This is my eulogy for my mother, Judith Edidin Scolnic, given at Beth El of Montgomery County on Jan. 13, 2022
In one of the most popular movies of all time, half the population of the universe disappears in what is called “The Snap.” Thanos, the personification of death, snaps his fingers. The people are there, and then in a flash, they’re gone.
For our family, it feels like we have just experienced the Snap. My mother was with us, talking and emailing and zooming and facebooking. She wakes up, makes the bed, lays out her clothes, starts the coffee and puts toast in the oven, and drops dead. Our mother and grandmother and great-grand-mother was snapped away.
This is all unreal.
Our father went through such a terrible last stage of life, that probably without even thinking about it, we expected the same for her. But leave it to her; she wasn’t going there. She was going to be herself to her last moment. And to her very last day, she was Mom, she was Bubbie, as we have always known her.
There are many wonderful ancient Jewish books that did not make it into the Tanakh, into the Bible. One of them is the Book of Judith. In this powerful story that is included in the Apocrypha, a righteous and courageous Jewish woman saves her people. Completely on her own, she goes right into the camp of the enemy that is invading Israel, right into the tent of the evil general, and assassinates him. She literally cuts off his head.
Our Judith never hurt anyone, but she was righteous, and she was brave, and she was independent, and she acted with confidence, and she was sure that she was right 1900 per cent of the time, and she never apologized for anything she ever said or did, and most of all, she was fiercely protective of her family, and she would do anything for each one of us. She knew every, single thing about every one of us, past and present. I often got into trouble because I told my mother everything and then my mother went to work spreading my secrets.
She did not forget a thing, not one thing. She could tell you what you were wearing 20 years ago and 80 years ago. And she would be happy to correct you about events in your own life. She remembered things in her own way.
So let me tell you one of our family legends. It’s July 1969. We’re in New Hampshire, at a bungalow on Crystal Lake, and it’s been raining for days, and it’s six of us in this little cabin. And it finally stops raining. And so Daddy says, “Let’s go take a walk.” And Mommy says: “I’ll just stay here and listen to the quiet.”
So we’re walking down the road to the country store. And like a fifteen-year-old, I grab my nine-year-old brother David and we run across the field to cross the stream as a shortcut to the store. And the stream is flooding from all the rain, and David nearly drowns, and I pull him across. And Daddy is so mad at me that he doesn’t say anything. We got back to the. cabin and told Mommy what happened.
It‘s a few years later, and we’re sitting here in Bethesda telling stories. And of course, this one comes up. And Mommy starts yelling at me, “And I was screaming at you, Benjy! Don’t do it! Don’t go across that stream!” And we looked at her and said, “Mom, you weren’t there.” And Daddy looks at her, and says, “Judy, you weren’t there.” But she would not be dissuaded. She was there. And if you gave her a polygraph, she would have passed. She was there.
This story tells you that she was so scared after the fact, so angry at me and so worried for David, that she had never recovered from the whole incident. Her fierce protective instincts even superseded facts.
What did she want for us? What we wanted for ourselves. My mother loved my humor, and she would laugh if I said that like Judith in the story, she helped each one of us get ahead.
And she would do what she needed to do. Her husband serves his country in Korea? She goes to occupied Japan to be near him. He wanted to be a rabbi in Tyler, Texas, in the Wild West? She went. Her first grandchild is being born in Englewood, New Jersey in the middle of the night? She sat in the lobby and would not leave so they were mopping under her feet.
When I was a kid, I’d come to shul here, and I’d walk home with my father. In the last couple of years, my mother zoomed onto my service in Hamden every Shabbos morning, and when I’d walk out of shul, she’d be calling me, going over my sermon and the service. Just last Shabbos, as I was walking out of the shul, she called me and told me that it was a good sermon, but that as soon as I finished, I announced the page for Musaf, p. 155. She told me I have to wait and let people reflect. I told her that that would be hoaky and self-indulgent. She told me that I had to give it a moment. So my last conversation with my mother was her telling me how to be a rabbi.
But that’s not what I’ll remember. What I will always have is that – In the first part of my life, I walked home from shul with my father. And in the last part of her life, I walked home from shul with my mother.
I always thought that since I’m the oldest, and I was an only child for six years, and I had her father’s name, and I became a rabbi, that I was her favorite. But at some point, it hit me that she loved Rebecca, David, and Donna just as much. I wasn’t disappointed, as a matter of fact, I was happy, because I have four children and I love them equally. But I have to say that one of us has given the most in return. Rebecca and her family have been here in every way for our parents, and we can never say enough or thank them enough.
Our parents built something, a big family, and the question is: What will happen now? Mom was our center, she always has been, she was the center of the wheel, and we were just the spokes. None of us can be her. But we can create a new center together.
We owe it to her love for us and for all our parents’ dreams and sacrifices to continue to be a family in the generations to come. I’m saying this literally over my mother’s body: If you want her to live on, we must be close. We must be part of each other’s lives. We must be willing to go to Japan for each other. We must be willing to walk into the enemy tents for each other. We must sit in the hospital lobbies for each other.
Our mother, our Bubbie, was strong, survival strong, Pioneer woman strong, emotionally solid.
So I have two new phrases: “Bubbie strong” and “Reverse the Snap.” When we’re anxious, and feel down and out, SNAP, imagine yourself on the phone with Bubbie, with her telling you how great you are, and that you can do it. SNAP. You can get through this.
Reverse the Snap. Don’t let death overcome us.
Be Bubbie strong.
Make her proud.
The best thing you can do for her is to be the person that she has always known you are.
May her love for us and our love for her sustain us in this time of unbelievable grief.