Students

Dear Rock Family,

I wanted to take the opportunity to give you my perspective on Avigayil, as another one of her many devoted Talmidot, who also had the privilege of seeing her as a member of our community.

My connection with her began way back when I was 14 years old and, enamored with Torah learning, decided that I wanted to pursue Tanach and become a teacher and scholar. This dream might have fizzled out over the years, had I not had such an incredible role model and inspiring figure, right down the block.

There were a few years that whenever Avigayil would speak around the neighborhood, I would be there. I would always walk out amazed at the breadth of her knowledge, both Torah and secular. She managed to bring many different facets of life into her teaching, so that everything felt very alive and connected to reality. Examples that come to mind are constantly comparing events in our modern day Shivat Tzion to the Perakim that we learned in Ezra and Nechemia, or bringing up a story from the Holocaust when explaining the mizmor of “על נהרות בבל”. In addition to being astounded by her knowledge, I was always deeply moved by her passion and love for what she was teaching. It was so felt, in every single word.

I felt in awe of her, a little it intimidated because I was this little pisher and she was such a teacher, a scholar and a leader. But a few years later, with a little help from my mother, I got up the guts to approach her and ask if she would be able to do some sort of summer learning with a few friends of mine that wanted to learn. She so graciously took us seriously, spoke about what we would like to learn, and spent the time coming week after week to blow our minds and connect us to the story of the Akeidah in a way that we had never understood before. We thoroughly covered the parshanim, midrashim, and piyyutim, as well as appearances of Akeidah themes in modern thought, artwork and even the Koran. This Torah is burned into my heart, I cannot express in words the depth of connection and how real she made it to us. To this day, about 6 years later, when I read בראשית כ”ב I hear her voice.

But even more meaningful than the learning itself, was the closeness that we enjoyed with this Torah figure. I often spoke about it with my friends, what a zchut it was to have this precious time, it felt like the absolute fulfillment of “והוי מתאבק בעפר רגליהם”. Again, as a teenager, she felt to me light years away, a real torah personality that was overwhelming. But part of what made Avigayil so special, and her Torah so alive and personable, was how relatable and unpretentious she always was. When I sat in her shiur, be it in a group of 5 or in a group of 50, there was always a sense that she was communicating with each and every one of her audience. And she would even throw in comments, to her regulars at various shiurim – “Shira, we covered this in that shiur” or “remember when we learned that in the context of x?”. The fact that she sat with us teenagers, and all she agreed to take in return was a few side dishes for the Shabbos table, was an act of Chesed and love of Torah beyond words, that is imprinted deep on my heart. I can still hear her telling us in the beginning to make her dishes for Shabbos, because she prefers teaching to cooking 😊

Another important aspect of Avigayil’s beautiful personality was her constant chesed. I would hear my mother mention how Avigayil had organized collecting a gift of money for Pesach for the man who swept Rechov Gad daily, or thought of arranging a fun break off for another neighbor who was busy taking care of a sick family member. I think that the beauty of her particular brand of Chesed, was in her extreme sensitivity to other peoples needs. She truly noticed people. She saw all of the people around, always communicating in such a warm way and noticing when anyone needed an extra boost or some support.

For me, Avigayil exemplified how torah makes one a more refined person. I have always felt a fear of becoming an intellectual, one who learns torah for the wrong reasons, and for whom the Torah learned does not take root inside of the personality and bring to a better place. And as I wrestled with these thoughts throughout the years, Avigayil stood for me as a model of how one can be so deep into the intellectual world of learning, and yet remain a balanced, caring, warm and loving individual. I knew her first and foremost as a torah teacher, but as I saw her in more contexts of community, I understood just how much of a giant she was.

My sister Dahlia actually shared this with you in a letter that she wrote בזמנו, but I thought it was still worth repeating. On Shavuot of last year, we arranged a Beit Midrash for women in our house. My mother had texted her, telling her about it and thanking her for being such a role model for us throughout these years. Her response was that she was very proud of us. Dahlia and I were so overjoyed at this exchange (which we only saw after her petirah) because it showed that she took pride in our accomplishments. I had always hoped that she knew how much she meant to me, and how much as a personality and mentor she was and still is a guiding light for me throughout the way.

She will always be remembered, her Torah lives on in so many of us members of this community who had the privilege of being her students.

ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

Shira Lebovitz