Roneet passed one year ago today. I wrote the following for Roneet’s memorial service.
In the book of Genesis the chapter discussing the death of Sarah is called “The Life of Sarah” while the one dedicated to the death of Jacob is called “And Jacob Lived”. It’s what they did while they were alive and the legacy they left that is what is important, not their passing. And so Roneet lived. She embodied life like no one I have ever known.
How I so wish you were still here with me but you’re not, at least not in the way I have been used to in our 32+ years together. And now I have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done: Talk about you, our extraordinary life and partnership, and the gifts you have bestowed on me, our kids, your family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and the CWS family that you loved so much and who loved you in return. In short, everyone who was touched by you and forever changed for having been bequeathed the gift of your presence: Your smile, laughter, wisdom, caring, honesty, high standards, always being up for a good time.
And yet I have to do this. Courage always embodies the notion of doing something “in spite of” and in taking that action it brings us to a higher plane of humanity and has at its core goodness, love, growth, and compassion. Roneet was one of the most courageous people I have ever known and it’s only from what I have learned from her and seen in action countless times that I have any ability whatsoever to stand up here now.
One of the most important words in the Hebrew Bible is hineni. It means “Here I am”. In the Torah, we are first introduced to the term Hineni when we read about the Binding of Isaac in Genesis. When God calls out to Abraham, prior to commanding him to sacrifice his son, Abraham responds, “Hineni.” It is often used when one’s full presence and commitment is required. There is nothing passive about declaring that one is here, fully available to what the situation needs from you at this very moment in time.
Hineni is the full embodiment of Roneet. She was there for everyone. She knew our purpose here, the only true purpose in fact, and that was to feel, give, and express love every moment we can muster the strength and courage to do so. We all know that this is anything but easy, and it wasn’t always easy for her, but she found the will to love and support those who she knew needed her gifts and could be lifted up by them.
In many ways to feel so deeply was a curse as it caused her a lot of pain and heartache. She couldn’t just let things slide if she believed that not addressing them would lead to future pain and frayed relationships. She took the plunge here and now to do her part to heal what was broken or to head off future problems. In many ways, Roneet had prophetic and mystical qualities. She could see how actions or inactions could ripple into problems even if they may only first appear years from now.
Imagine being married to a prophet who could sense doom before anyone else. And now imagine that being directed to me. This may come as a surprise but I’m actually not perfect and somehow Roneet detected this as well. The word sin has a lot of negative connotations but it actually means going off track. And she had an uncanny way of knowing when I was heading off track and she would do everything in her power to get me back on track. And this also applied to the countless other people in her life that she loved and cared for. She always knew what was best for me when it came to being a better person, husband, family member, partner with Mike and Steve, and even a better dresser, which is probably the area I brought her the most shame and heartache. She loved stylizing people when she was doing her work with J. Hilburn but somehow I never looked as good as her other clients as she constantly reminded me of this. As they say, “a good friend stabs you in the front” and let’s just say I can no longer be a bathing suit model after being worked over by her. If it weren’t for that flaw I would be walking down the runway in Paris in my speedo rather than investing in apartments. I digress.
Her intuition was uncanny and always led us down the path to more growth, challenge, and fun. She was a risk-taker, but only when she knew the odds were in our favor. She was beyond extraordinary in her career at Nordstrom. These gifts also led our partnership to flourish far more than it otherwise would have. She pushed me, challenged me, confronted me. In short, she loved me and always knew what was best for me.
I have been blessed with the best partners anyone could imagine. Steve Sherwood and Mike Engels at CWS and Roneet as my life partner. God really knew who I needed in my life because while I have a few particular strengths, I have far more weaknesses, shortfalls, and blind spots and I was able to find the perfect people to shore up my weaknesses and tap into my strengths. And none more so than Ro.
She made me laugh and smile to myself just by thinking about her. No experience was really complete unless she was part of it. I felt so much more comfortable being with other people when she was there with me. We really made a fun social team. I would listen to her and when she told me I could speak I would do so. We especially had so much fun together while traveling. The trips we took were always so interesting, adventurous, novel, joyful, and they created extraordinary memories. We truly saw the world together and on many of those sojourns we had the pleasure of traveling with our kids and her parents and boy did we make the most of it. What a blast we had.
Roneet was really my muse when we would travel. I absolutely loved to photograph her, especially when she didn’t know it. But when I got busted taking her picture without her being able to pose for it, boy did I get in trouble as she required editorial control over every picture taken. I’m so glad I did what I did, however, because I have countless pictures of her in her natural state of being joyful, especially when I would photograph her in the best stores in the world intensely eyeing beautiful clothing and accessories.
She was the most organized and effective person I have ever known. She had a tenacity, will, and discipline that could overcome any obstacle. And while she was fearless, she was often deeply fearful about certain things, and yet, this never stopped her from acting when the situation needed her to do so. She did what was needed to be done in spite of her fear.
Nothing represented her warrior, indomitable spirit more than what she did for her kids. When Jacob had his stroke at two we had lived pretty charmed lives up until that point. No one was more devastated than Ro. And yet, she knew her job was to turn her life over to nursing Jacob back to health. This alone could be the subject of a book.
And let’s not forget about Ariella. Ariella, you were never forgotten, although I know it felt as if you were may times. While mom was devoting so much of her life and emotional energy to Jacob, she also knew how hard it was for you and how short-changed you were in many ways. And I know how you two could butt heads so intensely from time to time and how you would often feel not understood at critical points in your life.
But deep in your heart I know you know that mom made incredible sacrifices for you, culminating in the two of you moving up to Los Angeles so you could go to Marlborough, which was a life-changing experience. You made her so proud… as well as exasperated. She truly believed you were put on this earth to write beautiful, moving, extraordinary stories to open up your readers and audiences to the indomitability of the human spirit as well as the extraordinary privilege and honor to have been born and raised Jewish, particularly with our special connection to Israel through Saba and Sapta.
And while there were times you were disinclined to emphasize your Jewishness, she also knew deep down that you are deeply connected to our faith and with an open mind and the right experiences she thought that a spark could be ignited in you to embrace it.
I know how mom drove you crazy at times and, like me, upon further reflection, you also know it was oftentimes what you needed, even if you didn’t know it then and that it always came from a place rooted 100% in love. And talk about rich material to write about! Your blowups were extraordinary. I felt like I was watching a 15 round heavyweight championship fight.
You have extraordinary gifts and there is so much of mom in you with a teenie bit more of an open mind. I can’t wait to tell her about all of your contributions to the world.
Jacob, where do I begin and what can I say? You, more than anyone, know how mom’s capacity to love unconditionally was so deep and when we thought she had no more to give, she dug even deeper. How many times did she tell us “I’m done. I’m out of here. I’m moving to Oklahoma to become a waitress. Dad can take over.”? I think when she took a second to think about the very last statement about me taking over she became immediately nauseated and panicked at the potentially terrible consequences of that and regrouped and got back into the fight.
From your surgeries, therapy appointments, botox injections, managing your medicines, driving you for almost two years to work and to our house while you couldn’t drive because of your seizures or medicine changes, she was always there for you. And when you would have a seizure how the wind was knocked out of your sails, as well as ours. And yet, other than feeling down for a day or so, you would bounce back and not let it keep you down. You brought her so much strength, joy, and pride. You two bonded beyond belief from all of your car rides, the countless texting, phone calls, and being top of mind for each other. And when Harry came into our lives the unexpected joy she got from your dog, who she came to love so much, was such a beautiful thing to be part of. We talked about how, if we ever split up, that we would have two fights. We would fight over who would get Harry and fight to make sure that the other one got the kids. Just joking. Sort of.
My how you’ve grown. For you to have become the JV coach just before her tragedy was something that lifted her spirits so highly and made her so proud. And to put the icing on the cake, you are cleared to drive. I can just hear her saying to me from up above. “You are the luckiest SOB I know. I dedicate every waking hour to Jacob and schlepping him around for all of these years and just when I can have a break, this happens to me, and you can just go on your merry way without needing to drive him anywhere. What a schmuck.” I’m afraid she has a point.
Mom and I talked about who might go first and how we would handle it. She said that once she knew her kids were going to be ok then she wanted it to be her because she couldn’t imagine life without me. One of the last things she said to me was how excited she was for the dinner party we were having and that she got her hair done and she wanted to look beautiful for her husband when I came into our home since I was going there straight from the airport. And boy did she look beautiful. And so radiant.
She knew you two were starting to blossom and the sky was the limit. I do know she would want you two to talk more regularly and live your Jewish roots more as your lives unfold and to continue to be kind, caring, compassionate, loving human beings.
Before I wrap up I just want to say to Roneet’s sister Leora, her husband David, her best friend Barbara, and her parents Arnie and Shoshana how much she loved you. You are the closest, most loyal family I know and there was nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, she would not do for you and you for her. And while I know how terribly unfair it is that she has been taken from us, I want you to know that what you have taught me about family and friendship and supporting each other through thick and thin is something for which I will forever be grateful. I will always be here for you as well just as I know you will be for me.
There has to be some reason why something so senseless would cut down the life of the most beautiful soul I have ever known far earlier than it should have been. The world has lost someone so special that words cannot do her justice. She made her proverbial dent in the universe as I imagined that many of those who were in her life, when faced with a difficult decision, may find yourself now asking yourself “what would Ro do?”
“what would Ro do?”
The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” The power of this hit me the other night and maybe is an opening for me to find some solace, comfort, meaning, or anything that will help me look ahead to the future with some semblance of optimism.“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Soren KierkegaardClick To Tweet
One of Roneet’s oldest friends and, dare I say, first heartthrob, was at Leora’s house on Friday night. He was in from out of town and like so many, was completely distraught. He has gone through some difficult times over the past 5+ years and I knew he and Roneet talked from time to time as she cared about him and wanted him to get back on track in life. What I did not know, however, until Friday night, was that they spoke every Tuesday. Perhaps some spouses might have been hurt by not knowing this, but for me, it just warmed my heart. After learning this, one of those epiphanies hit me that will forever change my life and make even more sense of who Roneet truly was and why I got so much pleasure seeing her simultaneously being on the phone with Barbara or Dawn working through something important, usually about their kids, texting with Jacob, looking online at real estate values to see how our properties were doing or checking out fashion on behalf of someone else for an event they needed an outfit for while putting things in her planner and then blowing me the obligatory kiss when I came home only to go back to her multitasking. It hit me that Roneet was the head of a congregation with an extraordinary number of parishioners. Humanity was her congregation as the turnout here today attests to as well as the overwhelming outpouring of emotion and support from countless others.
When I married Roneet I married a woman who was born to give love to all who needed it and she could touch and impact. I did not just marry her, I married her and the congregation she started off with and that grew exponentially over the years. I was perched beside her but she was the one in charge and always in action. What a gift it was to be there with her and to see someone change the world like she did.
I will wrap up by saying this. How can one who is so broken ever be repaired? Whose are the hands and what is the glue and mortar that can repair and restore a terribly broken heart and devastated emotionally? As Jews, we are taught that one of our principal responsibilities is to heal the world starting with the smallest acts of kindness. And while my mind starting thinking about starting a foundation to memorialize Roneet I then took a step back and thought that maybe there’s another way. A more Ro way of honoring her. So what would that be? What can be done on her behalf to help begin the healing process? I think it is as simple as just being kind to others when you feel they need it. But going beyond our comfort zone and reaching out when someone needs something, helping to repair a relationship, writing a handwritten note of gratitude, striking up a conversation with someone on a plane when maybe your inclination is to put on your headphones and tune out, looking someone in the eye who might be lacking the feeling of dignity. Connect with others, be there for them. In short, try to embody Hineni. When you are called make an effort to respond with “Here I am, what do you need?”
In an interview Bob Dylan said:
“Everybody has a calling, don’t they? Some have a high calling, some have a low calling. Everybody is called but few are chosen. There’s a lot of distraction for people, so you might not never find the real you. A lot of people don’t. Some people are called to be a good sailor. Some people have a calling to be a good tiller of the land. Some people are called to be a good friend.”
Roneet was called to be a good friend. If you feel so inclined and you take an action that you otherwise wouldn’t in order to help someone, and this was inspired by Roneet, and you would be open to sharing it with me, I think hearing about your experiences and how they made you feel, may just be the hands and glue and mortar to help repair this broken heart and more importantly, the rest of the world.
And if the response is large enough maybe we can honor her each year with a get together in which people can share with one another what it is you did, how it helped you and them, and how it hopefully made you feel more alive. Nothing would make her more happy than knowing that she helped repair the world through others and was the inspiration for a great party connecting people to celebrate these acts of kindness.
Not too long ago, Roneet decided to reach out to my niece’s best friend Ashley because my niece Sarah and Ashley had a falling out that was causing a lot of pain for both of them. Roneet felt she could be of value to Ashley to help create an opening for them to heal. Just like I didn’t know about how she talked to her old friend every Tuesday, I just came to learn from Ashley’s mom that Roneet told her at their lunch that if she was ever in the hospital on her deathbed she wanted Ashley to come be by her side. Ashley was on a long retreat in Vermont that had two more months to go when she got the news. She got on the first available flight and was there for all of us and by Roneet’s side with us until she took her last breath. Roneet has taught us all the power of Hineni. And maybe she knew her work was completed and that her passing would bring so many together and heal relationships that needed her touch.
I want to thank you my love for the most amazing life a man could ever have dreamed of. I won the lottery with you. You were gorgeous inside and out, you led us to places I could never have gone with anyone else, and you have raised the two most incredible kids a parent could ask for. I will always love you and thank you for giving me the gift of you.
You are finally getting the rest you needed. I know how tired and emotionally exhausted you were fighting for everyone you loved every day. But I’m putting you on notice that you better get your rest now because when I come and join you we’re going to be dancing together through eternity and heaven will never be the same.