A Eulogy For Rochelle Shoretz (JITC All Star) From A Dear Friend

Rochelle Shoretz – Jew in the City Orthodox Jewish All Star (2012) passed away this past Shabbos at age 42 after a long and tenacious battle with breast cancer. She was a friend and mentor to me and countless others. To hear the entirety of our tribute to her, listen to “Jew in the City Speaks” above. Here is an excerpt from the show: the hespid (eulogy) her dear friend Jennifer Miller gave at her funeral on Sunday:

As I try to do the impossible by representing so many close friends here, I hear Rochie’s voice saying in my head…we can do this, Hashem will help.

And then I remember that Rochie guided me. Shortly before passover, I sent her a note, and based on her reply, which included- you should read that at my funeral- I know she’d be okay if I share a modified version with you now.

Dear Rochie-

There is no way to adequately express the blessing you are in my life. Your outlook on everything is the smartest, quickest, most insightful and as a result often the funniest I know. You have a way of looking at a situation simply and clearly – but also flipping it on its head. There is humor everywhere. In unimaginable and dark places. You make me laugh like no one else.

A couple of months ago, after the first radiation treatment, we were walking back to the car and you said that you had been thinking about the structure of the morning prayer service, how Modeh Ani is about the self, I woke up, I am here;  Adon Olam is about God, recognizing the Creator ultimately in control of the universe, and shema yisrael is connecting us to a community, thereby creating a sense of mutual responsibility. And as you pointed out, that can give us a lot of work to do, but it also ensures that we are never alone. This idea, and the fact that that was on your mind at that time, was so moving to me that I immediately wrote it down in my phone.

And I think those 3 levels define you.

Modeh Ani– You.   Are.   Here.   You are the most present person I know. You are aware of your talents and the sense of responsibility that comes along with them. You embrace each moment of every day purposefully. You are conscious of the fresh air you breathe when you take a walk. You are the arrow on the big map in life’s amusement park with the caption “I am here.” I’ve personally gained so much from this contagious quality. Could I ever say no I don’t feel like taking a walk today? Today is a day, I embrace the day; we’re here! Of course I feel like taking a walk!!

Adon Olam– Your faith is remarkable. Your signature catchphrases– Hashem. Hashem yaazor. God is going to help me. Look- Hashem is taking care of me. You see blessings and the hand of God in everything. That perspective is grounding and healthy and helpful. More than once, waiting for an elevator at Sloan after a completely cancer filled day of delays   and appointments   and needles fishing for veins    and side effects   you looked at me and say “This was a good day. You see? I told you. Hashem is taking care of me” Because there is a new treatment plan, because we got to the next milestone, because there was no traffic, because we made it through the day….Your unflappable appreciation for a higher being and faith in the master plan, without ever one time saying “why me”  is extraordinary. In this way, you are the “frummest” -person I know. But not with your head in the clouds– in a profoundly real way, again with your clarity. Having your affairs in order and not being in denial about the possibilities ahead but also being hopeful and trusting that you will always be taken care of- IMHO, there is no more perfect balance.

Shema Yisrael– The community. Your inner circle and outer community and your relationship to both are probably what define you most. Your people include a supreme court justice, a best-selling author, big people, best in class. Your work at Sharsheret serves as a model for the way any non-profit should run, and under your leadership, Elana and all star army of professionals and volunteers demonstrate communal responsibility and compassion. Serving on a range boards throughout the years has brought your unique brand of vision to countless causes, including school boards, First Descents, federal Advisory Committees, and more. So many have stepped up to the plate because of your example. And there are no excuses or short cuts. (CDC conference call during oral surgery? No problem. I still have that photo.)

Your inner circle. Wow. Your talent for spotting good people has enabled you to attract an iron clad team of doting and dedicated friends that have become family. Your relationship with Rabbi Baum is meaningful for you, for the Rabbi, and for your boys. And the fact that he was one of the first people with whom you spoke during this latest health crisis is another demonstration of your deep commitment to your faith. You have like 20 people who really are your very closest friends, seriously adore you, vie for Rochie time, and would do anything for you.  I’ve had the privilege of getting to know your bffs and they are smart, insightful, unique, super cool. A dream team of legal, fashion, business and friendship experts.  And your family. I love watching you and Dalia, fiercely protective of one another with mutual love and appreciation that transcends a normal sibling relationship. Last year we were taking a walk, and Dalia drove past us in her van with a couple of kids and then did an abrupt U turn– and I said what is she doing?? And you said she’s turning around to say hi, which she was, and you climbed into the car for one minute just hug a niece or 2 and I’m not sure whose smile was more joyful.  It probably wasn’t notable to you. But I loved that.

Your boys. Whoa. Mature, grounded, wise kids. They are well beyond their years and sources of pride which I know you cherish above all. Bert and Ernie are the bee’s knees. The wisdom and strength and tolerance and independence and self worth that you’ve instilled in them are immeasurable. Modeling for Shlomo and Dovid how to live a life of purpose is something they already appreciate, and it’s clear when they look at you they get it, and feel truly fortunate and super proud to have you as their mom.

I’ve learned from you that living a life of purpose nurtures your soul.

I love the stand out Sloan moments when you’ve been approached by women who have been touched by Sharsheret, because it’s fun to watch you cause more of a stir than the hollywood celebs we’ve spotted there, because I’m proud of what you do for those women, but really also because of what they do for you. It’s amazing to watch you come to life, the spark emerge, like a physical and spiritual high from knowing you are adding value to others. That same way you get it together to cheerfully greet Shlomo when he face times you from Israel, even on hard days… your energy changing not because you’re protecting him, but because loving your boys actually changes your energy.

And as we always say….We’re all given our unique lots in life- including gifts, talents and challenges, and what’s in our control is only what we do with that stuff. So I guess this was a long way of saying that what I admire so much about you is how you embrace your gifts and use them to navigate your challenges, with purpose, strength and bravery. That doesn’t mean never getting scared or sad or frustrated, because you are also so   deeply   human, which is the best part.

Now that I’ve written some of it down it hardly seems like an adequate expression of how much better my world is because of you. But it’s something.

So, here we are. That was the gist of my last note, the one to which you replied, and I’m so grateful I got to say those things to you, and to hear your response, but the last 2 months have been such an intense journey, and I’m sooo not done talking to you Rochie, so I need to add just a little now- about how your presence, perspective, and your people were such anchors for us.

Your presence in the hospital went against all medical odds, vital signs and statistics. And there you were, writing graphs and charts for the doctors when you couldn’t speak, raising a pinky to a new nurse when you were too weak to shake her hand…. Classic, present Rochie. Rochie whose life was painted in huge brushstrokes. Who always fired on all 6 cylinders.  Rochie who blasted the radio and danced all the way home from the hospital. Rochie who could hail a cab 6 seconds faster than me no matter what you’d been through that day. Rochie who could solve any logistical nightmare with a perfect solution, developed in 15 seconds;  who held people accountable and responsible and made sure that we were all producing our best work — colleagues, family, friends, physicians. We all wanted to be our best around you.

Your faith didn’t waver. You chose to spend precious hours with Rabbi Baum learning Shema, and talking Torah in your final weeks. Yesterday, when I picked up the siddur in your room to say shema with you for one last time with Dalia and Marnie, the bookmark was in the right page.

And your people are beyond… The goodness we’ve experienced in the last few months- the calls and texts and visits and food and support in every way is a clear reflection of you. As we sang in the hospital- look at the stars, how they shine for you, and everything you do.

Your parents and siblings love you so much. And Marnie and Adina and I thank them for sharing you completely. We learned so much from Dalia’s humility and respect for all human beings, and we will always appreciate and cherish that she welcomed us into your sisterhood.

Rochie… I know this chapter of the story ended exactly as you wrote it— she dies peacefully in her beautiful bed surrounded by the people she loves. But this is not how the story ends. We are still here for each other, for the boys, we will all feel your presence forever.

You liked to say your story is not a sad story. That you were blessed with a great family, a great marriage, great kids, a great career, with Sora Leah, with so many blessings. But we are so so sad. We miss you so painfully already.

And now I go back to my original note, which ended like this:

And finally, every night when you text me “thx for today”, I say right back (sometimes out loud to my phone and sometimes in my head), thank you for today.

I Love you.

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