This is Rabbi Jill Borodin' s eulogy from Jill's funeral which she has allowed me to share and would have wanted posted on her blog. Rik
Ladino song by Hila about Jerusalem:
Ir me kero madre
A pizar las tierras
I artarme d'eyas
En El me arimo yo
En El m'asiguro yo
En el Patron del mundo
En el Senyor del mundo.
I want to go to Jerusalem, mother
Walk on the ground and be fed by it.
I am leaning on him,
I trust him,
The Lord of all people.
Eulogy for Jill Meredith Cohen,
Yachna Maryam bat Shimon Shir haKohen v’Masha Leah
I don't know about you but I feel like I'm in a twilight zone. I'm standing here to deliver a eulogy for Jill Meredith Cohen, but I can’t conceive of Jill as anything except full of life. Jill is the woman, who always bounced back, and volunteered some more, and cooked some more meals for someone, and found a silver lining and persevered with dignity, elegance and a smile no matter the medical challenge.
Jill was one of the alive people I ever met, incredibly organized, disciplined, giving, thoughtful and living life with zeal, passion, color, song and dance.
Today I can't talk about Jill dying. I can, and plan to talk about some of the many ways Jill lived. And I know from Jill’s sharing with me that what she wanted to take place today was a celebration of her life and living.
Jill had favorite poems that inspired the way she choose to live. They provided guidance and inspiration for her in her life and Jill became a living manifestation of them.
She gave, served, and loved.
She risked and created.
She dissented, grew and enlivened.
She saw, sweated, changed, and learned.
She shed her skin.
She bled on the pages of her days.
She lived with intention.
Mary Anne Radmacher
Jill lived in many more ways than I can possibly talk about in this one eulogy, and my comments are a snapshot of my special partnership, friendship and relationship with Jill over the past 11 years here at Congregation Beth Shalom. There is so much to say, that I won’t even get to talking about her deep commitment and connection with her beloved Rik, her family, her friends and her communities, her special dogs Bubka and and boychik, and the many causes and organizations, particularly connected to the Jewish community, Israel, a proud life long member of Hadassah, and active advocate/fundraiser and volunteer for the HIV/AIDS world and numerous cancer organizations. Jill always said that working and volunteering for non-profits helped pay her rent on earth by trying to make the world a better place.
Jill and shul.
As I stand on this bima this afternoon, I have several snap shots of Jill. I see her getting ready to have the Cohen Aliya, fashionably dressed, usually with lots of color, with a great hat, and her beautiful Tallis and with very fashionable boots or shoes.
I see Jill sitting on the bima, as president or another member of the board helping with honors, greeting people, wishing them Mazel tov, helping them feel comfortable on the bima. Or looking at the sanctuary thinking how she as going to greet everyone and what messages she needed to pass on to me. Or singing with a huge smile as part of our shabbat morning tefilot, from her usual seat, over on the left side, pretty close to the aisle, halfway back.
I see Jill standing right next to me, right here with her being our hazan leading yizkor. Jill found it particularly meaningful to lead yizkor and would lead it frequently on the holidays. She took this role, along with all her roles, very seriously, emailing me a few weeks in advance to go review the service together, letting me have a month’s notice if she was worried she might not make it or wanted a back up just in case.
I see Jill standing at the podium on the floor leading Torah service or musaf service. Jill particularly liked to lead on Shabbat shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh hashanah and Yom Kippur. On these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are a number of additions that get added to the amidah:
Zochreynu lhayim, melech hafetz bhayim, uctoveinu bsefer hahayim l’maancha elohim hayim.
Remember us that we may live, O King who delights in life. Inscribe us in the Book of Life, for your sake, Living God.
Bsefer hayim bracha v’shalom, ufarnasa tova, nizacher vnikatev lefanecha anachnu vkol amecha beit israel lhayim tovim ulashalom.
May we and the entire House of Israel be remembered and recorded in the Book of Life, blessing, peace, sustenance and peace.
Write us, seal us in the book of life.
Jill created, wrote and sealed herself in the book of life - with her nonstop living, moving, singing and dancing. No matter her prognosis or medical set back, jill wrote, dance, sung, cooked, hosted, baked, volunteered herself into the book of life. And a mighty full book of life.
Jill did jobs in front of the community and many behind the scene jobs, both large and small.
I see Jill examining the silver on our Sifrei Torah as she checked out what needed to be polished or admired the polishing job she did, seeing our silver shining. And Jill didn’t miss details, in advance of silver polishing, she would ask me if I had any silver that needed polishing and would ask for my tallis clips to be able to polish them for me for the hagim.
Jill was the visionaire and the force behind our fundraising initiative of the past 13 years - double chai. She brought the model to beth shalom and she made it happen, from chairing the event, to recruiting volunteers, to soliciting donors, to editing the video, to getting table captains, to proofing the program and speeches, to setting the tables, to picking the table decorations and menu, to counting the money. She energized all of us and was incredibly dedicated to our community’s financial stability and worked every possible detail, year, after year, to make it happen. And pivotal in helping us launch our new planned giving initiative. As a Shul, we are forever grateful for all these gifts.
Jill made sure we maintained a culture which celebrated the generous giving of all our members, no matter their financial ability, by celebrating everyone’s personal stretch and not measuring generosity by total dollars. No task was beyond her. With her incredible eye and care for detail and organizational skill, she was a dream to Beth Shalom development and Beth Shalom in general.
This same deep dedication and care for all aspects of a program was how Jill approached her position of president of Beth Shalom and many other positions on our board and executive and finance committees. She, myself and the executive director would meet weekly to go over various aspects of running a shul and building our community. Jill’s professional training and many years of experience as Jewish professional at Hillel and the JCC was put to great use, as Jill offered advice on all aspect of synagogue and organizational list. And she didn’t just offer advice, she was a worker. Volunteering herself at every meeting to take on numerous tasks, always leaving with a long list: people to welcome, calls to make, fundraising solicitations to make, meetings to host, meals to cook, tasks to be done in the office, finding new candidates for shul leadership positions - you name it, Jill volunteered and did a beautiful job. With Jill’s extraordinary volunteering, we had an extra professional helping make everything at Beth Shalom possible. Jill was incredibly organized, knowing when she would have the time to take care of any particular task, tuesday at 11 looks good, or perhaps thursday at 2, but nothing too early in the day. Jill’s days were very full and she knew how to maximize fitting in what was important and making sure to get herself the rest she needed to stay healthy.
Jill was an incredible hostess. She loved cooking and baking and hosting people for meals. Shabbat and holidays meals were a time you could usually find a table full at the Cohen Katz residence. She was happy to cook and deliver meals for people in need through the mitzvah corps. And many of you have shared over the years, Jill and Rik’s sukkah with their yearly sukkah open house, with the most incredible deserts Jill baked, which celebrated Jill and Rik meeting at a sukkah gathering. And whenever I came over, Jill made sure to send me home with some edible treats for my girls.
Jill opened her home to many. I had the privilege of enjoying a number of special meals there. For a couple of years, Jill cooked for and hosted the Beth Shalom staff for a beautiful meal in her home as a way of saying thank you to the staff. She would check with the staff about dietary preferences and needs and would plan a meal that she thought would be a special treat for everyone, even keeping track of the menu from year to year, making sure to make different things, not wanting to repeat anything. And she would bring in special treats from her garden for the Beth Shalom staff to enjoy: berries, tomatoes, plums and more treats. And loved to enjoy and cook with the fruits of her big garden she and Rik maintained.
I loved Jill’s spunk, whether it was her love of chocolate, which she called vitamin Ch, and excellent job making sure she had enough chocolate to share for every meeting she attended. Her love of fashion and bright colors, keeping track, and making sure I was in the know, of great sales at some of her favorite stores. Her enthusiasm for new things she was learning, and sharing with me a new ladino song her music group was singing, or Judaica she had found on her group’s trip to the Balkans, or about a concert where she was singing. She had a tremendous ability to be able to lead a Congo line, ice breaker or almost any group activity or speak in front of huge audiences. Jill was an avid lifelong singer and dancer and performed with the Sabra dancers of cincinnati, Zemya ethnic dance theater of washington dc, Zivili Kolo Ensemble of columbus, seattle’s Radost folk ensemble and Dunava women’s balkan choir.
Every morning, towards the end of Psukei dzimra part of the morning service, we chant psalm 150 which talks about praising God with different instruments, with dance and with your soul. Halleluhu btof u machol, helleluhu bminim vugav, kol haneshama tehallel ya, halleuya. Jill exemplified the words of this psalm.
Jill was dedicated to working on cancer prevention and supporting others with cancer. A number of years ago, she organized a special cancer awareness shabbat at shul with a special lunch made from anti-oxidant foods. Jill was involved in telling her story as a way of helping others. Jill told her story on her blog: Dancing with Cancer, and recently through a special photo exhibit of people living with metastasized cancer. Jill volunteered with Swedish medical center, gilda’s club seattle and the young survival coalition. Jill would offer to be a resource to others in the community after they got a diagnosis of cancer, helping them understand the new crazy world of cancer they were entering, providing moral support and encouragement, teaching others they too could live, dance, sing and love with cancer.
Jill had a deep appreciative of her medical team, beloved doctors and social workers and a wide network of friends.
And Jill would get to know them and what they like, bringing special chocolate, and drinks and other gifts in appreciation - knowing what everyone would like. She kept track of everyone and their needs.
Jill also appreciated the great love she enjoyed from family and friends, her special relationship with her sister and mom. And the great support and love and partnership that she and Rik enjoyed for many years.
Jill wanted song today and we wanted to honor that wish and honor that that today is Tisha B'av, a communal day of Jewish mourning and fasting when joy is decreased. We’ve incorporated song through the singing of her friend Hila from her chorus and through including some of the lyrics from songs she loved into my words this afternoon. One of these is Naomi Shemer’s song, Al Kol Eleh. This song was written in 1980 dedicated to her sister Ruthie who had recently lost her sister, and beautifully claims life in the midst of its messiness and stings.
Al hadvash ve'al ha'okets
Al hamar vehamatok
Al biteynu hatinoket shmor eyli hatov.
Al ha'esh hamevo'eret
Al hamayim hazakim
Al Ha'ish hashav habayta
Al kol eleh, al kol eleh,
Shmor nah li eyli hatov
Al hadvash ve'al ha'okets
Al hamar vehamatok.
Al na ta'akor natu'a
Al tishkakh et hatikvah
El ha'arets hatovah.
Every bee that brings the honey
Needs a sting to be complete
And we all must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.
Keep, oh Lord, the fire burning
Through the night and through the day
For the man who is returning
from so far away.
Don't uproot what has been planted
So our bounty may increase
Let our dearest wish be granted:
Bring us peace, oh bring us peace.
For the sake of all these things, Lord,
Let your mercy be complete
Bless the sting and bless the honey
Bless the bitter and the sweet.
Jill did have stings. In 1999, at age 39, Jill got breast cancer. And by 2002, it had metastasized to her blood, liver and bones and skin. Jill lived with ongoing, non stop medical challenges and new appearances of where her cancer had spread - she fought them vigorously and with upbeat spirit, making time for maintaining the best medical care and following all its advice and for continuing to live a rich life, as she wrote on the title of her blog, her life was about dancing with cancer.
Jill had another tremendous sting. One of her dreams was to be a mother, and Rik and her very much wanted to have kids. Jill and Rik tried hard to have kids, to adopt and to foster children – they had lots of love to give to their children. Sadly were not able and did not qualify for adoption or fostering children because of health issues. This was a tremendous thorn for Jill and Rik. And yet despite the sting, she managed to find a way to still shower love on her nieces and nephews and kids of close friends, and to continue to love and shower that love on others. And continued to be a believer and supporter of organizations that worked to nurture Jewish youth, especially Young Judea and Hillel.
Jill faced tremendous medical obstacles over a very extended time. In face of this, she adopted an incredible position of living fully, and living the words of a favorite song of hers by Rabbi Nahman of Breslav: Kol haolam kulo, gesher tzar meod, vahaikkar lo lephahed clal. The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge, but the essential thing is to have no fear at all - and Jill approached what would have been an extremely frightening reality for most of us, with no fear at all.
(this paragraph I left out at the funeral as it’s contents were already shared Today is Tisha bav - in some ways very fitting as Jill’s life was intertwined with Judaism and the Jewish people and the state of Israel from her professional life at Hillel, JCC, Shul and her personal life with Young Judea, the rhythm of her home, her observance of the holidays and Shabbat. Jill spent a pivotal year in Israel at age 17 and then enjoyed many later trips to Israel. Jill majored in Jewish studies and completed a master’s in Jewish Communal Service at Brandeis University - wanting to dedicate her professional life to the Jewish people. Jill felt and lived the life of the Jewish people and fitting on this sad day as a people where we commemorate losses to our people over many time periods, we commemorate her loss - though Jill wanted today to be a celebration of her life and not a pity party.)
Jill was one of the most organized people I know, with great advance planning skills, particularly impressive given the unknown and changing realities of her medical needs. Jill also didn't like to burden people. And also had strong likes and preferences. These elements came together with Jill planning far in advance for her eventual death.
Around ten years ago, Jill came to me to talk about the arrangements she wanted for her death. She knew what she wanted and was motivated to make it easier on her loved ones by making as many arrangements as she could in advance. Jill had typed out a several page document with an obituary she had written, names of pallbearers, favorite quotes to possibly use (3 of which I've included), instructions where she wanted the funeral (right here), who she wanted to conduct the funeral (me), that she didn't want her body to be brought inside lest it prevent fellow cohenim who follow laws of ritual purity not be able to come into the synagogue, that shiva be sat in her house, she be mourned according to traditional Jewish laws of mourning and buried in her tallit, that her blog sty up for at least a year, for donations in her memory to go Congregation Beth Shalom and Young Judea, that purple be worn, there should be singing and she wanted flower seeds to be given out for us to take home and plant in our gardens. And hence there will be seeds given out at the cemetery after the internment.
She wanted everything to be as easy as possible on everyone else and hence the instructions. And periodically she would update the instructions and provide me with an updated copy. She wanted her family supported and for her passing to be as easy as possible on them. Jill was a caregiver to both those close to her and to friends, acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances. Jill wanted to keep taking care of her family after she had passed through having made as much arrangements as possible.
Jill Meredith Cohen, Yahna Maryam bat Shimon Shir haKohen vMasha Leah was an inspiration, a light, a friend, a source of strength and vitamin Ch for so many of us. We have been touched by her light, her passion, her dedication, her helping hand, her song, her dance and her love.
Live with intention.
Walk to the edge.
Play with abandon.
Continue to learn.
Appreciate your friends.
Choose with no regret.
Do what you love.
Live as if this is all there is.
Mary Anne Radmacher