Amelia Kornfeld z"l
Rabbi Joseph Karo describes in the Shulchan Arukh, the 16th century code of Jewish law, the job of the maspid, the person who delivers the eulogy. ”Mitzvah gedolah l’haspid ‘al hamet ka-ra’ui, u’mitzvato she-ya’rim et kolo lomar ‘a’lav devarim ha-meshabrim et ha-lev, k’dei l’harbot b’ciyah u’lhazkir shivcho -- It is a great mitzvah to deliver a eulogy on behalf of the dead, and the mitzvah is fulfilled when the one who delivers the eulogy raises his voice to say words about the deceased that break the heart so that those who listen to the thoughts expressed about the dead will shed many tears and will recall his praise.”
If this is the job of the maspid, the eulogist, never have I had a more superfluous task. Though we knew the situation was bleak and Amelia’s condition was worsening, when word came on Shabbat that she had died, our collective hearts broke and the floodgates opened. We needed no eulogist to either bring us to tears or to prompt us to recall her wonderful deeds.
Despite the fact that we had long known that the end was near, how, we wondered, could this be? How could someone who took such a bite out of life, who relished every experience, and who made life one big adventure be dead?
And yet she is gone. Last night Amelia’s friend and colleague Barbara recalled how once when she was mourning the death of one of her patients, Amelia comforted her by saying "God must have a very special purpose for her soul." And today we can use Amelia’s words to bring us comfort.
Now we gather to bid her our final farewell – something most of us thought she would bid us because we were convinced she would outlast us all. Sarah Braham used to warn her: “You take such good care of yourself you will have no one to play poker with at 7 Acres.”
We gather in this synagogue which meant so very much to generations of her family and in this room in which – looking absolutely radiant -- she walked her beloved Alyse and Dori to the wedding canopy. Let us pause for a moment and, in fulfillment of Rabbi Caro’s instruction, offer words of praise for our dear dear friend Amelia Samet Kornfeld.
Let us recall the things Amelia so loved to do: yoga, working out, helping her clients, leading services at the minyan, Israeli dance, walking with Peggy in Memorial Park, making pancakes with Lilly, beating Mark Gottesman at poker [beating anyone at poker], music, trying new recipes, water skiing on Lake Conroe, a joke, learning Peggy’s recipes and ensuring that the next generation knew them too, and trying new sometimes rather harebrained things.
I remember her once calling me with glee in her voice. She had read somewhere – you never knew where Amelia was going to find an idea – that you could teach kids to ride bikes by lining up a row of large plastic garbage cans. Kids loved riding into things and the plastic cans would cushion any fall. [I may be missing some of the details so please don’t try this at home.] She was excited because she had found some nieces and nephews who could not yet ride and they were coming over to test her plan. I don’t remember the outcome but her array of nieces and nephews are here today, all looking hale and hearty, so I guess there was no permanent damage.
The list of things she loved goes on and on.
But above all she loved her family. Though others may claim the title, we know that Amelia was the original “grizzly mama.” She adored Joe, Alyse, Seth, and Dori. If there was something to be done to help them, to give them joy, Amelia ran to do it. And how she rejoiced when that circle was expanded by David and Adam. And then came Lilly, Maya, and Lev and her love grew exponentially.
Alyse, Dori, Seth: Amelia was so proud of your every achievement. She never bragged but she beamed. I know my perspective might be different than yours, but it seemed that she intuited your needs and then thought about how she might be help you. Should she speak to you directly? Wait until you came to her? Find some other way?
Last night I saw the surprise in your eyes when I told you that years ago she sent me the eulogies you delivered at your grandfather’s funeral. She was so proud of how you captured his essence. She was just so proud of the people you were and the adults you have become.
And we who watched from outside the orbit of your immediate family have been so deeply moved by the love and support you showed her in the past year and a half. We were not surprised because you were doing exactly what you had seen your mother and your father do: give with all their being to those they love.
And speaking of giving: one only dreams that when their time comes that they will have as loyal, as giving, as selfless a person to stand by their side as you Joe were to Amelia. There are no words except maybe an emendation of the line from the last chapter of Proverbs, Joe, “ata alita al kulam,” you have surpassed them all.”
Family was crucial to Amelia. The more members of her family she could place around her Shabbat table the happier she was. She so loved her siblings and Joe’s siblings. Helene and Harris, Eric and Carol, Jeffrey and Michelle, Devora and Sandy, George and Debbie, Roberta and George, Nathan and Patty. None of your simchas were to be missed – and with that large a list there were, thank God, a lot of simchas.
And during her illness, when she could no longer organize the family Shabbat or holiday gatherings, her loving sister in law Carol stepped into the breach and ensured that the family continued the traditions that Amelia learned at Peggy and Leon’s table.
What joy it gave her to when Alyse, Dori, and Seth wanted to be with their cousins. She not only treasured but exemplified the concept “m’dor l’dor,” from generation to generation. If there were a Kornfeld family crest that would be the motto Amelia would have wanted inscribed on it.
And there were those of us lucky enough to become extended members of Amelia’s family. When we came into her home she made us feel as if our presence was the best thing that could ever have happened to her.
What amazing groups of friends she had around her. The Bagel Shop, her Museum Minyan friends, her professional colleagues, extended family and all those cousins were ferocious in their support of Amelia. What they did for her cannot fail but amaze. And yet we know it is no more than what Amelia would have done for any of them. And though all of you were outstanding, how can we not shake our head in amazement at the way her friend of so many years, Carolyn, organized, arranged, and thought of everything that might be done to ease her friend’s way.
Now, since the maspid is also instructed to speak the truth, I must acknowledge that Amelia could also be exasperating. Sometime on the way home from her office, when I had come to spend a Shabbat with her and Joe, I would ask if we could stop at Kroger’s or CVS so I could pick up something I had forgotten. Amelia would tell me, “Yes but we must hurry. I have to put the chicken in or it will not be ready when the company arrives.”
Anxious not to upset Amelia, I would scurry through the story, grab the items I needed, rush to the cashier, pay and be ready to go in the blink of an eyelash.
But where was Amelia, who said she would wait for me by the exit? She was nowhere to be found. Eventually I would discover her off in some corner totally engrossed in conversation with someone. She would be listening intently as this person spoke. I’d wait and I’d wait and I’d wait. When she finally finished, I would say, sometimes not so kindly: “I thought we were rushing.” “Yes,” Amelia would answer, “but that person needed to tell me about some troubles they were having.” “Is she a good friend?” I would ask. “No,” Amelia would respond, “just someone who knew I helped people and asked for my help.”
Or there were those times when we would arrive at Beth Jeshurun on Shabbat morning. As we entered the minyan Amelia would warn me: “We cannot tarry after services. We have to get home to prepare for company. I know you’ll want to greet all your friends but we really have to rush out.”
Having received my marching orders, I would gather up my stuff at the end of services, avoid extended conversations, and head for the door. No Amelia. I would look around and there she was enmeshed in conversation. When she finally finished, I would again observe, “I thought we were rushing,” And she would respond, “Oh that woman’s grandchild had a wonderful experience at Camp Young Judea. The child overcame so many personal hurdles. She was so happy. She had to talk and I had to listen.” Oh did our Amelia know how to listen.
Yesterday afternoon, when Joe asked me to give this hesped, I turned to some of Amelia’s friends to tell me what it was that made her so special. They said different things but there was a common theme that ran through all their responses. Generosity of spirit. Friendship. Laughter. And, as I have already noted, the ability to listen.
Scott Davis spoke of this beautiful neshama and her talent for penetrating and understanding relationships and people so deeply. Her wisdom about people, Scott said, made them always seek her thoughts and opinions.
Mark Gottesman spoke of her unfailing kindness. “She always made you feel that what you said to her was important to her, and that you as an individual were an important person. These attributes emanated from a place deep within her core. When engaged with you in conversation, she NEVER seemed to be preoccupied thinking about other "more important" things.”
Dennis Braham spoke of her ability to see “beauty in the world and beauty in everyone.” Linda Rubenfeld recalled her “class and grace” and good word for everyone.
Ellen Trachtenberg recalled how she and Dan were in Houston with no family and how lovingly she welcomed them into her home. During Hurricane Ike when others didn't have electricity she and Joe had them to their home, wanting to share their luck that their electricity had returned.
Glenda Minkin has no doubt that her friendship with Amelia made her a better person. She marveled at how Amelia was willing, well into her adult years, to make room in her life for new friends.
And you Amelia, you transformed my life. You helped me see the world in a more beautiful affirming fashion. You make me more giving. More loving. And you never –NEVER – let me take myself too seriously.
Not so long ago, a few hundred feet from where we now sit, many of us gathered for Dori and Adam’s bedecken. What a joyous moment that was. We concluded by singing “Kol tov selah. Give thanks for all that is good.”
Today, with our hearts so broken and our spirit so shattered, it is difficult to give thanks. And yet we must do so, even as we grieve so deeply. We must give thanks because we had someone very special in our midst. We were given a unique gift, a zechut a privilege.
How can we not, therefore, be grateful?
Let us rejoice that Amelia walked among us, that she was part of our lives, that she raised us up and made so many of us better people and the world in which we live a better, gentler place.
And so dear dear friend, we bid you farewell as you go on your way, as you take this, your final journey. I imagine you already in the heavens above. You are together with your wonderful father Leon and your precious Peggy, who is telling you a celestial raunchy joke. Your good friend Debbie Friedman, whom you loved so much, is leading the angels in song. Peggy is playing the piano and you are rushing between harmonizing with Debbie and at the same time teaching the angels how to do the Yemenite step.
The heavenly choir now has been joined by a celestial Israeli dance group. Things will never be the same up there.
And into that circle of family, joy, and comfort Amelia has drawn and embraced in a way only she could do little Eli and Ariella.
Though we miss you Amelia more than we can bear, you are now among the angels, which – given that we cannot have you here with us – is where you belong.
May they be worthy of your presence.
Go in peace dear friend. For you have been our blessing.