Rabbi's Eulogy

Rabbi Pinsker's Eulogy

    When someone dies in this way - suddenly, in the midst of life, the days before this death filled with plans, excitement, anticipation, and celebration -doors no longer open in quite the same way. We hear them open, and we feel that at any moment what seems so unreal will evaporate, we will wake up from this bad dream, and there she will be standing, a life force that we thought was unstoppable.

    But this is no dream, and that is what we must face now. We are here to remember our beloved Frannie, and to say good-bye to her. We don't want to, but then this was not through our choice. Yesterday the family sat reeling from the unreality of the day and feeling a terrible chill despite the summer heat and humidity. Every memory of her brought with it a palpable warmth, tenderness, and joy. We were huddling together, hugging each other and feeling hugged by her. Every memory felt like her generous arms wrapped around us.

    I don't know any better way of honouring her than to speak about the many ways that she embraced us in life, so I want to share these stories from her life on behalf of the family, knowing full well that there are literally hundreds more of stories that we didn't hear yesterday, and that need to be collected. So I will ask you to give Fran a posthumous gift, to be given to Haim, Yoni, Jordie, and Jesse, to her mother Lil and sisters Adele, Karen, and Lisa and their husbands Bill, Charles, and Dana, and to their children Melody, Kelsey, and Kevin, as well as to Haim's family in Israel.

    The gift is this: when you have gone home, perhaps before you make a Shiva visit, or even after Shiva, write a note about how you knew Fran - an anecdote, a feeling about how she touched your lives. Sign it, and give it to the family, and then send a contribution to the Heart and Stroke Foundation in her memory. Both acts will make a difference.

    Fran's mother Lil told us a story yesterday about how Fran, age three, got lost and was picked up by the police. Her parents were in a panic and called to report that she was missing. The police reported that they had found her, and would they come and pick her up. When they arrived, they found a very happy little girl wearing a policeman's hat eating an ice cream, clearly unafraid and unconcerned, quite self-confident and having the best time.

    Lil, I must confess that as I listened to other stories after you told us this one,  gradually came to a radical conclusion. I think that Fran in reality never got lost - she was always totally present wherever she was, and it was other people who were misplaced, confused, and misinformed. When they turned to her and got to know her, they found a point of reference, a lighthouse, a beacon, that lent substance to our ideals of hesed, racharnim, derekh eretz, kavod, hachnasat orchim - lovingkindness, compassion, mercy, civility, honour, respect, generosity, hospitality - and many other ethical teachings that form the definition of what we Jews believe a person should be like. Fran was in fact the embodiment of those values - and it is a wonder that a single person could have been so good, so right, so present for so many others. But this was her character from the beginning. Her nickname in the family was "Frannie Goodgirl." Her sisters talked about about how as a child she loved to laugh - all the time. Somehow she conveyed a very special sense that life was a delight wherever she was and in whatever circumstances she found herself. No challenge, no task, no situation seemed insurmountable; no moment was empty of reasons for optimism about the future. Fran simply looked to the bright side of everything that happened.

    As a young woman - we'll leave the age indeterminate - Fran could drink anybody under the table. Like her father Ken, she had a gift for talking with people and getting to know them that was extraordinary. Nobody knew as many people as Ken, nobody knew as many people as Fran. Like her father, Fran overflowed with great stories about the people she met, stories marked by humour, compassion, and depth of understanding that left no room for mean-spirited gossip. Best of all, she greeted everybody with a sense of anticipation - the excitement that comes only when you meet others believing wholly in their dignity as creations of God - that somehow getting to know this person will be a blessing to your life, that there is some great goodness waiting to emerge from your encounter.

    Haim said that when he met Fran in Israel , it was like discovering a diamond in the morning dew. She'd gone to Israel in 1973 at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War and stayed to offer all the help that she could. She stayed for nine months, returned to Canada, and it was then that Haim met her in street, where she was carrying an Uzi sub machine gun. It wasn't loaded - she had no ammunition for it - but, together with her formidable presence, it was useful in persuading or - shall we say? - intimidating people into doing what needed to be done. Haim and Fran were married in 1977, and celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary just a couple of months ago.

    There was modest contest of sorts yesterday as people seemed to want to top each other with yet another, even more remarkable anecdote, A~three stories invoked three facets of Fran's way of being in the world - personality, behaviour, and vision. She was so totally present in what she did, so beautifully honest and loving. She believed that her love and her life's energies would make a difference in others' lives. She was determined to do whatever a situation called for. She loved her family, her beautiful sisters and their loved ones, she loved her work, and she loved the pleasures of her life - all of which nourished and blessed her with boundless enthusiasm. Almost nothing deterred her - she waded into whatever needed being done with her whole heart and her amazing energy.

    Even though it's impossible to tell all the stories, it would be equally impossible not to mention three great loves in her life. Together, they are the monument to her life and her work, a sculpture lovingly fashioned out of memories. We are returning in love these memories with gratitude for the gifts that she - who was so extraordinary in her choices - gave to us.

    The first is the Goulding Park Community Centre. Fran loved hockey - she was a fan of the old Chicago Blackhawks early in her life - and baseball as well. Five nights a week Fran would be at Goulding Park, for games, for meetings of the hockey league executive and the baseball executive - handling unruly umpires, speaking to every child by name. When someone asked her, she'd reply, "I love hockey more than anything else. "

    And then in a similar conversation, another time of the year, she'd say, "I love baseball more than anything else." Doing the best in the moment, being wholly present with all your love, energy, and faith in a positive outcome of the moment - that was what Fran excelled at, whatever she was doing.

    Someone said that when it came to Goulding Park, Fran didn't have three children, she had hundreds. When someone asked her what she was going to do when her kids all outgrew the Goulding Park leagues, she said that she'd keep right on making those sports happen for ALL her kids, even the ones she didn't know yet because they were still too young. She was happiest when there were two games playing at the same time, midget and peewee baseball on the same evening. She'd race between the two diamonds, beaming with happiness. When kids would rush up to her shouting, Did you see that catch?!" she's shower them with compliments. Once a parent asked her about this amazing ability she had to see every single catch the kids made, and Fran explained, "You always see the catch, even if you didn't!"

    You'd see her moving around like some elemental force, giving special attention to the kids who weren't as strong as some of the other players - kids who were afraid or weaker than their teammates. She'd be there and she'd give a pep talk - not the usual stuff - but words, a gentle touch, a pat on the back - something she'd learned while watching and listening to the kids interacting. She knew the kids' histories, their birthdays, what was special about each of them, and she reminded them about just how special they were. She'd remind each one that he or she could do no wrong. If someone was afraid and needed something to build an extra layer of confidence, she knew just what to offer them. Sometimes it was a sip of Diet Coke or a handful of sunflower seeds .

    And she would be the first one cheering the kids when something wonderful happened, even if it wasn't her own team. on to do their best,

    Jesse said that it special to see his mother watching him at his hockey games with a big smile on her face, a smile that never wavered even for a moment. And yet everybody else who looked to her for her support had that same feeling - Fran was a secret sharer, whose unconditional regard and love for these kids was so real that her own kids never felt a moment of jealousy over the many others who turned to her and trusted her.

    The second great love in her life was the Heschel School, where she became administrator at the Heschel School through a fortuitous lead given to her by Gail Baker. Gail, another Goulding Park morn, just happened to be in the middle of starting the school.

    At Heschel, until Fran got her own office and then moved on to the Middle School, she would sit behind her desk, all the business of all the classes flowing to her. Someone would come in ask her whether she'd heard about some crisis or urgent matter and then say, and Fran would say, "I know, I know, I know. It's being taken care of. " She and her office-mate Soheila worked in the tightest of spaces, but there was deep respect, love, and gratitude that they had each other to manage the idiosyncrasies and daily crises of the school.

    Gail, who is now principal of the school, said that while Fran was given the title of office administrator, that didn't accurately describe what she did. Fran was there as a magnet - and everybody in the school was drawn to her. In reality she served as guidance counselor for the small kids and pre-adolescents, for parents, teachers, and for the staff. She developed a special relationship to the school's teachers, especially for those from out-of-town. She took them under her wing and guided them as they searched for places to live, shop, and helped them make connections to take care of a host of personal needs. She'd bring them home for dinner and remembered the little things about them that reminded them that she genuinely cared for them.

    People always told Fran more than she asked, and generally more than they realized they were telling. Fran knew the secrets of the many, many people who entrusted the most difficult, sensitive, and vulnerable truths about themselves to her, knowing that she would quietly, gently, thoughtfully return a crucial insight, a word of comfort, a reason for hope and courage.

    Both the boys and the girls in the Middle School confided in her about matters they weren't ready to tell their parents. They, too, knew they could trust her. They were comfortable with her regardless the issue or her response. Often the kids would simply check in with her, as if their grounding in reality for the day began with Fran's smile and infectious laughter.

    And the teachers in the Middle School, and the administration absolutely depended on her; it was her judgment that kept things going. This is no exaggeration. Last spring Fan joined the Grade Eight class, on their trip to Halifax. At one point someone official came up to the senior class and asked who was in charge. Everyone - the adults and kids alike! - immediately and wordlessly turned and pointed to Fran.

    Though she had wonderful connections to those in the others grades, Fan and the Grade. 8 students had a remarkable relationship. Fan was their hero, their confessor, their comforter, their healer. The kids were constantly bringing her small tokens of their respect and appreciation - crowns for her head, thank-you notes, jokes. They had a special Fan vocabulary that included words like phrenology, transsexual, frantic, and more. The trust between them was magical. And she was so proud of them, kvelling over that graduation

    At graduation the grade 8 parents & kids gave her a gift of a day at the spa because "she's always giving to us" - but she never got to use it.

    I suppose we should also add a word about her work as a fundraiser in behalf of Canadian Friends of the Haifa University. Fran had fifteen minutes of a sort of fame in that work. She was interviewed by Barbara Walters for her extraordinary work in organizing a fundraising dinner honouring Monte Hall. Barbara Walters, like many other famous people with Fran worked, remarked, "I felt that speaking with Fran was like talking to a sister." She was also Resident at Gan Yeladim for many years and knew every child, starting when they were 18 months old. Fran had of late begun to think about what she wanted to do with the remarkable set of skills she used in the course of her life. She'd been talking with various people about going back to school and further honing the talents that so many depended upon.

    The third area of Fran's love was her family - with whom she was most at home and on whom she showered her love most lavishly. I wish I had a Loonie for every person who said yesterday that Fran never thought about herself - her door was always open to her children's friends. She was "Imma" to her niece Melody. She loved guests - feeding people in large numbers and having company with whom to share laughter and stories.

    She also remembered everybody's birthdays, making 200 birthday calls in the year and sending out countless cards - usually two per celebrant just to make sure they knew. And some people she called every single day to let them know she was thinking of them, and could she do anything for them.

    Fran also could get annoyed and hurt and tell you the painful truth about what was happening - she was a pretty good screamer when she wanted to be - but "laying down the law" usually brought tears to her eyes. Fran was sensitive to the point of crying at drop of a hat. Lil would give a spanking to one of her sisters and it would be Fran who cried. And the cost of being stern was tears in private, her head turned or a sudden retreat to a room with the door shut so she could let out her tears.

    When her boys once bet on which Hanukkah candle was going to burn down first on the Hanukkiah, and whenever they fought with each other, she'd get upset. Her love and respect for Judaism was boundless, and her need to see people getting along and working things out peacefully was intense. She also knew that human beings have souls that are in need of cultivation. Not content with the example of her menschlichkeit - her great-hearted engagement with the world - that was visible to anyone who observed her, Fran wanted to offer her sons a particularly powerful lesson as they approached their bar mitzvah celebrations. She took Yoni and Jordie to the cemetery to visit her father Ken's grave.


    Fran also got mad when she couldn't help you on the spot, when she felt that resolving a problem was beyond her means. Then, too, she would resign herself to tears at not being able to make the difference. But what troubled her most were the violations of her highly developed sense of justice. She spoke with anger about the unjust treatment of Israel, about the terrible things she heard in the news that were tokens of parental neglect, stupidity, anger or carelessness, /and she wept for strangers and their children who suffered.

    She was ready to do anything for the sake of children - whether her own, or someone else's, and for the future that loomed large in her kindness, her hard work, and her love. "Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present," wrote a famous philosopher, and that was Fran's philosophy of life. How far did this principle extend? Well, in horror Fran once saw Jordie playing in the path of a car that was backing up, so she stepped in front of her child and let it hit her instead, was hit. The accident caused her serious, chronic pain.

    Fran was so proud of her three boys. She talked about how wonderful it was that Yoni was successful in his work, and earning more than she was. She often spoke about Jordie - how he'd become such a fine, intelligent, caring, extraordinary person. And she'd reveled endlessly in with appreciation for Jesse's skill, patience, and discipline in his hockey, his bar mitzvah lessons, his curiosity about the world, intelligence, and compassionate insight. Again and again Fran marveled at how he was becoming a mensch, a decent, caring human being - like his brothers. She so looked forward to his becoming a bar mitzvah in a few short months for the sheer joy of it. Haim: Of all the words I heard yesterday, your simple declaration has remained strongest with me, and I want to repeat your words. You said that when you met Fran, you felt like you had found a diamond in the midst of the morning dew. I believe that I speak for every single person here when I say that I want to thank you - and along with you the boys, as well as Lil, Adele, Karen, Lisa, and their families. There are thousands of us who cannot forget her words, her presence, her blessing upon our lives. You said that she gave the best, most-thoughtful gifts in the world. We know: our lives are packed with blessings she showered upon us all. We are grateful to you as her family for sharing her loving heart and joyful spirit with us.

    It is time to close now, so let it be with the words that the writer Greta Blumenthalleft for her husband and children shortly before her death:

    "I leave a farewell embrace for each of you. Keep on loving me in memory as I loved you in life."

    And let us also remember the poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, writing about his mother's death:

    Now she descends into the earth,
    now she is on a level with the telephone cables, electrical wires,
    pure water pipes and impure water pipes,
    now she descends to deeper places,
    deeper than deep where lie
    the reasons for all this flowing,
    now she is in the layers of stone and ground water
    where lie the motives of wars and the movers of history
    and the future destinies of nations and people
    yet unborn:
    My mother. Satellite of Redemption
    turns the earth
    into real heavens.

    [Yehuda Amichai. "From Man You Are and to Man You Shall Return: Now She descends"

                The Tel Aviv Review. Jan., 1988 Vol. No. I, p.l7]


    The beacon of her memory will remain an inspiration for us always.

    May the Source of all comfort comfort you in the midst of your sorrow.