We’re here today to mourn the passing but also to honor and cherish the life of Myrna Kagan, beloved wife, mother, sister, and cherished friend.
We know that this was her time, and we are at peace with her passing. The righteous die on Shabbos, with Shabbos being the symbol of eternal rest, and so Myrna passed away on the Sabbath.
Each of us here has his or her own perspective on Myrna, as a wife or sister or mother or grandmother or friend. Who am I to tell you what Donald and Myrna’s marriage of 67 years was like, or the kind of mother she was, or the kind of sister or mother-in-law or grandmother? Each of us has his or her own memories and thoughts and feelings, some of which can be shared, some of which cannot even be expressed.
So I just want to say two things from me, one as a father of a kid at Ezra Academy who had a wonderful teacher named Mrs. Kagan, and one from me as Myrna’s rabbi and friend.
When your child has a teacher, you see that teacher through that child’s eyes. My son Danny had Mrs. Kagan for English and Social Studies. I know that the fact that he learned a lot and loved his teacher is a pretty commonplace remark. And yes, she gave her students the kind of basic education about history and writing and speaking that was exactly what the liberal arts are supposed to give. But it wasn’t what he learned from her that mattered as much as how she nurtured his intellect, pushed him to strive, to do well and then to do better. She was his teacher exactly twenty years ago, but she always asked about him and followed his career. And once she told me that having him as her student was like having her own sons in her class, these open, engaged intellectual minds that are always thinking about everything. My debt to Myrna can never be repaid. I am just one example of all the parents of students who had such a wonderful teacher.
The other perspective I’d like to provide is as a rabbi. Myrna called me one day a number of years ago after she heard some clips on the local news of parts of a speech I gave defending Israel and America in the Middle East. She joined our shul shortly thereafter, but our connection really had nothing to do with politics. Myrna, in her own way, was returning to the Judaism of her childhood, and one day we sat for a very long time and she talked about her life and her journey, but especially about her grandparents, and I have this image in my head of her grandfather holding her hand as they walked to shul. And she began to study, with the goal of reading from the Torah, which is the hardest skill in Judaism. It was like climbing a mountain, but she did it, and I remember her face that day on the bima. She was radiant with joy.
And I know how I’ll sound when I say this, but all these years, when I’ve seen Myrna, even when we were planning for this day, even when I saw her on her deathbed the other day, I always saw a little girl, a little sweet girl who loved her grandfather. Someplace in her core, Myrna was always that little girl. So I want to say not to all of you but to that little girl, “You are going to have a wonderful life, far beyond anything you or your grandfather can even dream about. You will be a teacher and an author and a wonderful wife to a renowned historian with whom you will have a mutual and supportive marriage, and the mother of incredible sons who have been on the cutting edge of important issues and you will have daughters-in-law who are both distinguished and devoted, and loving bright grandchildren, and friends and colleagues who will cherish you. And yes, there will be difficult times, especially towards the end, and you will know your share of pain and fragility, but you will always be loving and you will always be cared for and loved.”
There’s a lot more I could say but she wanted others to speak so I will just say this: Myrna Kagan was a righteous woman. May she rest in peace. Let us say Amen.