thoughts, writings, and photographs by your rabbi
This week I was honored to perform a funeral for one of our member’s mothers.
I got a lot of compliments on the eulogy I wrote from her family and friends so I thought I would share it with you all.
Judith Beth Mendelson was born in the Bronx on October 21, 1943 and took her last breaths while her husband sang to her this past Thursday. She was known as Judy to her beloved Wil, mom to her daughters, Grannie to her grandchildren, and friend to many. She was dedicated, loving, and stubborn. She was devoted to her family and the children she taught at the Elwyn Institute, later the Davidson School. Her daughters recall that she was a passionate educator, creating immersive learning experiences for the multiply handicapped kids in her care. Helaine and Tamara recall trips to different ethnic neighborhoods all around the area to obtain supplies for Judy’s work. She would create hands on learning about different countries, bringing in food and exploring the customs and cultures of peoples from all around the world. She created a life-sized dragon for her students to explore when studying China, made origami when studying Japan, and for a different unit once made cupcakes for the entire school, not her class but every single student in the whole school!
Judy was beloved by her students and when she was out and about her daughters remember children running up to her and hugging her. Helaine and Tamara remember that Judy would visit the residential students who never received visitors and, on occasion, even brought them home to have some family time with her family. In her later years she was a special education supervisor, mentoring newer teachers, and she was a master at her craft. She was a good teacher.
Judy did not have an easy life. She lost her father when she was just 16 and then she lost her first husband when Tamara and Helaine were just five and seven years old. By all accounts she had great love affairs with both her dear Murry and her beloved Wil. Murry began the family’s love of annual trips to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, a tradition she continued throughout her life. She and Wil loved bird watching and animals of all kinds. They decorated a room in their home with the theme of Shenandoah and at one point had cats, dogs, 22 Australian Zebra Finches (from one original pair), guinea pigs, chameleons, and even a cockatiel!
She was supposed to meet her first husband, Murry, at a party but he was ill that night with the inherited heart condition that he, unfortunately, passed along to Tamara. The universe made sure that they met by having their paths cross at a different party. Judy arrived with a different date but left with Murry! Sadly he died of a heart attack while the family was on their way home from Shenandoah and after a period of mourning, Judy’s friends fixed her up on a blind date with Wil. They hit it off immediately and when they decided to get married Judy asked her daughter’s permission, making sure that they were onboard! Again, it was not an easy situation, but Judy’s daughters grew to love Wil eventually giving him the loving nickname of Buzzard and rejoicing in his role as Grandpa to Shula and Murry.
Judy and Wil would sing together every evening, loved going out dancing, and cared for their grandchildren in their early years before they were in school full-time. Judy poured herself into caring for her grandchildren with the same zeal she raised her daughters and taught her students. She loved taking the kids to museums, the zoo, gardening stores, the carousel at the Plymouth Meeting Mall, and doing art projects. Much as she did with Helaine and Tamara, when there was a project to be done every book on the topic was borrowed from the library, not just one or two books on Johnny Appleseed, but all 40!
Judy was devoted to her family in a way that led her to move into the hospital room with them when they had extended stays. She did this with Tamara, Helaine, and Wil! She would do anything for Wil and he would do anything for her. He lived for her. He sang to her, rubbed her feet when she needed, and was with her till the very end. She inspired both of her daughters to follow in her footsteps as both have become respected educators themselves.
In the last 2-3 very challenging years Helaine and Tamara were just as devoted to their mom as she was to them. They cared for her through her final illness reminding her through the pain, fear, anger, and depression that she would always know who she was because she was their mother, and they her daughters.
Helaine recalls speaking to her mother every day of her life, calling her or receiving a call from her. Helaine, Tamara – You will always have your mother with you. Will – You will always be with Judy. That connection now just takes a different form. She knows how much you loved her and is now smiling down upon you all grateful for the life and love you all shared.