Friday, February 3, 2012

On Love and Faith: Honoring the Galena Family

Hindy Poupko was my first close Orthodox friend. When I initially met her at my first Wexner retreat, I was both surprised and delighted that my roommate was this spunky, funny, outgoing, open, strong, and sharp woman. We spent eight nights a year for four years laughing at late night television, processing all that we had learned and discussed that day, talking earnestly about where we had come from, what it meant for us to be women of faith, and our relationships. An Orthodox, Beis Yaakov and Stern College educated woman and liberal, lesbian rabbinical student would talk about the people we grew to love. She would take my side when I broke up with a woman and rejoice when I had found someone who I really cared about. And she spoke giddily about this cute boy she had met, Seth, who she could not wait to marry, and would come to be her loving husband.

In Hindy, I met someone who resembled no one else I had ever met. She walked through this world with poise, confidence, humor, and perspective. What I came to love about her most then is what still fills me with pride now: she is confident in her faith – she carries it naturally and without pretense – it is simply integrated into the basic data of her life. And as a result, she possesses an openness and sensitivity to people of all backgrounds, curious about who they are and the relationships that she could build with them.

In the aftermath of her daughter’s untimely and tragic death, many people are asking, what made Ayelet’s z”l story different? Undoubtedly, part of what made her story so special was the strength and courage that this two year old girl could muster in the most tragic and painful of circumstances. Also, a large part of what connected us to her story was the amazing family and community that supported and loved her each day. We marveled at the humor with which Seth would update us consistently, the knowledge that Hindy had acquired and used to advocate for her precious daughter, how Ayelet’s grandmother, Arna, would step in time and time again to give Hindy and Seth a break, the aunts and uncles that flew in from around the country for Shabbos, the challot that were baked for them each week, the psalms offered each day at their New York synagogue, and the loving messages posted on facebook from people near and far.

In the face of tragedy, so many people turn inward, protective of their pain and their privacy. To do this natural and justified. However, Seth and Hindy made themselves vulnerable, opened themselves up to the world for help, and they received abundance in return. More than anything, their faith brought them to ask for prayers and mitzvahs: gestures of kindness, of love, of goodness that would bring greater light to the world for Ayelet’s sake. In this family we witnessed steadfast faith and authentic openness, and we could not help but be compelled to be better people because of it. In Ayelet’s story, we saw the greatness that a Torah life provides and the grandeur that the Jewish people can produce when called upon to be its best.

I remember clearly one of the last marathon conversations that I had with Hindy. She mentioned that she was buying something to remind Seth and her to say bedtime Shema. It was one of those moments when I consciously remembered Hindy’s emunah, which she usually carried quietly. At Ayelet’s funeral, we burst into tears as Seth recalled the final Shema that they sang with their daughter before she died. They had called upon their God, traditions, and daily rituals to provide them with words when there were none.

The love and faith of her parents brought Ayelet into this world, sustained her each day, and ushered her peacefully toward the wings of the shechina upon her death. May she rest in peace in her eternal home, and may the love, faith, and goodness of her life serve as timeless blessings for all who loved her.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.