by Dr. David Sanders
You learn so much at a funeral about the person and about yourself.
Her daughter called to let me know she had died, “she so much liked the classes.” Alice Ruback started to study Kabbalah at age 87. Her mind was sharp, her wit even sharper. Her manner gentle, comforting and supportive. She wondered out loud, often, why she kept coming to class. She knew life. She accepted life. The Native American poem—Today is a good day to die was not a revelation to her. She accepted death. She lived in the moment. So why study? Why dig deeply into questions of meaning and purpose, of masks, metaphors and greater awareness?
She confided that she would come to class for others—for her classmates who she grew to love. Even after she could no longer drive herself she was thankful for lifts to and from class. She would have continued class even when her mind began to lose sharpness—it was we who fatigued more than her, so we visited her at the memory unit instead of continuing to bring her to class or bring the class to her.
My last time with Alice was a “date” to go hear violinist Yitzchak Perlman. It was slow going with her and her walker but we didn’t need to be in a rush as Perlman began to play much later in the evening; he played a few solo pieces and shared stories about his life. Alice was disappointed but not overly so, she took the truncated performance slowly in stride and our conversation drifted to family and her living situation.
Steve Foster, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel presided at the funeral. He knew Alice well—she was the first person to greet him and his family when they moved to Denver and she babysat his children. Alice had shaped Temple Emanuel through her leadership as their program director and as a teacher for over 30 years in Religious School. I was struck by the paucity of those assembled. Her family was up front—the small sanctuary was mostly empty. There were a few of her former classmates from Kabbalah Experience. Alice’s circle had obviously diminished with every year that passed—her influence; at one time vital, diminished along with the constricting of her social circle.
Rabbi Foster balanced tearful sorrow with laughter. In response to her daughter’s soft insistence to her mother “You can let go, it’s ok Mom you can let go” Alice responded: “What, are you in a rush?” Her obituary says she passed away peacefully. She had lived peacefully. She was never in a rush. She had come to class for others, perhaps also for herself.
At the conclusion of the eulogy, the poet’s words reminded us:
Love doesn’t die.
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.
Our dear Alice.
You came to study, to learn, to teach.
Your subject was love.
Your love lives on.
P.S. From Alice’s obituary: “She was loved and will be remembered for her matriarchal patience, her wry wisdom, her unwavering smile, and her self-assured independence.”