By Rabbi Stefan J. Weinberg
Ten days ago, I was sitting in Beit Aryeh at Levine Academy; it was the annual Israel trip send-off for the eighth-grade graduation trip. The room was filled with ruach — with anticipation and excitement — as the trip of a lifetime was about to unfold for this year’s graduates from Levine Academy.
I found myself crying through the morning as I had done the previous year. . . the first two years the trip has departed without my wife, Wende, leading the expedition. Indeed, this trip encompassed everything Wende taught, dreamed and sought to instill in her students.
Wende died on Dec. 4, 2016 — she was 57 years young; we were married for 34 extraordinary years. She was the light of my life, and I lost a part of my soul when she died. She fought a valiant battle against lung cancer having never touched a cigarette, yet giving us all 18 additional months of her sweet smile and incredible discipline following her diagnosis.
A woman stopped me one morning following a class I had been teaching at shul, shortly after Wende had passed away; she wanted to share a story with me. She told me that when her husband had passed away a number of years earlier, a friend gave her a new address book, stating, “None of your friends will remain — you will need a new set of addresses and phone numbers.”
I was terribly saddened to hear the story but not surprised. I know circumstances change, friendships evolve, and we all struggle to find our way through the journey we call life, but this seemed so cruel and unnecessary. And then this woman said to me, “You won’t need a new address book because you are surrounded by a congregation and community that loves you, will support you, and help you through this difficult period of your life.”
With more tears flowing from my eyes I write this note to you, my extended community in the Dallas Metroplex. Wende and I were so very fortunate to serve our community in many parallel ways — she as an educator at Levine Academy for more than 30 years and me as a rabbi, first at Shearith Israel and, for the past 20 extraordinary years, at Anshai Torah. For more than 30 years, Wende and I lived and shared our passion — educating and building a stronger Jewish community with you. It has been a blessing and a privilege to serve you, and I write to say thank you for your continued support during this difficult time in my life.
Wende’s first yahrzeit passed a few months ago. The woman who stopped me after teaching a course was right — I don’t need a new address book. You continue to be my anchor. Of course, I am so fortunate to have the community associated with Anshai Torah support me in every way imaginable. They have received periodic updates regarding my spiritual and emotional journey.
You, the greater community who I see at events across the city, with whom I travel to Israel, collaborate on community events, acknowledge in parking lots, see during dinners, or while shopping in a mall — you have all helped to give me the strength to persevere, to find my way through the pain of loss. Thank you for the calls, notes, invitations, hugs and good wishes — your support has reminded me time and again of the value of community. As I have said to the Anshai Torah membership, may we collectively strive to ensure that no one in our community feels disenfranchised, especially when they need us most. May none of us ever need a new address book because our friends were only good-weather friends.
As a token of the legacy Wende left behind, we at Congregation Anshai Torah have commissioned a Sefer Torah to be written in Wende’s memory. We will dedicate the Sefer Torah on Sunday afternoon, April 15, at 4 p.m. Should you like to participate in this endeavor, join us for the final celebration, or seek any information about the project, please go to our website at anshaitorah.org and click on Project 613.
Thank you again for your relentless support and presence. On behalf of my three girls — Danielle, Jordana and Adina — and me, I thank you for your constant source of inspiration — indeed, you have been a blessing to each of us.