We’re here today to mourn the passing but also to honor and cherish the life of Harriet Miller, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, community leader, good friend, and righteous Jewish woman.
With your permission, I want to speak today in a different way that I usually do at a funeral. I usually give a biography of the person. Instead, I want to talk about Harriet’s life by speaking about a few important themes. I realized this morning that Harriet has talked to me many times about her life and she never emphasized specifics; she was always painting themes in her life. So what I say today is mostly from her.
One theme that always emerged was education. Harriet was a teacher and she also was a learner. Whether it was through Hadassah or as Head Teacher at the New Haven Day School or at our synagogue for both kids and adults, Harriet thought a lot about how to teach. She was always prepared. She did not do anything on the fly, We have a phrase in one of our prayers, I said it this morning, where we say: Lilmode u-lelamayd. To learn and to teach. She learned to teach and she was excited to transmit everything she knew. She was a great educator who thought about teaching, who cared about her students. She remembered her students, and they remembered her.
And after she was no longer teaching, she took Hebrew classes with her friend Ayala Dvoretsky and worked very hard to learn the language. Her drive for lifelong learning is an exemplar of the Jewish insistence on personal growth. Living in a house with Sid who himself was always learning and has a keen intellect further encouraged her love of knowledge. This was a dimension of their marriage.
Another theme was that Harriet was a good Jewish woman. She kept kosher even when it was hard to do so. She cared deeply about Israel. She transmitted Judaism to non-Jewish friends.
The biggest, overarching theme was Family. She was always a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn and she wanted to have a close family and she wanted to have close friends. Harriett always talked a lot about her first family, her parents Samuel & Fannie and even more about her sisters, Shirley & Eunice. Her sisters were major figures for her; she remembered every thing, big and small. She loved them very much.
Harriet has always been very devoted to her children Carrie and Andrew. She was always so proud of how smart they are and the meaningful work they’ve done. When you live a long life, there are different times, and circumstances and external forces can sometimes get in the way. But her love was always the North Star or the North Pole, the magnet, and they could steer by it. Love and devotion always win. In the last stages of her life, she could not stop talking about her deep happiness and joy about Carrie’s life with Dan and Andy’s life with Rita. Harriet passed away not just content, but full of joy, knowing that her children have found more happiness and love in their lives than ever before.
And Elias, I hope that you know what you meant to your grandmother. You are her future. She cherished every moment she ever spent with you.
I wish I knew what to say to Sid, except to say that Harriet told me, not once or twice but a hundred times, that you were the best husband anyone could have ever had. From the very beginning of your relationship, Harriet told me so many times, you saw her, the real Harriet, better than anyone else. Harriet had very strong opinions, and she was very sure of how she thought things should be done. But you always saw that beneath what could seem like a tough exterior. You knew that Harriet was a very sensitive person who never meant to hurt anyone but who did get hurt by others.
And I want to say that the two of you had a wonderful life together in a wonderful marriage. You may not know this, but there are legends in this community about how romantic you were as a young couple. Another example of your marriage is that you did not just travel; you traveled and learned. You traveled and made friends for life. I don’t have a lot of wisdom for you Sid, but I know that you have great and loyal children who have been there for you and will be there for you.
Please allow me a few personal thoughts. Harriet was a very maternal person, and she sometimes explicitly called herself my Hamden mom. I’m sure that she said similar thigs to others who were close, like Cherni In my house, especially for my wife Dorene and oldest daughter Rachel, there is a lot of grieving for Harriet.
I had a really good day a few months ago when I took the Millers over to Maplewood in Orange and they saw what was supposed to become their new home. Harriet had it all figured out; they would move before they had to. Harriet was a planner and she was methodical. She had all the logistics and the finances figured out to a tee. It was savagely ironic that Harriet wound up in the hospital days before they were supposed to move. And these two months have been a terrifying rollercoaster that led to her passing. But all this just shows how correct Harriet was to try to plan ahead.
But when I took them to Maplewood that day, it was also a sad thing for me. I’ve been to the Miller home many times, and it was always a warm, classy, intellectual place. I’ll miss that house; it was one of my favorite houses ever. At a couple of different points over the years, we had a Bible study group, but it felt more like an intellectual salon led by Sid and Harriet, These groups included David and Ofra Willner, Israel and Ayala Dvoretsky, Burton and Cherni, and others. We sat around the Miller’s dinner table, and we ate pistachio nuts and drank Harriet’s ice tea, and we studied the Bible, verse by verse, and we had very substantive, textually based discussions.
And now I think about those evenings like they were a dream, like I am watching some wonderful intellectual French movie in my mind.
The reason I mention this is to tell everyone and to remind myself to understand how precious and special our friendships are, that we have to appreciate the fact that some of the things we are doing right now are very significant moments in our lives. We have to appreciate what we have right now because you turn around and you have a day like today, when you have bury a very dear friend.
To Sid and Carrie and Andy and the whole family, we wish you G-d’s comfort at this sad time. You have the comfort of knowing that you loved her and she loved you. She was a righteous woman. May she rest in peace. Let us say Amen