Thoughts on Avigail
I heard the news when I was in camp. Away in far off Nahariyah, I was unaware that
Avigail’s situation had worsened past the weakness my mother had described in the weeks
leading up to her passing. When my mother told me the news I refused to believe it. It could not
be that our literal rock of Torah was gone. When I finally allowed the tears to come, I asked the
only question that was burning inside of me. “Ima, what are we going to do without her?”.
Imagining my future, my neighborhood, my community without Avigail was and still is
impossible. She was a pillar for me, my sister and other like-minded friends, in her ways, in her
thought, in her teachings.
When I asked to leave camp to attend the levaya, I was asked who she was. What was
my relationship with her. I was asked that again and again and I couldn’t, and still can’t
formulate in just a few words exactly what she was for me. A neighbor. A mother who sent her
kids to my camps. The mother of two wonderful girls I got to know in different contexts. My
mother’s friend. My teacher. My role model. An inspiration and aspiration. Every time I was
asked I gave a different answer, because I didn’t know just how to convey it.
If asked again, I think I would say it like this;
Avigail was for me a teacher and a role model. She taught me Torah with love and
passion, in a way that connected me not only to the stories she was teaching, but to the entire
history that has transpired since. Her deep enthusiasm and emotion in her teaching brought it all
alive and so vivid I was there, thousands of years back, experiencing it in real-time.
She introduced me to Nechama Leibowitz, the woman and parshanit. She kickstarted a
relationship with Nechama that deepened on it’s own, all thanks to her passionate introduction.
On the Friday mornings of summer vacation a few years back, Avigayil brought Yosef
and his brothers to life in a more vivid way than Andrew Lloyd Webber ever did. We learned
about the family politics, about Yosef’s deep Emunah, about the secret life of Potifar and the
scandals of his wife. All of this happened in my dining room, where Avigayil graciously taught
me, my mother and a few other teenage girls, in return for a dish for shabbos, or a donation
towards her sick niece’s treatments. It was awe-inspiring to me the breadth of her knowledge,
and I always felt so beyond privileged that she was taking from her time and sharing this with
us, a small group of young women eager to learn.
Last year, I was a madricha in Amudim seminary. On Tuesday mornings, I made it a
priority to attend Avigail’s course on Yirmiyahu. Yirmiyahu had never been so emotional before,
his plights and struggles screaming with pain and devotion. Of course Yirmiyahu didn’t stay only
in the context of pre-churban Israel. Avigail brought him into the history of our state, by bringing
an extraordinary tefilla written and recited in 1947, before the UN’s decision regarding the
establishment of a Jewish state in Israel. She powerfully correlated the 70 years of galus to the
70 years that had transpired since the birth of our modern-day state, and brought tears to our
eyes at the thought of how Yirmiyahu would be crying from joy at the sight of us learning and
thriving on our land, the fulfillment of his prophecy; mockery turned to miracle.
Nobody could bring so much emotion and power into limud Tanach as Avigail. Her
forceful love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, and her perspective on the connection between
Tanach and our comfortable lives today rang so deep and true that it brought us all closer to our
roots. An Amudim student once commented that she could be saying “I need to go to the
bathroom” and it would change our lives, such was the emotion she poured into every word.
Besides for the Torah that she disseminated, Aviagil was for me a real role model.
Observing a woman who was a dedicated mom, a model of chesed and a Torah giant had an
exceptional influence on me. I would sometimes think “well, Avigail does x so it must be ok”-
which just goes to show how much importance I pinned on her and everything she did.
Following those Tuesday morning shiurim she would offer me a ride back home, and I
would sometimes jump at her offer just for the privilege of that half hour with her. I felt like
whenever I needed advice in the tanach world she had a solid and thought-out suggestion.
What’s the best way to learn Yeshayahu? What’s a good sefer to learn with a friend and how
should we approach it? Do you know these lecturers and who’s classes do you recommend I
sign up for next year in Bar Ilan’s midrasha? In those rides we of course discussed Torah, but
also worldly matters. She was always interested in my life, my comings and goings, and
encouraged me to continue learning and even consider teaching Torah.
I got a small glimpse into her mothering world when she occasionally related some of her
approaches on various matters. Like when when she told me about Mobileye being a life-saver
for her relationship with her new driver. I admired that sensitivity so much, since I understood
first-hand how stressful it can be for parents to new drivers, and how much tension it can put on
the parent-child relationship. She expressed deep devotion and support of her children’s
decisions, which I thought was beautiful. She was so proud of her daughters’ choices in learning
programs and army service, that it almost made me question my own decisions.
I was always so taken by how personable Avigail was, despite her being such a giant.
Coupled with her astounding memory, it made me feel so special. Like how she always
remembered exactly what class I was in and what she said there. So for example in a Ramban
class with a bunch of post high school girls she got up to a peirsush that we had learned a year
or two before, in the Yosef course. Before teaching she would say “Dahlia, I’m sorry you have to
hear this from me again”. Or “I mentioned this at the lecture I gave on Nechama, remember
Dahlia?”. It always made me feel fantastic when she would do that.
In recent months I didn’t see Avigail much. My mom, however, continued to be in touch
with her. One of the most touching moments occurred just before Shavuot this year. Shira and I
decided to organize a women’s learning event for the evening. We so wanted Avigail to give a
shiur, or just show up, but we knew she wasn’t feeling up to it. We remembered fondly the
marathon of shiurim she would give every Shavuot, some for the larger public, and some for
teenagers, a smaller, more intimate event. We really had her in mind the entire time, and
although we didn’t express it, we knew that this event we were organizing was coming to make
up for the absence of an Avigail shiur on leil Shavuot. Well, my mom decided to text her. She
sent her the flyer for our program and wrote:
I felt like sending u this…thank you for being such an awesome role model to my girls.
we often comment on how blessed we are to have you as a neighbor. we have all
gained so much!!Thank you for being a fabulous friend ,teacher and neighbor❤shabbat
shalom and chag sameach!
Avigail responded the following:
This is amazing, I feel so proud of them! I am the one blessed with having you guys as
MY neighbors, a role model for endless chessed.
The fact that Avigail was proud of us made our hearts soar. That meant that she felt like
she had a part in our achievements and growth. She recognized that she was an integral
part of where we are today, and she took pride in that and most in importantly- in US.
It is such a comfort to me to know that she died knowing how important she was to us,
how we felt her in every Torah accomplishment of ours. We miss her so deeply and will
continue to, even as we attempt to perpetuate her in all that we do.
(pictured below- Avigail teaching Yirmiyahu at Amudim. I am sitting on the left of her)