We are here today to mourn the passing of Diane Kaplan, beloved wife and mother, respected archivist, a leader of this community, and cherished friend.
Words are what we have to express our emotions. But all words seem inadequate right now. A “eulogy” means a speech of praise. There is no way we can praise Diane sufficiently. There is no way we can express the sorrow we feel that she has passed away way before her time.
So what I want to do, very simply, is tell you a little about Diane’s biography, and then I want to tell you what I think are four of her legacies.
Diane was born in Minneapolis on Oct 3, 1947, the daughter of Harold Kaplan, who was a doctor, and Ruth Kaplan who was a nursery school teacher. She had a happy childhood that included a lively scene with many cousins. She was raised with her sister Susan who I am sad to say passed away in 1995.
Diane graduated St. Louis Park High School and the University of Wisconsin, and then went on to receive a Master’s in history at Michigan. She then took a position as an archivist with the Yale University library in 1971.
At the time Diane was growing up, a boy named Steve Mayer was growing up three or four miles away. But they never met until Steve went to Yale to work on a graduate degree in English. Steve’s aunt, who was a friend of Diane’s mother, set them up.
They were married in 1973.
Steve found a position as an Assistant Professor with Centenary College in Louisiana. Diane got a job as a part-time archivist for two dollars an hour during the years 1975-78. One of her jobs was to arrange the records of the Methodist conference of Louisiana. When she was introduced to some of the Methodist leaders, they asked her about her religion and she proudly said “Jewish”, which was met with stunned silence. And then the woman recovered and said brightly, “Well welcome Sister Kaplan.”
They came back to New Haven and she resumed her job at Yale in 1978, where she has worked ever since.
Herman Kahn and Judy Schiff developed a very special and expanding archival centre, and Diane was very important. There were hard times at work but she stuck them out. In the last five years she became the Head of public services.
Now I want to talk about Diane’s legacies, what she leaves behind.
One legacy is for all of us. As most of us know, Diane has been battling cancer for fifteen years. No one could have fought this terrible disease with more courage, independence, strength of will and determination. I was constantly amazed over the years that when I would ask if she were working during the set of treatments, she would look at me as if to say, “Rabbi, don’t you know by now that of course I’m working through this.” By the way, sometimes she did chemo during her lunch breaks. Once she went cross-country skiing while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Diane set the bar very high, the gold standard, for dealing with disease. It’s hard for the rest of us to measure up to this. But she was the smart one; why sit at home feeling miserable when you can be at work? Deal with the fears and the stress by going and doing. Quite remarkable. Quite a lesson to remember.
As an archivist, Diane was the editor of the papers of major figures such as Henry Lewis Stimson, Chester Bowles and Stanley Milgrom. She was a Distinguished Fellow of the Society of American Archivists. She mentored a lot of people who are now in the field; she was a nurturing figure.
The library I use the most is the Sterling Memorial Library. Sometimes, on a Shabbos, she would tell me that she had heard me shuffling down the hall earlier that week. And I would tell her what I thought about the current exhibit in that hallway, because very often I found the contents so interesting. Those exhibits showed me that archives can breathe and reflect life and ideas. The archives of Diane’s life will breathe and reflect her life for many years to come.
Most important is Diane’s legacy to her family, which is a legacy of unconditional love. Her marriage to Steve over these 38 years, how they worked out their own systems that obviously worked, is a testament to understanding and respect. And there were wonderful times, including trips to Charleston, Quebec, Norway, and Utah; there were trips to Italy and Europe with the kids.
How can I possibly describe her love for Rini and Hans? I remember once telling her that if the only thing I knew about her was about the mother she has been to these two kids, my respect for her would be unlimited. She, of course, in her humility, looked at me with surprise. Diane was the best kind of humble. When you praised her, she had no idea what you were talking about. She just did the right thing and didn’t even think about what anyone thought.
When I would see Diane and Hans on our congregational trips to Israel and Cuba, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a mother and son who were so close. The other day I was quite affected when Rini said that her mother has been sick for over half her life. Rini was so beautiful staying with her mother all night in the hospital, just trying to hold on to her a little longer. And it brought back memories from fifteen years ago, conversations that I had with Diane not about her fears for herself but her fears for her kids. Diane fought for life for all of the obvious reasons. But she fought hardest, I think, to be here as long as possible for her family.
Hans and Rini know, beyond words or the shadow of a doubt, how much their mother loved them. That is the best legacy one can leave.
Another legacy, or really set of legacies, is for our congregation. Diane was a real shul-goer, a real part of our Shabbat morning community. She always said, at every Annual Meeting, that she had the best job in the synagogue. She was our Social Action chairperson for more years than I can remember. Since we are a group, and there is so much we need to do for each other, we are often so busy that we do not do enough for the general community. And it has been Diane Kaplan, often single-handedly, who has come up with one project after another to make certain that we remember those in the New Haven area who are hungry or without sufficient clothes or heat or school supplies or mattresses and so on. It has been Diane Kaplan who connected us with Covenant to Care and other fine organizations which desperately need our help. And in recent years, she has expressed her deep satisfaction for the way the congregation has responded to her calls for help. It was a great reward for her, the only kind of reward she really wanted, (though we have honored her with our highest awards including the President’s Award), that after years of pushing and pulling us, things had reached a point that when she called, we all responded.
Still, we’re going to need a few different people to carry on her important work. And I am saying to those who respected and loved Diane, that if you want to do something for her now, think about taking a role in this area of her life. We’re going to need a few different people just to do parts of what she did. And to help this process, we are going to implement an idea by Dr. Bryan Pines, our next President, to create the Diane Kaplan Social Action Fund, to assist projects in the future.
I was sitting the other day with Diane’s close friends Marge and Lonn Drucker and I found myself talking about a moment on an Israel trip some years ago. We were doing our own religious service at an extension of the Western Wall in Jerusalem called Robinson’s Arch. And some of us talked about what the trip meant to us. I remember vividly how Diane spoke about making it to Israel, how it had always been a dream for her, and how she hadn’t been sure that she’d ever make it. And we were all openly crying, crying for what she had gone through, but also crying because she was so incredibly remarkable. She was going to live and make it to Israel and she did it. And then just last year, just a few weeks after surgery, she and Hans came to Cuba on another trip. Thinking about this last year and how tough it has been, I really don’t know how she made that trip.
But you see, she was Diane Kaplan, and she could do anything she set her mind to do. And that, along with her love for her family, her hard work collecting the past, and her hard work for the poor living among us, we will never forget her.
To Steve and Hans and Irina and her family and friends, we wish you G-d’s comfort at this sad time. She was a righteous woman, what we call a tzadeket, a wonderful person with all of the right values and the energy to work on them. May she rest in peace. Let us say Amen