By Rabbi Yossi Lew
The first Torah class established by Chabad of Peachtree City is “Judaism 101,” which takes place every second week. The class does not have a set curriculum. It deals with topics in Judaism, usually chosen by the participants.
In our five years of these classes, I arrived once with notes in my hand. That was four years ago, and the topic was the elections. It was a complicated topic, and I wanted to be sure to discuss all the points I had prepared.
Susan Shapiro looked at me in disbelief and said, “Rabbi, I have never seen you with notes.”
I felt like a schoolboy reading his presentation from a paper. When I was growing up, we were expected to deliver words of Torah related to that week’s portion at the table celebrating Shabbat. We would bring home a paper with prepared notes we had studied at school. My father refused to allow us to read the words from the paper. He expected us to learn and speak by heart.
I asked Susan if she wanted me to continue without the notes. Oh, no, she said, it was just funny to see me this way.
I never used notes again — until Susan’s funeral Friday, June 10, when I could not trust myself to remember what I needed to say after the most trying and complicated week.
We were in the holy city of Jerusalem, on the final morning of our “Recall Relive” trip, Sunday, June 5, when Susan abruptly felt ill and died.
The profound shock, the deep loss and the immense sadness enveloped us all.
I returned to Atlanta with her remains and with five years of memories with this magnificent woman, a pillar of our growing community on Atlanta’s south side.
In the first of two meetings before our amazing trip to Poland and Israel, when it was realized that only four of us would be traveling, Susan looked at me in the way only she would look at someone, and she said: “Rabbi, Patty and Richard (Gullick) are one couple, and you and I are left to be partners.”
We had a hearty laugh at that. But thinking about partnership, I realized how the concept governed Susan’s life in three areas.
The first area is the one in which I personally was the most involved: her partnership with Chabad of Peachtree City and our activities all over Atlanta’s south side from the moment we began.
Susan was a critical pillar in our young community. Her hands were involved in everything we did at Chabad and with every person who attended Chabad services, activities and functions. If she didn’t know someone, she made it her business to begin schmoozing with that person. She was usually the first one to greet our newcomers. She made every individual feel welcomed. She would eventually invite that person to her home or to some fun activity.
But Susan’s partnership with Chabad was even more than that. Any function we had, whether a Friday night meal, a festival meal or a women’s event, Susan had a knack of knowing how to participate. She always paid in advance, usually three times the price we were asking. She said she wished to support the endeavor and provide for one or two who could not afford to pay. People don’t realize how far this went. Susan knew how strapped for funds we are.
She would volunteer to bring cutlery, napkins and so forth. She insisted on helping Shternie cook, bake, fry and so forth. It was Susan helping make latkes for Chanukah, hamantaschen for Purim, dairy food for Shavuot and all sorts of things for other times.
It was Susan who made all the photocopies needed for our classes.
It was Susan encouraging many others to attend, to participate, and to be inspired by all the activities and classes we offer so they could feel the joy and celebration of Judaism on Atlanta’s south side.
Susan was the first person to sign up for our trip to Poland and Israel, which turned out to be her final journey in this world.
She loved Chabad and the message it was sending, and her love led her to sometimes confront me about whatever matter needed my intention. That is pure love from an active, caring and loving partner.
I can’t imagine where we would be without Susan. I can’t imagine how Chabad of Peachtree City will ever be able to replace this special and beloved person.
Another aspect of Susan’s partnership is the love for her family.
Susan was a bubbly character. She talked a lot, and she did most of her talking about family. Susan’s devotion to her family, including her husband, Larry, her daughters, Amy and Shari, and her grandson, Joseph, brought her here in the first place, choosing to move away from a New York lifetime to be close with her family.
Susan’s personalized license plate in Coweta County was “A Bubbe.” I guarantee that no one else in this county has anything like that license plate.
It makes sense that she talked nonstop about Joseph, the grandson who turned her into a bubbe. Several of our conversations in Israel were about Joseph, including Thursday, June 2, in Tzfat at the bar mitzvah. And her devotion to Larry and her constant references to him in our conversations were an indication of her true love, her true partnership.
The third partnership is Susan’s partnership with G-d.
Susan was an amazing Jew. She was not the most observant of the bunch outside the eight days of Passover, but I attest that her love for Judaism and G-d was incredible and inspiring. And she began to take small steps toward acting, not merely feeling, more Jewish.
In what turned out to be one of our final one-on-one conversations, Susan shared how her life had become more meaningful with her attention to kosher observance. She had not become fully observant, but it was a beginning. She was proud of how it made her feel, and she felt that her spiritual life was the better for it.
Wouldn’t you know that her partnership with G-d became revealed in her passing? She died in the holy city of Jerusalem. She lay on her bed, and the next second she was gone. There was no pain, no suffering and no warning. G-d Almighty ushered her soul from this world in peace, in tranquility and in sanctity.
The only way to show respect, honor and love to our Susan is to learn from her and make that spirit — that partnership with your fellow person, your family and your G-d — stronger and better.