GINA FRIED FUNERAL
Gila Gitl bat Dov Beryl v’Yocheved Yonina
Died 26 Adar I 5776/ Burial 28 Adar I 5776
Rabbi Barbara Penzner
On October 5, Gina wrote in her blog:
“There’s a Psalm (27:4) that we sing during the High Holydays, and it’s been sticking in my mind. Here is a translation that I really like from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. She has changed references to Adonai (often translated as God) to ‘You’:
One thing I ask, I ask of You (Adonai), I earnestly pray for
That I might dwell in Your house all the days of my life
Knowing the beauty, the beauty of You, and to dwell in Your holy place!
I was struck by these words when we sang them this year, because a) I love the beauty and simplicity of distilling all of our yearnings into one thing - to recognize and dwell in holiness, and b) For me that yearning is fulfilled. I don’t mean that I dwell in holiness because I’m super holy - whatever that means! I dwell in holiness because most of the time I can see it. I can see how incredibly precious this crazy, painful, mixed-up world of ours is. And it is truly wonderous.
Truly wondrous. That is Gina’s Torah, her life-teaching. The world is truly wondrous. With zest and authenticity, Gina taught us all how to live. And with grace and presence, she taught us how to die.
How can we make sense of this tragic end to a wondrous life? What words can express the pain and fear and shock of the loss of someone who had so much more to give? These are questions I cannot answer. Our loss is real. Our grief is great. Nothing we can say will restore Gina to us. The world will simply not be the same after today.
So I turn to one of the Gina’s own favorite texts, one that she taught to hundreds of students, composed by one of the greatest masters of the English language, William Shakespeare, from Macbeth:
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break.
Words were Gina’s great gift to all of us. Words of wisdom, words of love, words of cutting humor and ardent activism. Today we will honor her, as best we can, with our own words.
Looking around at this imposing building and majestic sanctuary, this may appear to be an unlikely place to remember Gina. But it reflects the grandeur of Gina’s soul. And your presence represents the unlimited capacity of her heart.
I know that Gina made everyone she met feel beloved. The pain of her loss at the unfairly young age of 53 extends beyond the walls of this synagogue. Students who started the year with Gina at Weston High and at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek, but end it without her. Students from Weston, Gann, and Shir Tikvah in Winchester. Students who remember Gina as the best teacher they ever had. Teachers of all kinds—colleagues, parents, rabbis, community organizers, social workers. We have all learned from Gina, and with pleasure.
And yet, we are all aware of the people who Gina kept in a special place in her heart, who are beginning this painful new next stage of life, life without Gina, without Ma, without their sister—even as we know they are relieved that she is no longer suffering from the cancer and its aggressive treatment. As Gina’s friends, colleagues and students have come to honor her today, we are also present for those closest to Gina.
To Zach and Zoë, our hearts break for you. We know you’ve been remarkable as you’ve accompanied your mom on this difficult journey. You are the best reflection of Gina’s fierce love and independent spirit.
To Susie, Harrison and Anthony, we extend our deepest sympathy as your ranks are diminished by one. Gina loved her brothers and sister for the uniqueness in each of you.
And to my good friend Toba, who became a different person around Gina. I have never seen Toba as tender, as vulnerable, as happy, as when she was with Gina. Gina brought out the best in you. None of us can begin to imagine the heartache of losing the love of your life.
To all of you, and to all of us who are grieving today, I want to share some comforting words that Gina wrote herself, back on April 30, 2015. In her blog, she discussed choosing who to tell that she had cancer. She spoke to and about what all of you mean to her, her family and friends:
1. We’re journeying through life together, and that means sharing the experience as fully as we can. “What’s new?” doesn’t mean, “What new restaurant have you been to?” or “What project are you working on?” Well, it could, but ultimately what is most interesting in those stories are the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the tangents, the parenthetical comments that come with the telling. The telling is what connects me to the people I love far beyond the supplying of information.
2. I need them. They give me love and wisdom and companionship. They take me out of myself and help me go more deeply into myself. Their love is my truest sustenance.
From Gina’s Kindergarten report card. April 1968:
“She has made a most satisfactory growth in comprehension and use of oral language and asks for meanings of words she does not know and then uses them, thereby enlarging her vocabulary…She has shared many things with us—she is still inclined to be a little hesitant about speaking loud enough for everyone to hear—but her self-confidence seems to be growing. Gina gets along with adults and children very well but seldom seeks out anyone to play with her—she is more inclined to wait for another child to make the overtures. However, she does not lack playmates. We have enjoyed Gina very much in the Kindergarten this year—both her serious and her light-hearted ways.”
(Speakers: Two Weston students, Albert Martinez Jr. and Jenn Shotkus)
From a Hebrew School student - Three reasons why you are the best teacher:
You let us have breaks when we get bored or when we just need a break.
You have humor when you teach us.
Your coooooool (sunglass face)
From a Weston student:
It was during your class that I realized I (along with the many guys) entered high school being essentially, what can only be described as a misogynistic asshole (whether we knew it or not). My apologies for the language but that’s the only way I can express it. I’m not sure if you were aware of the effect you had on many of your students. Girls talk about how you showed them to carry themselves and be confident in who they are. I was talking to one friend in particular yesterday who said that you gave her the confidence to never let a man dismiss her or talk down to her. She added that she wished she had thanked you, so this is kind of my way of thanking for her and many others. The effect you had on guys (especially those in my friend group) was equally, if not more, profound. It took a while for them to admit it, but your class showed us what things looked like from an outside prospective and changed many guys outlook on their lives. I’m sure you knew this to some extent, but you changed far more than you thought. Much of the school has been reading your blog as well, and we have all learned not to take small things for granted. After reading we suggested starting classes with things we’re thankful for rather than good news. You brought light to us in our dark times and jubilation in our light ones. The Weston High School and I will always be thinking of you. (Now try to resist marking this up with your red pen.)
(Speakers: Two colleagues at Weston, Pauline Chaloff and Erin McCarty)
From Gina’s father Bernie on her 23rd birthday:
Is there nothing which she cannot do?
Is there nothing she’s not equal to?
Write a speech, dig a trench
Translate Hebrew into French,
Make a frock of silk and satin,
Translate Hebrew into Latin.
Direct a play, write a sonnet
Bake a cake with whipped cream on it.
Oh Rapture, source of my delight
Stay thus always in my sight
Tho far away you still may be,
Our thoughts shall always be of thee.
From Gina’s blog, July 16, 2015 “Grandchildren”:
“But still, this morning I found myself once again considering the possibility that I won’t be here when that next generation arrives. And it dawned on me that that will be OK. I have loved my children fiercely. And they are perfectly well-equipped to play and tickle and joke and sing. And their children will be adored as fiercely and completely as I would have adored them myself.”
(Speakers: Zach and Zoë)
From Gina’s blog, December 15, 2015:
Last night I went to bed on the early side. It had been my first day of feeling relatively normal after a solid week of hell. One lovely thing that had emerged from the past week, however, was that my spouse would read to me from the newspaper or the New Yorker, as I lay back with my eyes closed, breathing steadily, trying not to throw up my anti-nausea medication.
It was quite a treat, then - for both of us, I imagine - for me to be able to go to bed, meds taken, feeling worn out but not horrible. So there I was, with my book - a Chanukah present from my son - about the making of The Princess Bride. And as my spouse prepared to head downstairs to take care of some leftover work email, I said, “You know, usually you read to me before I go to sleep.”
“Yeah. That’s what you usually do.” As I took my book and placed it expectantly on her side of the bed, I felt like a child, disguising my request as a previously agreed-upon contract. And I didn’t care - childlike or not, I needed her. She settled in, picked up the book, and began. “Should I read the foreword?”
“The one by Rob Reiner? Yeah.”
Her voice carried me into a world without cancer, treatments, or side effects. The words told me about the making of a movie, and at the same time they told me that this incredible woman will be by my side until I take my last breath.
Martin Buber once taught, “Every person born into this world brings something new and different, something that never existed before. It is the duty of every person to know and consider that she is unique in her particular character, and that there has never been someone like her in the world. For if there had been someone like him before, there would be no need for him to be in the world. Every single person is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfill his particularity in the world.”
Well, actually, Buber’s language, German, is very gendered, as Gina would certainly have pointed out. This quote has been adapted to be more inclusive. And as Gina would also have noted, it still retains the gender binary of he and she.
Nevertheless, Buber is pointing to a truth that Gina advocated passionately and lived to the max: every person’s life represents a unique gift.
How did Gina fulfill her particularity in the world? I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Gina was one of the finest examples I know that humor, passion, imagination, and love will change the world. With so many things we can point to that are broken in this world, Gina continued to work to repair and heal the brokenness until her last breath.
Gina came into this world full of energy and an unquenchable desire for fairness. Born in Chicago in 1962, she reported in her blog that she could see Wrigley Field from their house. “My favorite sports-related factoid about myself is that, as a Cubs fan, I never knew that there was a Post Season. I thought that baseball just ended in early September. And the World Series? That was just some additional contest between two random teams, neither of which ever seemed to be the Cubs.”
Believe it or not, Gina was shy as a child. And very loving. One winter she made friends with a snowman in the school yard. She used to visit it during recess. But one day, she went out to recess and the snowman was gone. When she returned to the classroom, her teacher took one look at her sad face and asked her, “Gina, what’s wrong? You look like you lost your best friend.” And Gina thought, “Well, I did.”
Zoë believes that her mom came into her own in Israel. While on the Machon high school program, Gina ended up living on a religious kibbutz. The religious lifestyle appealed to her, and when she came home, Gina told her parents, “I’m going back.” Never mind that she had been admitted to both Brandeis and Vassar. Her parents didn’t bat an eyelash, didn’t ask questions or protest. They let her go. She studied at Bar Ilan and ended up getting her degree in directing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. That’s where she met Ted Miller, who was also learning in yeshiva, and they were married soon after graduation.
While in Israel, Gina embraced a wide variety of experiences, from her Orthodox community to the theater world. She hung out with Israelis, and preferred speaking Hebrew and learning Spanish to being with the Americans.
Eventually, Ted was ready to leave Israel, and the two of them took what Ted called “a religious field trip to New York.” Returning to the States, they became disillusioned with the traditional beliefs. Ready to try something new, Gina took a liking to the secular lifestyle—though years later, her religious yearnings were reawakened in a new way, with Toba.
Ted remembers that they had unbelievably good times in New York. As an Equity stage manager, Gina worked with fantastic people in New York theater, like Al Pacino, who artistry captivated her. She thought Stevie Wonder was hilarious. She had never met anyone so generous. He bought everyone in the cast and crew a portable cd player, then took them all to Tower records to buy them cds.
Boston was the next stop, as Ted came to Harvard for graduate school. Though Gina loved her work in New York, she thought that she might have a better shot in the smaller theater market in Boston. She also loved moving closer to her sister Susie. Zach came along while they lived in a basement apartment in Cambridge. They had fallen in love with the name Zoë, but by the time Gina was pregnant with their second child, they had lost interest, thinking it was already passé—until she arrived. They both took one look and said, “she’s a Zoë.”
When the marriage ended, Gina devoted herself to raising Zach and Zoë and left the theater world behind. She began a doctoral program in comparative literature at Brandeis, studying the work of Samuel Beckett. But her life was forever changed when she took a job teaching at the New Jewish High School. First she taught French (yes she had also studied French in High School) and then, many of you will be grateful to hear, she made the switch to English literature. Having discovered her true passion, teaching, Gina finished her master’s degree and dropped out of the doctoral program.
When Zoë later asked her whether she missed the theater, she responded, “in theater, I was shaping an imaginary world, but in teaching, I shaped the real world.”
In the meantime, Gina’s passion led her to the love of her life, Toba. At Gann, she worked with student Shulamit Eisen to found the GSA. You can see her in action in the acclaimed Keshet documentary, “Hineni.” While Gina was preparing a panel on gay and lesbian issues in Judaism, Beth Levin, a mutual friend, told her that Toba had plenty of resources. Since all the resources were in Toba’s house, she invited Gina over. Afterward, Gina told Toba she was going to meet her kids at the bowling alley, and asked if Toba would like to come. And for their first Valentine’s Day they went to see the ART production of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.” How much more romantic can you get? And the rest, as they say is history. By 2002 they had moved in together in Lexington, by 2003 they had their family ceremony, and in 2004, I was with Gina & Toba and Zach & Zoë to make it legal.
When Weston High School needed an English teacher, they also fell in love with Gina. Over the past fourteen years, Weston supported Gina’s work and she honed her craft. Teaching became a way of shaping lives, and Gina touched hundreds of Weston students, METCO students, and teachers of all ages. She overhauled the American lit curriculum to make it truly “American” by bringing in African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American writers. She determined that teaching the chronology of American literature only furthered the privilege of white authors, so she abandoned chronology for diversity. Eventually, Gina would say I don’t teach English, I teach anti-bias.”
For Gina teaching was a form of activism, perhaps the highest form. She headed the diversity committee, led the Jewish Students Association, and founded the Muslim Students Association. After the film Hineni was produced, Gina traveled to Mexico and to California to promote the film and give workshops on the Keshet curriculum. Who here has never seen Gina’s righteous indignation, and more important, her ability to change minds?
I had the pleasure of spending a few meetings with Gina when she became the Keshet rep to the JCRC Council. That didn’t last long. Gina didn’t like meetings. Gina liked being, doing, sharing, making. She made jokes. She made soup for people who were ill. She made blankets. She made party favors and mixed drinks for her New Year’s Eve guests.
When Dorshei Tzedek and Hillel B’nai Torah traveled together to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Gina went door to door, and made assessments of the conditions of the homes. She also made us stop at Willie Mae’s Scotch house to pick up their famous fried chicken for the entire group.
Most important, Gina made friends. Everywhere. She could connect to anyone of any age. She made you feel so special. In Gina’s world, there are no labels, no lines that divide people. Gina knew how to make you feel beautiful, or funny, or graceful, or smart. She made other people happy. She did all that without losing herself. She was fully herself when lifting others up.
And that’s what she did, even through her illness. Her blog was full of wisdom to help us understand not only what it meant to live with cancer, but what it meant to live. Period.
I want to leave you with a teaching from her blog, April 1, 2015, entitled
“Things about my life that would be true even if I didn’t have cancer”:
I don’t know how long I will be alive.
Some days I feel a tender appreciation for nature.
Some days I say, “F*** Nature. I’m staying in bed.”
The work of the world will not be completed by the time I die.
I’m going to do as much of that work as I can by the time I die.
I talk to strangers. (By the way, isn’t “strangers” the worst word ever???)
I think a lot.
I love people.
For me, as for you I’m sure, Gina provided evidence of all that is good and right in this world. Gina was proof that if you don’t ask, you definitely won’t receive; that tough conversations are scary and uncomfortable but you need to lean into the discomfort; that you can teach people best with humor, compassion and giving them room to express themselves and come to their own conclusions. One thing I know, one thing we all feel today. Without Gina, the world is a dimmer place. But Gina would argue that it is no less wonderous. And so it is up to us to live the life she taught us to live if we want to keep her light glowing.
Yehi zichrona baruch. May her memory be for a blessing.
EULOGIES - Gina Fried Funeral, March 8, 2016
What I Learned from Gina
Albert Martinez Jr. (former student)
Ms. Gina Fried: Known to most as Ms. Fried, but as “Gina” to me. She let me be the rebel to start the first name trend. That was definitely because I was her favorite student, despite what others might try to claim. I mean, C’mon, it’s pretty clear, what other teachers keep a student’s picture hanging in the classroom eight years after graduation? And let’s not forget whose Facebook wall has Zoë rapping JayZ’s 99 problems as a birthday surprise! So now that we’ve established that I am and always will be the favorite, let’s talk about what I learned from Gina. It’s really more of a question of what didn’t I learn from this woman?
I’m pretty sure having the same students in a class two years in a row was unheard of. You might’ve had the same teacher here and there, but never the same people in one class. Gina changed that. Making it a point to keep the same class the following year, she created what I like to consider her own rules. She’s the Erin Gruwell of my life, you know, the Freedom Writers teacher except a lot more special. There was a time when a few of us were falling behind in class and instead of giving up on us, she decided to give us the opportunity for extra credit writing. But this wasn’t your ordinary extra credit writing with strict guidelines that should be submitted in a week. Instead she invited us to her house to work on the project over the weekend. I remember the day starting off with an unmentioned fiasco, for which, of course Gina was ready to have my back. Once we got there, we each had our own little space to write. I remember typing up my paper in her computer room while blasting James Brown’s “ The Popcorn” Album and enjoying some of Toba’s famous banana bread. There were many special parts of this day. Not being confined to a classroom or a structured assignment allowed us to express our creativity in a way that none of us were used to. Although I’m sure my piece from that day had some grammatical mistakes, I felt like my creativity was able to flourish in that environment. Maybe it was James Brown. Maybe it was the banana bread, or maybe it was just not having any black and white rules to which to abide. Whatever the case, I actually enjoyed doing my homework, which was pretty foreign to 17 year old me. This was one of many memories I have with Gina as a teacher where her lessons expanded much farther beyond “English Class”. She taught me about respect, commitment, courage, loyalty, and strength in both her assignments and her actions, and also that Toba’s Banana bread cannot be recreated by anyone. Gina is so much more than a teacher to me. She is a role model, a confidant, and most importantly, a friend.
Reflection - Jenn Shotkus (former student)
11 years ago you became my teacher. It’s amazing how time flies, it seems like just yesterday I was walking into your classroom with 19 other students who were as lost and confused as high schoolers can get. You walked in the classroom and my first thought was “oh my gosh, this woman is crazy”. Oh how I was wrong and a little bit of right. You were not crazy, you were passionate. You believed that life was full of amazing surprises and failures were only lessons in disguise. Your passion for life was contagious, it spread like wildfire. You believed in every one of your students. You took our weaknesses found the light and guided a path for us to walk. Without question, we followed. We would soon learn the path was full of twists and turns and that you would be there for us every single step of the way. You never gave up on us, for that we have all become better people.
Everyone remembers that one teacher, you know the ones your parents and grandparents still talk about 40 years later. Well I am blessed and honored to have your name carry on with my memories of a teacher who made learning fun. Who made reading the Scarlet Letter and Of Mice and Men interesting - which is not an easy task to do, especially in our class. Last April, you emailed me and said “I don’t think I’m doing my best teaching this year – in terms of teaching concrete skills, that is- but I’m definitely on the top of my game when it comes to teaching life lessons. And at the end of the day Jenn, what do you carry with you—comma usage?” My response Gina, unfortunately, yes this paper is filled with comma usage, but our hearts are filled with much more, the many life lessons we were able to learn from you for 11 full and colorful years.
Now comes the best part, being your friend. 10 years ago I was lucky enough for our friendship to begin. Yes, you were one of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. More importantly, you were a friend, one many people strive to be. You were a perfect example of a best friend. You were kind, compassionate, supportive, real, generous, and most of all you cared. You cared, which made all the difference. Thinking back on all our memories, I cannot help but smile. I will cherish the love and support you so unselfishly gave to me and so many others. From inviting kids over to your house on weekends to do their homework which was due the week before, to being present at almost every one of my soccer games. A perfect example of how kind a friend Gina was. Soccer, as some may know, was everything to me in school, maybe even a little more important than grades. Our sweet Gina, had no idea how to play soccer, nor did she seem to understand any of the rules. That didn’t stop her from coming to almost every single soccer game of mine. I remember Gina on the sideline screaming for me, cheering as loud as her voice could scream making as much ruckus as she could, only to find 2 minutes later I had received a red card and was being ejected from the game. She had no idea, but it didn’t matter to her or me because she was out there once again supporting me, rooting for me. She never stopped rooting for me.
You showed me the tools to become an honest and loving person. I am not sure I am worthy of such a beautiful friendship, though I am forever grateful that you chose me to call your friend. Thank you for sneaking in shot glasses (for my collection, of course), thank you for picking up the broken pieces of all my breakups, thank you for being an example of someone I want to be like when I grow up, thank you for letting me call you my friend and my mentor. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart and your soul with me which I will proudly carry on forever. On behalf of our class, thank you for being you.
This is the difficult part, saying goodbye. 6 days ago, I came over to say goodbye. I never imagined this is the way it would have happened, but it did. And as Gina always said “life happens”. Well Gina, Life happened and I didn’t like it. I was able to sit next to you and reminisce on our wonderful times. I was able to hold your hand, thank you in person, hug you, and tell you that I love you. That is a blessing I will hold in my heart forever. You’re light is shining brighter than ever my sweet angel. You have done your part in shaping me as a human being and If I am half as amazing as you, i have done something right. It is now your turn to sit back and enjoy all the wonderful people whom will carry on your legacy forever. Gina’s two favorite sayings were “life happens” and “whatever”. So whatever happens in this life, stay brave and stay beautiful.
I love you Gina Fried and I always will.
The Courage to Teach
Erin McCarty (colleague)
A few years ago, Gina gave me a book entitled, The Courage to Teach. From time to time, I would revisit the book, especially after a tough day at school. Each time I would sit down to gather a piece of wisdom from the pages of the text, my mind would wander to thoughts of Gina and how she would have handled the situation I was currently in. Undoubtedly, she would have dealt with the issues head-on as only she could do, yet with the poise, grace, and humor that made her who she was. In these last few days, I have realized that it was Gina who gave me the courage to teach – she was and will forever be my consummate mentor.
Gina had a quick wit unlike any other and her witty banter, especially with Henry Moon, always kept me laughing long after we left the English office. Gina had a passion for her work with her students and I was constantly in awe of how she could mold readers and writers from the most reluctant of teenagers. Gina fiercely believed in the power of diversity and her mentorship of our Boston students inspires many of us to continue with this work. Gina was also stubborn beyond belief. She had the courage to stand up for what she believed in and the determination to see things through. Each year, after the Tenacity Challenge Academic Competition, Gina and I would leave Bedford High School, irate at the fact that our students had not won. Rather than fixating on our loss, Gina would go home and write a poignant note to the chairs of the Tenacity Challenge to point out the issues from the competition. Without fail, each year when we returned, Gina’s changes would sneak their way into the rubrics and text selections for the competitors. How can you not love a person who takes action and just gets things done?
Gina never gave up hope and she instilled this quality in her colleagues and her students. Even in the face of her diagnosis with cancer, Gina never let the disease get the best of her. Rather, she embraced each day with a new spirit, willing to encounter the challenges and obstacles that life put in her way. Through her actions, the stories in her blogs, and our time at the Newton office, Gina has and continues to mentor me in ways she may not have ever known. From my friendship with Gina, I know what it truly means to be a good teacher, how to be a devoted spouse and mother, and most of all, how to be a compassionate human being who is able to make a difference in this world. Gina – I will cherish every moment I have had with you. I love you and I’ll be seeing you.
My Friend Gina (Pauline Chaloff, colleague)
The first time I met Gina, she wasn’t exactly nice to me. I was new to Weston High School and I was assigned to a desk that was haphazardly jammed next to Gina’s. When I walked up to Gina, I got a look of… “I like my space. I hope you don’t crowd it.” It was very clear that my new neighbor was not pleased with the arrangement. I could have given up there, but I didn’t. I gave Gina a chance and she gave me a friendship unlike anything I could ever imagine.
We talked every day at those desks. At first it was just about school and teaching, but as our friendship grew, so too did the range of topics. We shared everything–our hopes, fears and even shared a snack drawer. We learned each other’s passions and quirks. Like how I always knew when she had spent the night before with her sister Susie. Gina would come in and sit at her desk, excitedly waiting for me to comment on her new shoes or purse. Although our conversation focused on her sister’s exquisite taste in fashion, the underlying conversation was about accepting the kindness of others even when we may not think we need it.
It was from my desk that I watched Zoe grow from a shy musician in the jazz band to a strong confident senior at Michigan ready to take on the world. It was from here that I saw Zach embrace adulthood with a strength and determination that made his mother glow. Gina shared emails, text messages, and stories of Zach and Zoe’s shining achievements with me because these were always Gina’s proudest moments. Gina’s stories of her children taught me to take risks and make confident choices in life while trusting those you love to do the same.
No conversation with Gina would be complete without mentioning Toba with an admiration, passion and love that was second to none. Gina stood in awe of Toba’s humility and thoughtful approach to life. Gina’s steadfast love for her grew daily and strengthened at every juncture in life, showing me how to be a better partner to my spouse.
I never looked at our desks as a classroom, but like her students I was constantly learning from Gina but I never felt like I was being taught. That is what made her so remarkable as an educator and as a friend. Gina never condescended. She engaged and challenged you. She simply walked beside you, guiding you to a place where you could make that important discovery for yourself.
Because of Gina I will…
- Take naps and sick days…putting myself and my family first
- Eat healthier and limit my donut consumption
- Learn howtoaccept a compliment.
- Stand by those who can’t stand up for themselves
- Teach in the moment, even if that means getting behind.
- Never make assumptions about people.
- Hold students to high expectations, even if that means having a difficult conversation.
- Empower others to have an open mind and think critically about the world we live in.
- Always stand up for myself
- Always advocate for what is right, no matter how unpopular it may be.
Gina’s wisdom, determination and empathy for others will live on in us all. Each day, may we all challenge ourselves in the ways in which Gina inspired us to act.
Gina, I am a stronger, more confident woman because of you. I am a better teacher, mother, wife and friend because of you. I love you so much and in so many ways.
I can say with a good amount of certainty that I was, and always will be a mama’s boy. I admire my dad, his accomplishments, drive and his love for me and my siblings, but a Jewish mother’s love for her children, however suffocating it may be at times, is a special gift that not everyone gets to experience.
Over the past week I’ve struggled to find words to describe memories of adventures with my mom that really capture who she was. I’m left with plenty of bittersweet vignettes: walking around New York City for the first time, waking up with new X Men toys under my pillow, McDonalds Tuesdays, Sean Connery impressions, watching Grease or The Sound of Music for the hundredth time or so - the list goes on and on.
Everyone here today, whether they’ve spoken or not has countless memories they could share about my mom, and depending on your relationship with her, I’m sure you’re left with different lessons she’s taught you about life either directly or indirectly.
As her first and only son, I wanted to share with you two of the most important lessons she taught me in my 24 and a half years of knowing her. She would always let me know that I could accomplish anything I want - and more than that, I shouldn’t’ be afraid of trying and taking risks if it was something I really wanted to do. And, like any good Jewish mother, she always made sure I had enough to eat.
“If I gave you this bag of dried figs and this carrot would you eat it at home?”
It’s been a strange week for many reasons, but largely because my mother was not herself. She was exhausted and at some points could barely talk, which as we all know was very not Gina. And yet, despite her lack of words, when she did speak, it was so very much my mother.
At one point, while I was sitting alone with her, she told me, albeit slowly, that whatever happens in my life I should do what I want to do and not worry about what I should be doing.
The other moment moment I want to share with you is the next morning when again I was sitting alone with her. It was a pretty quiet morning. At this point, my mother’s words were sparse, and most of her day was spent sleeping.
She awoke to find me sitting by her bedside. In her slightly delirious and medicated state she whispered to me:
“Did you?….” “Did you?…..”
“Did I what, Ma?” I asked. I’m leaning over her at this point.
“Did you get enough chicken?” There was no chicken, but I appreciated the thought so I told her yes. “Good… we’ll ask around to make sure everyone got enough chicken.”
Although my mother is no longer alive, she will always be with me in my thoughts. I will always follow my dreams even if I’m afraid to, and I will always make sure I have enough to eat.
What I Learned (Zoe)
A good mom prepares her kids for life’s twists and turns. Gina was an amazing mom. And even though there’s no way she could have known she was doing it, somehow I feel like I’m more prepared for this tragedy than I should be. I think part of it is shock, but another part of it is that it was impossible to be close with my mom and not learn from her and be inspired by her energy and her authenticity and her love. Because of this, her actions will still, somehow, be in the world with us.
My mom always taught through actions, and I’ve had a list going in my phone for a while, so thought I’d share just some of the things I’ve learned from her.
- I learned that when you fly, it’s always worth asking if they need anyone to move up to first class – and then selflessly volunteer yourself for the change.
- When I was little she taught me that a person can choose to change any day, so every day you have to give them a chance to do that, and you can give yourself a chance to do that.
- I learned to be extravagant in your gift making and giving
- Never put on earrings over the sink.
- Ask for what you need, and if it’s really important then demand it.
- I learned I might be a lesbian, I should know for sure by the time I’m 40.
- Any platform can be a platform for fighting for diversity. Even the car ride to a track meet with my ex-sixth grade boyfriend.
- I learned how to tell if Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls are real.
- I learned that a creative person like my mom can bring creativity to every part of life
- Point out things that are oppressive, even if they are accepted and ingrained in our society. She noticed that in American lit, she was teaching 99% white authors and then one black person. And she said wait a second, there are other American authors.
- The perfect amount of milk in 2 scrambled eggs is half an eggshell
- When I auditioned for a play in 5th grade she taught me that I have at least as good a chance as everyone else, and any work I put in just bumps up my chances.
- Make soup for people who are sad
- Loose has two “o”s and when you write “lose” you lose one “o”
- Keep your kids’ old toys for new friends and their parents.
- Hosting friends can give as much joy and love to you as it does to them.
- When you or someone in your conversations says something funny, say it over and over and over until they are completely no longer funny, but just keep saying them and saying them and then it’ll be funny again.
- Reach out to old friends and estranged family because there’s no limit to how much love you can give and receive.
My mom is irreplaceable, but I feel comforted by the fact that her time on earth wasn’t for granted. She taught us every day that she lived and I have feeling that I’ll keep learning from her even now that she’s gone.
What can I add to all of the beautiful words spoken here this morning…I want to say something about Gina, and something about a few of the other people here this morning.
One of my favorite names for God is “Ehyeh” - “Becoming.” Like the Source of life, Gina was always “becoming,” always in process. Being with Gina meant embarking on a continuous, never boring journey. She had faults, like we all do - but when she identified a fault in herself, she vowed to fix it, and promptly. When she learned something new about herself or the world, she acted upon it immediately. Perpetual growth was simply something she did, like doing art projects with her young friends, or charming every staff member she encountered at Mass General Hospital.
Gina felt that the world in general should change at the same pace she did, and she became impatient when it did not. One of my favorite early memories of my relationship with Gina was while I was still living in Watertown. Driving with me to my apartment one day in early April 2001, Gina saw a large billboard announcing Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. She had never heard of the Armenian Genocide, and so I explained about its history, and the importance of its remembrance to the Armenian community, which is concentrated in Watertown. The next day at work, at the weekly assembly at the New Jewish High School, Gina stood stood up and proclaimed that as Jews, the school had a responsibility to bear witness to the Armenian Genocide, and announced a program that she would be running to honor the day. I remember feeling some sympathy for the New Jew administration, who had no idea how exactly to respond.
Around the same time, I told Gina that people actually viewed her as powerful, so she might want to think about how she used that power. She was shocked to imagine anyone experiencing her as powerful; she thought she was simply speaking the truth as she saw it, and everyone would come to see things the same way.
Over our years together, I watched Gina grow into her power. She never lost her impatience with the rest of us - she simply couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t vote for Bernie Sanders, for example, and she had no tolerance for racism or sexism or homophobia, even if unintended. Yet she became increasingly skilled at shepherding others along with her on this path of becoming - her students, her colleagues, strangers she encountered in every possible venue. She wanted us all to come along with her on this journey.
The other thing I want to say is about some of you here. I need to give a shout out to Zach and Zoe, who have been simply amazing in these recent months and weeks - supporting their mom, staying present with her at the most difficult moments, caring for me as well. I cannot begin to put into words how proud Gina was - and from somewhere beyond here still is - of you two.
I have to express profound thanks to Gina’s sister Susan, and my mother, Nessa, without whose support I and the kids could not have endured the past few weeks.
I also need to express my thanks to so many people gathered here today - our Dorshei Tzedek congregation, Gina’s Weston community, our friends and family members - who loved and supported Gina and me especially these past three or four months, when Gina’s cancer advanced and the treatments became more difficult. I would not wish this experience on anyone, and yet the blessings both Gina and I have received - blessings of friendship, caring, and love - are simply beyond words. Thank you. May all that love be part of the legacy that Gina leaves behind, along with her fighting spirit, her impatience with all the wrongs that need to be righted, her willingness to become.