By Rabbi Aaron Gol...
May 17, 2013
Somehow it is fitting that we should be mourning Ruth Weyl at Shavuot time. But then Ruth's was always on time. Today is the day after the Giving of the Torah and the text does not seem to record what the Israelites did on the day after, except to hint at the fact that they were shell-shocked, just dealing with the awesomeness of the events they had witnessed. I know many of you are at a loss trying to come to terms with the fact that Ruth is no longer with us. My son Aaron in ringing to ask me to preach today said "I can't imagine life without Ruth she was always there." And indeed she was for such a significant part of so many of our lives.
For Celia and Maya, of course, for all their lives....for Jessica, Claire and Annick
and the great-grandchildren the same....what will life be without Ruth....hopefully the host of memories will keep her alive in your thoughts and conversation as long as you live.
I first met Ruth over 40 years ago when she appeared, unannounced at a Friday evening service in our old shul, the converted Methodist chapel at the bottom of Hallowell Road. Fitting symbolism because she came on the arm of Bill Simpson, her partner in the Council of Christians and Jews and with her, sort of co-founder of the International Council. Bill the Methodist who, I believe brought Ruth back to organised Judaism, much to her Israeli families puzzlement. Christian and Jewish relations being at the heart of Ruth's later life and amongst her greatest and lasting achievements. From Bill you got a warm beatific smile and a "Bless You". From Ruth you got a rib crushing hug....though physically slight, boy did she have physical strength...and mental strength....overcoming difficulties...fighting her final illness to the very end....optimistic....trying ever to lead a busy life though her leg was failing and her eyes clouded...her mind and spirit and intellect as sharp as ever.
Within the synagogue she was ever there...unless she was off to another continent for a meeting, or a Conference, or lunch with the Chief Rabbi, the Pope or Ambassadors, or the Queen. All done with ease...after all from her conversations of her earlier lives in Berlin or Jerusalem: the great names of mid 20th century were often in her parent's home...Martin Buber, Leo Baeck, Abba Eban...I'm sure many of you can give me a full Who's Who list.
And the stories....last time I saw her in hospital I urged her, as I have done many times...write it down, for your grandchildren, for your great grandchildren, for us all.
Only last visit she talked of visiting Petra on a camel, all the way from Jerusalem in a British army jeep.
And I will be ever grateful to her for she introduced me to worlds I would otherwise never have entered. Through the ICCJ she took me to Florence and Rome, to Sydney and Montevideo, to Hong Kong, Jerusalem and often to Heppenheim. So many memories...Sharon and I organising with her a conference in Rome...the fun of arranging kosher food for two Chief Rabbis....gave me the greatest satisfaction being the shomer for Jonathan Sacks! How Ruth and I giggled over that and many other adventures. And I was privileged to see her work, all hours of the day and night, organising, minute taking, publicity articles...and of course each one translated into Hebrew, German and French; no doubt with the perfect grammar of her English. The International Council of Christians and Jews would not be the significant organisation it now is, without her years of involvement and her encouragement during the difficult periods. And we welcome representatives: Lilian Apteker (Paris), Rev Dick Pruiksma (Amsterdam), Dr Abi Pitum (Munich) and Rev David Gifford (London) who have travelled over for this service. She so believed in the ICCJ and gave her heart and soul to its work, as she did to so many organisations. After the grand ICCJ events, she was just as committed to the Hillingdon CCJ and the work of Liberal Judaism and Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
And Northwood...she established our synagogue library, she ran Adult Education and attended every session, even after she was no longer in the Chair....she was there just weeks ago, even though she could no longer read the texts, even though she could recall doing the same course with me 20 years earlier, even though I believe she knew the subject better than me. For she had a considerable intellect, was widely read and knew so much as well as so many. And always, when she was in the chair, exquisite biscuits to go with the superior coffee. How I will miss the emails and the articles she regularly sent me, often the source of my sermons and she honoured me by sending my sermons round the world. Yet gently criticising me if I got it slightly wrong. Sharon and I , and many here today, will remember the fun we had on our many tours abroad: the rickety airplane in the fog, her sharing an overnight Ukrainian rail journey with a Russian opera diva, the no-star hotel in Uman, the.....yes a book of remembrance should be written and the memories shared. We will miss the flowers for Shabbat...always superior, the chocolates after a trip... always superior, the cards, the conversation, the rib-breaking hugs.
And her family...you will know the stories, or at lest some of them. You shared with her many an adventure, skiing in France, walking in Yellowstone, hiking in Israel, discussing in your homes, and the stories of Berlin and the siege of Jerusalem, and many an amazing event.....and the privilege of just being with her. Maya, how proud she was of you and your work with the World Bank, how she looked forward to your visits here and to your beautiful home in America. Celia and Michel; and Michel she thought of you as a son, how she loved talking of your work and the frustrations of trying to establish a Liberal congregation in Grenoble. And Celia of your deepening involvement in Judaism, just as for herself, her Judaism became ever more the bedrock of her identity and being. Her three granddaughters : Jessica, Clare and Annick...each of you different and so, all the more, source of her conversation and her pride and her love. Satisfied with the lives you are establishing, carrying on the family tradition as citizens of the world.....and, of course, great-grandchildren, Gabriel, Liora and Lea, for Ruth, the final fulfilment of her life.
On Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth...the life and personality of Ruth Weyl could read like a book. "Where you go I will go, where you live I will live, your God shall be my God, your people my people....where I die...." Even now I am not sure what she really believed about God...though I know she had immense faith. And her people she loved, though occasionally she could be critical of them. Her home...was wherever she happened to be...Israel or France or Germany...her home was the world to which she gave so much. And her funeral.....she would have been content, here in the beauty of the English countryside, surrounded by her family and so many friends and colleagues from near and far. And being Ruth, she would have wanted me to thank you for coming.
"Ko ya-aseh Adonai li v'cho yosif - ki ha-mavet yafrid beyni u'veyneych" (Ruth 1:17)
"Whatever God may do to me - nothing but death shall part me from you." Death may have parted us from the physical present of Ruth Weyl....but her spiritual presence will always be with us...inspiring us to work for the sake of Judaism, for interfaith understanding, for tikkun olam...for the improvement of the lives of all humanity, and for all that works for peace. We were privileged to know her and to be loved by her to have her as our mother and grandmother, and to have been her friend.
Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein
Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue