I don’t know from where to start a tribute, for your entire life was one. Truly. As daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and friend. I had the zechut to share in the latter two. I’ve been trying to recall exactly when we “officially” met for we shared many mutual friends and chavrutot. Was it in Matan when I was Gital’s chavruta or giving shiur in Midreshet Moriah and meeting you in the Bet Medrash? I think it was Bar-Ilan where we met in the machlaka l’Tanach – as you advised me by which teachers I should study and then showing me around the library. But our friendship developed more as we, together with Yael, lived together in Alon Shvut and started the Gush Summer Learning Program for Women. It was clear from the start, and now, looking back all the clearer, that though we all came with passion and excitement to teach Torah together, create a schedule and share our love of Torah scholarship with women of all ages, it was you Avigayil that really started it all. We all dreamt together, but dreams of ladders are grounded ארצה.
You were the one to work out all the technical and financial aspects while teaching and inspiring. I will never ever forget how numerous times you encouraged Yael and I to teach and speak, while you ran everything from the sidelines while teaching Pshat and Derash and Parshanut without any ego – just Torat Emet. And you shared it all – all your knowledge, your research, your help – without ever asking for anything in return. And even when the second intifada began and Yael and I followed your sage advice to put the program on hold, by then we were already teaching together so I knew I didn’t have to forfeit our chavruta in learning and teaching. From our brief halachic discussions by the Xerox machine in Lindenbaum to catching up at smachot – I always learned from you – from Even HaEzer to Ibn Kaspi, from what a keren hishtalmut is to trying to remember all your siblings names and hearing your pride in and love for each one! As you pursued your doctorate, inspiring me through your discipline, I remember how you encouraged me to keep teaching as we would review the pros and cons of academic study of Torah and the most efficient way to study German as a required language. Because that’s who you are Avigayil (hard for me to speak of you in past) – never losing sight of your priorities – Yirat and Ahavat Elokim. Putting your children first and pursuing Emet – מפני שהוא אמת.
When you were on shelichut in Boca, I would hear from friends there not only what a scholarly teacher you are – accolades of “she’s brilliant” – always accompanied – “and so inspiring” as a Torah role model. How proud I am to be counted among your many friends. Teaching back to back in Matan Chashmonaim – on one hand, knowing that I had very high standards to follow and on the other hand, our few minutes of weekly schmoozing to catch up on life – no airs, genuine friendship, encouragement, mutual chizuk.
And as our schedules were busy with Torat Chayim, HaKBH sent us reminders to prioritize. You first. Because you always showed me – taught me, guided me. Thank you again and again and again. You were my greatest teacher Avigayil in life’s experiences. Thank you. On one hand, I had heard you had been diagnosed with breast cancer, , on the other hand, you kept teaching – Maaleh Adumim, Chashmonaim, Bet Shemesh. So I thought you were really fine – and I was not a very good friend. I thought if you didn’t reach out to me, than other than tefillot and well wishes, you were fine and didn’t want to talk too much about it.. And maybe you were – because you have an amazingly devoted spouse, unbelievably supportive family and resilience that is found in few. Yael would tell me about your chemo and then as you shared after, you would pick yourself up and continue – as wife, mother, daughter, teacher. I would look forward to your weekly chavrutot with Devorah in Midreshet Lindenbaum, marveling and admiring from afar. And only a few years later did you share same of the difficult times. I should have reached out more to you then Avigayil and I didn’t. But that did not stop you from being the most supportive friend, mentor, confidante, cheerleader, less than two years later when I was diagnosed. You must have known how difficult it is to reach out, because you called me even though I truly meant to call you. But each time I would pick up the phone, I didn’t know – did you want to share, revisit your experiences, especially because we had not spoken much about the elephant in the room – just Torah.
But for Avigayil – cancer is also Torah – and needs to be taught. You called me up and in your ever-matter-of-fact, unintimidating yet motherly voice – I will never forget – “Shani – we have to meet.” No saying no to meeting you. “I’ll work around your schedule – I’ll meet you in the Gush, in Yerushalayim, Beit Shemesh – whatever is most convenient.” And because you know me so well Avigayil, as I tried to procrastinate, you simply said – “next week. I’ll pick you up. I just want to share my experiences. The good and the not-so-good” . We met by the café near Tzur Hadassah and I can remember almost every detail about that hour plus meeting. What you ordered – how you took the bread home because your son loves that bread, how you shared and taught me invaluable lessons Avigayil that I can never ever thank you for enough. You began with how the cancer was detected, how to be aggressive within the medical system, what to look for in a surgeon, how the genetic testing works, when to take off some time and when not to, where to find the best yoga and massage, . But also – and in this lies your greatness – how to maintain romance in a relationship while going through treatments, how to talk to children so that they don’t feel “miskenim” – and when I shared with you my primary anxiety – figuring out what HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants from me, you looked me straight in the eye, and said – I know. It’s a struggle, and we figure it out – one day at a time. Every day brings its own challenges and opportunities. You – Avigayil convinced me that as teachers we teach – and it’s not only ok to share, but we must educate regarding issues of women’s health, while maintain tzniut and choosing when and how and what to share. You shared choices that you had made and why – out of concern for Yehuda, for your children – and even for the chevra kadisha! Who thinks of being sensitive to the chevra kadisha – as we laughed to tears together you gave me wind and wings to fly through a year of surgeries, anxieties, tefillot and Torot. Here we were – together – following similar paths of teaching Tanakh, Halakha, women’s health – you as the mentor and morah – me as the disciple, following your lead. And encouraging me – you got better and Be’ezrat Hashem , I’ll get better too you assured.
So of course – when Dodi and I were planning the schedule for the first cohort of Eshkolot educators – it was a “no-brainer” (Dodi’s expression) – Avigayil is teaching the seminar on parshanut. I remember trying to reach you to schedule and rather late in the summer insisting that we work around your busy schedule even if it meant only teaching one semester because a Tanakh educators program would not be the same without the foremost teacher on parshanut. That is not an exaggeration. Ask anyone – student, colleague, professors – they will all vouch for it.
You have left a significant void Avigayil – one that can truly not be filled. First and foremost you have left a void in your family and I cry just thinking of your parents, of Yehuda, Devora, Nechama, Chaim, Dovi & Ariel. Of your brothers and sisters who respect and adore you.
Buy you have also left a tremendous void in the world of Talmud Torah l’nashim – and Torah scholarship in general. Thank you for investing and leaving your VBM series on parshanim for us – but that’s not enough!!!!
You know so much – you’ve taught so much. You could have taught, enriched and inspired much more. Hashem- why??? Not Avigayil, why Avigayil ? Chachamah vTovat Sechel – quoting pesukim in conversation, bringing Torah to every aspect of life.
I remember Rav Copperman z”l teaching us in Michalala – בשבילי נברא העולם – make yourselves indispensable to the world! You did Avigayil- you are. I miss you dearly – daily.
And now comes the hardest part – the more recent thoughts, that I now must call memories. The ones that keep bringing tears down my face and a huge lump in my throat. The ones that have held me back from calling during shiva because I can’t talk through my cries. The ones that make me want to come over to your house – no – because I wouldn’t want to invade on family time. Ok – the ones that make me want to freeze our last chance-meeting together and never get up from your side. I’m referring to the phone calls and whatsapps over the past two years that I have read and reread countless times just to keep our conversation going now and berate myself for not corresponding more – and the too few visits over the past few months.
Here’s Avigayil – for all those who only know her through her brilliant shiurim and analyses. For those who remember her as a Torah teacher and scholar. She was – and so much more. Avigayil called me not just to check up on me, but to check up on her daughters – how proud she is of you! We would speak about Devorah’s learning and Nechama – how Nechama wasn’t sure about her choice to learn in Midreshet Lindenbaum Lod – and how she loved learning gemara on a high level with my son, Rav Ashi. “I just want to thank you – “ can you imagine – to thank me?! “Please tell your son what an impact he’s having on my daughter.” Who does that? And when I did report to Ashi – his response – “Nechama is the most enthusiastic and advanced”. The apple falling not far from the tree.
Avigayil who became one of the most central teachers of the Matan Eshkolot faculty because of her investment in the students and their queries and religious dialectics in and out of the classroom. Avigayil who joined us for the Eshkolot Shabbaton erev Yom Yerushlayaim and delivered the most eloquent and thought-provoking analysis of Naomi’s Shemer’s “Yerushlsayim shel zahav” as David Hamelech, Rav Yehuda haLevi and Rabbi Akiva all came alive on the streets of the city and in Avigayil’s eyes. I remember how we shared ideas of Moshe Rabbenu and Eliyahu HaNAvi – and how I wish we could have had more chavrutot together! And how I wish every Beit Medrash would have had the zechut to hear your exposition in person! I have since shared your ideas with countless others and now when I do – you are still standing next to me. Not in imagination – but in heart, in friendship, with your smile, your articulate mastery of Hebrew and English , your excitement as you beautifully wove pesukim with midrash, history with poetry, art and philology. From the Akeidah to Yetziat Mitzrayim, Churban and Geulah, Yerushalayim shel malah with Yerusahlayim shel matah.
And then there’s more – Avigayil who I could call on as one of the first toanot rabbaniyot in individual cases, and to teach about halachic prenups in Hebrew and in English – at yemei iyun and mishmars. In midrashot and battei medrash. And each time – with humility – “there are others who may teach”, you would claim. And each time – as friend and teacher – rave reviews. If only we could have taught more together – if only I could have learned more from you!
And then last year hearing the fateful news – from Yehudit, Yael, Bryna, Yehuda – the cancer is back – in the stomach. Avigayil Malka bat Chana Yehudit back in my tefillot. And you Avigayil – honest – goodness you. Allowing me to visit, sitting up and smiling though Yehuda had told me you’re in pain, and then catching up – “So, Shani , how are your kids – go through each one and tell me what their up to.” Really, Avigayil – I’m here for you. Why do you want to hear about my children? Ok – you asked. Now your turn. Each one – Devorah’s amazing accomplishments in the army, Nechama as army teacher in Kfar Etzion – Chaim, Dovi, Ariel. What they’re learning – how the year had started for each of them. So involved with each one –
Back to Devorah – when she’s ready….do you know any great young men?
Each child – your face light sup, your smile so genuine. Your pain dissipates. Each child – concern,
We talk about challenges of chinuch today – our dreams for the year, and years to come. The treatment you’ll begin – and you’ll get better.
Dovi walks in the room…all the way from yeshiva.
Shana tovah we wish one another – because we’re both convinced it will be. And we’ll meet soon out of the hospital – because you’ll get better.
I hear you’re at home – let’s meet. No pressure Shani. One Sunday’s not good for me – next Sunday you’re at the dr. …If only I could turn the clock back and come – and sit on the couch next to you – while you and Nechama sing your song.
The months all blur together – you sound great on the phone – have energy to still teach because the words of Torah strengthen you. Second semester Eshkolot? Maybe. Let’s wait. Wednesday am – Yehudit tells me you’re not well. Tefillot and Torot from afar are not enough – coming to Bet Shemesh for breast cancer awareness and shiur on ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם – I so hope to see you there. Your sister Rachel updates me – tonight you were tired. But the next day you call me back to THANK ME – it was supposed to be the other way around Avigayil. I called to thank you. You sound upbeat – so you must be.
And then the transfusions –
I will never forget sitting in Sharei Tzedek waiting for the oncologist and Yehuda briskly walks by. You know Avigayil is here – that’s funny – we were trying to reschedule our visit. How convenient of you to make it easier for me?! Thank you Yehuda! And there you were sitting up in the chair – blood draining in and out of you, with a smile. Again – you want to hear about me, what’s new. Always the other first. Thank you – thank you – to every nurse, social worker around – everyone knows you by name – with love and admiration. I pull the wonderful social worker aside – do you know who you have the zechut of attending to? Avigayil is one of the foremost Tanakh educators of our time? You’ve heard of Nechama Leibowitz – she’s on par! “I know, she says – she’s also the most respectful and grateful patient. “
And she’ll be okay – right?
Be’ezrat Hashem, she answers. And you did not let on for a minute otherwise.
WHY Avigayil? Why didn’t you tell me that if the last transfusion didn’t work, then your body wouldn’t be able to fight any longer? Why did you phrase your treatment as – I have another transfusion coming up that be’ezrat Hashem will work and give me more koach? Always – the positive , in others, in life.
And then we sit and schmooze. My students ask where I am for class – Hashem, thank you for giving me the resolve to stay – so that I may teach my students what Avigayil taught me in out last face-to face conversation. Avigayil said Asher Yatzar out loud with a smile on her face while tubes were coming out of her body. Avigayil sat up when her mother came in, asking about the welfare of her father who was also in Share Tzedek at the time. Avigayil insisted that her sister take a break and then go check on their father, instead of staying with her. Avigayil asking me to please compose a personal email to Oshra Koren of Matan Renana apologizing that she won’t be able to teach in the upcoming Pesach yom iyun in a few days as she had told them may be the case, but nonetheless, feeling badly. Aviagyil in the same email, encouraging Oshra that be’zrat Hashem for the next yom iyun she hopes to participate. Because your emunah infused you with the laughter of Rabbi Akiva.
And then to call to thank me later – like Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai – לא היה מי שהקדים לו בשלום!
To send Nechama to shiur and update me – And I told you I would do my best to come over. But I didn’t. And I ask mechila again. And then such a strange feeling. Davening ma’ariv motzai Shabbat in Moshava – saying your name in Refaenu as I always do , and thinking to myself – I really miss Avigayil – I didn’t say goodbye before leaving for the summer – and even though I ‘ll see you as soon as I return, I should call and see how you are. I return to the bunk a few minutes later to hear of the most tragic news a friend could read as a whatsapp message – עיני עיני ירדה מים.
And then I listen to the last message you had left for me – “Hi Shani, it’s Avigayil here. I just remembered you mentioned you had someone for Devorah. Best not to go through me. Call her directly, and she might be interested. But don’t mention me because then she may not be interested. Take care Shani, be in touch, bye. “
Ten days before you left us – thinking of your daughter’s future. But you said – be in touch. And now I can’t. Call her directly – you knew, wanted to be sure I would have her contact info. You thought of everything, and in your voice I could hear your smile. Though I cry when I think of the pain you must have been enduring, and the resolve to reach out in your wise way as always – איזהו חכם? הרואה את הנולד.
Sunday – I teach and cry as I dedicate the shiurim לעילוי נשמת אביגיל בת הרב משה וחנה – it was supposed to be לרפואה – not לעילוי נשמה of my dear friend, so young. I cry – when your students see me they come to cry with me, and I try to smile as I think of your nachat.
But I cry all day – at dinner I break down – out of sadness and regret – regret for all the conversations we did not have, for the unanswered phone messages, for the Shabbos visit I didn’t make. I’m so angry with myself – and come back to the bunk to finally speak to you – לדבר על ליבי – recognizing too late how much I cherish our friendship, how you have impacted my life in ways you do not even know. How you taught me patience, integrity, derech eretz, kibbud horim, umorim. With your candor and humor, your sensitivity and eloquence, you gave me sage advice and direction. And did not ask for anything in return. And did not tell me that your days were so numbered – and even if you did, I would not – could not believe that it would be so.
So I did something so strange – I left you a written message of my cry that I hope pierces the gates of shamayim – straight to your special chamber by the כסא הכבוד . – of course I’ll take care of Devorah – בקשת מחילה לכל השיחות שלא התקיימו. Thank you Avigayil for being my friend and mentor for 26 years!
Another memory Avigayil – Purim – don’t recall how many years ago – you, Yehuda, all the children dressed in purple – representing Am Segula! That’s how I will always remember you – with your smile in regal colors – so precious to HAKB”H . What a treasure we all had – for not long enough – what a treasure we lost! – חבל על דאבדין
שלא הרהרת אחר מידותיו של הקב”ה.
Thirty days have gone by and I miss you more – not less. I hear your voice – יהיה בסדר – keep teaching . I will Avigayil with you in heart and mind – in inspiration and practice. And I look forward to dancing as we celebrate together at Devorah’s wedding be’ezrat Hashem . I’m getting to work – pursuing our dreams together – as you would have done yourself.