, we have to act it out in the world – which is why one of the first blessings we say in the morning is, L’asok b’divrei torah – busying ourselves with Torah.
Here is how Lila’s inspired me.
I spoke about how she helped her sister and brother in law through the loss of their son, but this was just a taste of her love of family.
In our tradition, in the book of Proverbs, we read a line, “Ateret z’kenim b’nei banim, ottiferet banim avotam” “Children and grand-children are the crown of the elders and the glory of their children is their parents.”
Lila had a love of family, and she really opened up that concept to even relatives of relatives.
She went to each family event, the good ones, and the difficult ones. She traveled to St. Louis, Chicago, Tampa, Denver, for births, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and of course, funerals.
Anyone who was remotely related to Lila received a card on his or her birthday. She would send cards to everyone – giving everyone a check for $10 - $15; it was consistent, she didn’t adjust for inflation, but she had to stretch it out because she would send $10 to everyone, even if they were barely related. She didn’t adjust for inflation, and I figured out why: she had more people, and more checks, to send as her circle of family and friends grew in life.
She loved her great-grandchildren, she would talk about Avi and Harrison during every conversation with Mark. She would come up to see her boys almost every Sunday, and she adopted our family (the Baum family), talking about Richie and Julie’s baby with her son Mark.
I was more of a grandson than a rabbi, and she was grateful for my family, and how she was included. I feel happy know that we could be the big loud family that she didn’t have growing up, and she found that family connection with us.
Making a family, and making yourself a part of a family is something that people shy away from, but it makes such a big difference.
Lila did a lot of volunteering; which are ma’asim tovim, good deeds. She
Started working for the head start program (at risk kids), then after she retired she volunteered, library, senior center, home visits for elderly home bound. Even until recently she was visiting senior homes because she did not want these people to feel lonely. Can you think of a greater thing that one human being can do for another! That’s living Torah.
Lila had a passion for Beth Ahm Israel, in the sisterhood, her involvement in Hazak, the USY for those +55; she went to shul almost every Shabbat in Florida, finding God when she moved to down here. She was moved by how active her granddaughters were at the shul and she believed in the Jewish future.
She loved to keep busy, always active, loved to read – would read books after books, mainly because she was an insomniac, loved Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy,
She was the floor captain of the condo, handing out flyers and the doors.
Her involvement in the synagogue, her active lifestyle which was so different than her youth teaches us a lesson – it’s never too late to reinvent yourself and take on new challenges. She was married for 30 years, and yet she found fulfillment in single life as a part of larger communities. Pirkei Avot teaches us, “Al Tifrosh Min HaTzibur” “Don’t separate yourselves from the community…” How many people who moved here from up north say, “I’m not going to join a shul or be involved; I did that up north already.” But Lila realized that life is nothing if you are separated from the community.
Lila was a picture of health, never went to the hospital, she took care of herself, worked out, ate right, went to the gym, kept active, even last week, she said that she needed to eat better, because she had a bit of a sweet tooth, but it was really a freak thing that happened.
Before I finish, I did want to share some lighter moments.
I didn’t realize this, but according to her son Mark – she was the inventor of Twitter and Facebook status updates! She would call her kids after everything she did, this is what I ate for breakfast, this is what I bought from the store, how much she spent at the store; what she did during the day, what she cooked, even in the hospital, she told her daughter what she ate, if it was good or not, meals were big events for her.
Humming, she would drive her son in law crazy with humming! She loved to hum and loved music, big band music from her youth, and I have to admit, I enjoy humming as well. It's the one legacy that Lila had that my wife doesn't want me to carry on!
The hardest part is going to be not having those moments; even if they were mundane. In Judaism, we are told to cherish every moment, even the mundane moments, because within the mundane, we can find holiness.
That is what Judaism is all about, making the mundane holy.
We have to hold on to these memories – the Torah she taught us both through her holy acts of involvement in the Jewish community, commitment to family and ma’asim tovim; but also the mundane things that make a big difference, the phone calls, the humming – that’s holy too!
Lila was independent until the end, and was sharp and healthy, in fact, I don’t remember her not being strong.
In the last week, when she was in her sharp decline, she told the nurse that she didn’t want to be dependent upon her family, and she showed the nurse pictures of her great grandchildren. She said, I just want to go to sleep. And so, Lila sleeps, taken from us too soon; but we will remember her as long as we live, not only her children, but her grandchildren, her great grandchildren, and everyone else she influenced.