Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Our lives are filled with choices. I chose to expect the best."

Yom rishon, 24 Cheshvan 5771.
The first time I met RivkA in person was at the First Annual J-Bloggers' Convention.
It was a lovely morning for an engagement party, the last time I saw RivkA bat Yishaya, a"h, alive.

Her sister-in-law's daughter was getting married.  I was so moved by the speeches given by the kallah's sisters in her honor.

Even though I had seen RivkA at this same home only a few months before at her niece's bat mitzvah, it did not occur to me to think about seeing her at the engagement party.  I remember looking around at all the guests, drinking in the simcha.  My eye kept being drawn to a beautiful, graceful woman in the center of the circle of chairs.  She seemed to be sitting by herself -- not just apart from the people, but from the place and time.  I felt as if I ought to know her, but couldn't quite place her.  After a while, I sort of forgot about her, and went on enjoying the gathering.

"Aren't you going to say hello to me, Ruti?"

The question had come from the beautiful woman.  Somehow, seeing her face in the motion of making words, I recognized her.  RivkA!  The last time I had seen her -- indeed, throughout the duration of our brief friendship -- her face had been very round from the side effects of chemotherapy.  She was always jovial, a little argumentative, in the friendliest possible way, full of an almost defiant joie de vivre.  Now she was slim and quiet, a bit tired, otherworldly.

We chatted a bit, about her niece's simcha, about our children, about blogging.  Then we sat together, as we always did, the few times we ran into each other "in real life," without speaking too much.  Companionable silence with RivkA was as special and warm as conversation with her was.  As was said at her levaya, RivkA never let anyone feel unimportant, and she never let anyone make her feel small.

RivkA was a life-impacter to anyone who encountered her.  How did she add to your life?

RivkA ("with an A") has affected my life profoundly, as she has affected the lives of so many others.  I am a better blogger because of her.  I have learned to listen more sympathetically to the genuine struggles a feminist scholar must endure to balance her sense of self with the conventional understandings of a woman's role in Torah.  I have become a better debater on behalf of my views, political and religious.  I do not know if I am any braver in the face of cancer.  I think it still scares me witless.  But I admire that she was able to persevere with such grace under fire nuclear holocaust.

Eleven days ago, I got the first message from a friend that things had moved to a precarious place for RivkA.  A friend in the "blogosphere" began arranging a mishmeret for her, so that all of her friends could have the opportunity to say Tehillim on her behalf, to storm the Heavens to try to change the decree.  Another friend took over her blog, updating concerned readers about her status.  Someone else arranged visits and help for her family while she was in the hospital.

I contacted a friend who I knew would be able to listen, and could give me some psycho-emotional counseling.  "How do I get past this feeling that I am sitting on yet another death watch?"  I asked him.  I have seen a few miracles.  I wanted our Tehillim to change the natural course of events.  I just didn't want to give RivkA up -- and I felt guilty for having doubts that she would make it out of this terrible stage of her battle.  He reminded me that Hashem expects us to ask for His help on behalf of others, but that He also instructs us not to rely on miracles.  At the end of days, we will know exactly how much value each prayer and tear had.  Nothing on behalf of another Jew is wasted.  But we must also trust the True Judge to know what He is doing.

Taking RivkA bat Teirtzel off of my davening list is one of the hardest things I've had to do lately.  Her incredible courage and optimism strengthened my belief in miracles.  I just knew that the only way she was coming off of that list was for the best reason possible.

RivkA participated in bringing the Moshiach nearer.  I know this, as I know that increasing the wattage in the light bulbs in my house brightens the darkest corners.  I will miss her so much.  But the light will continue to shine, from her beautiful family, from her writing that will carry on her message of hope and optimism, and from the countless people whose lives she enhanced.

RivkA and Moshe
Note to fellow bloggers, and RivkA's friends in Israel:  In honor of RivkA bat Yishaya -- let's a bunch of us get together soon and go to a movie. We could laugh and be rowdy. No talking during the movie, and pizza afterwards.

Good friends stay with us forever.
May the family of RivkA bat Yishaya be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Kallah: bride-to-be
Mishmeret: prayer circle on behalf of someone who is ill, literally from the word meaning "to guard"
Tehillim: Psalms
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