Our community has just suffered a terrible lost. Gina Fried, a long-time teacher at our Religious School, and wife of our Rabbi passed away on Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
Gina wasn’t just any teacher. She was the kind of once-in-a-lifetime teacher who inspired all those around her. Gina communicated to her students, through words and actions that she valued them and that she believed in them. She empowered her students to find their own voices, and discover their own gifts, so they could use their gifts to make the world a better place.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be Gina’s colleague at our Religious School for six years.
Gina died on Sunday. The funeral was yesterday (Tuesday). About mid-day on Monday, I came to the realization that I had neither the time nor the emotional capacity to adequately prepare for Religious School and also attend the funeral. I felt conflicted and bitterly disappointed.
I went to sleep on Monday night feeling totally crappy. After tossing and turning for several hours, I fell asleep. And then I began to dream. My dreams were a compilation of an educator’s worst nightmares. All teachers know that when you’re super-organized and well-prepared for a lesson, that it has a better chance of going well. My dream was the exact opposite. School started. Nothing was prepared. Everything went wrong, including bad words written on the white-board in PERMANENT MARKER, a game of Monkey in the Middle with me as the monkey, and a small fire set in the kitchen that resulted in char-broiled hamentashen.
Just as I was successfully putting out the kitchen fire by dumping a bottle of Manishevitz on the last of the flames, I woke up.
As I drifted back to consciousness, I heard Gina’s voice. And in her completely direct way, with a mix of love and irreverent humor, she said to me exactly what I needed to hear. “You know, Alison, I don’t need to see your butt in a seat at Mishkan Tefillah to know that you are thinking about me. You go do what only you can do today.”
Religious school was lovely yesterday. Our Director of Congregational Learning led a short assembly. The kids who had been to the funeral shared their experiences. Other children spoke about their experience having Gina as a teacher. Still others didn’t know Gina well, but shared stories they had heard from their parents. We sang “Eli Eli”– a song that talks about how things (and people) can live on in your heart. After that we moved on to some super fun Purim activities. I’m happy to say that none of the things in my dream came to pass, and the hamentashen were delicious. I felt privileged to help create the space for our kids to come together yesterday- both in seriousness and in fun.
As for me, I know that Gina’s legacy of empowering people to use their gifts to make the world a better place will live on. Starting with me.
You are an inspiration, Gina. You will be missed.