“People do not wish to learn about how to deal with death until they are confronted by death, and when they are confronted with death they are not inclined to study how religion approaches it,” writes Maurice Lamm in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.
My mother, Miriam Pell Schmerler, died this morning September 6, 2010 at about 3 AM. She died after a lengthy stay at the Blumenthal Jewish Nursing Home and Rehab Center where the chart says she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. <?xml:namespace prefix = o />
For all Mother’s professional life, which began at the age of 16, she was a Hebrew school teacher, principal, and administrator in the Jewish bureaucracy—known jocosely as “the Jewish civil service.”
In 1992, at the age of 67, Mother received her doctorate in Hebrew letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her thesis was Graced Moments in Time: Undoing of Anti-Semitism as a Theologoumenon Within Post Vatican II Catholicism. http://alpha3.jtsa.edu:8997/F/7EKXEXP1NJ14JYVK5PRTERPQ4XK9LJ75BILBCL25B1FVLTYAQX-37117?func=full-set-set&set_number=003962&set_entry=000001&format=999
Her thesis focused on Pope John XXIII’s efforts to rid the Roman Catholic Church of its poisonous teaching that the Jews killed Jesus, and the thesis describes how the Pope enlisted the help of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a theologian who at the time had taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the center of the Conservative Jewish movement, with the title Professor of Theology and Mysticism. (He also smoked cigars.) Heschel is best known for his friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for his opposition to the War in Vietnam.
Mother’s academic writing on ecumenicism began with her master’s degree from Barry University in Florida where her thesis concerned the daily life of Jesus and the ways in which he followed Jewish teachings.
At Greensboro North Carolina, Mother served as an ambassador to Beth David Synagogue's Rabbi Eliezer Havivi speaking at churches on protestant ecumenical statements revising doctrine on who killed Jesus, showing church leaders and congregants how Jesus celebrated Jewish holidays, and becoming a lifelong member of Greensboro’s interfaith council. Mother’s love for the Hebrew language and her knowledge of it was employed on a regular basis as she attended Beth David’s services and corrected the Hebrew of celebrants, leading, indeed, to the current culture of her synagogue where the quality of Hebrew is excellent. Mother spent a summer at State College PA working on the Jewish Publication Society’s landmark translation of the Bible into English.
Mother is also survived by my sister Sarah Schmerler, who is an artist in her own right, a widely published art critic, and an instructor to artists on how to use language to describe their work, especially in grant proposals, Sarah is the mother of one of Miriam Schmerler’s three grandchildren, Asher Simonson, age 9 who is crazy about Legos products with a Star Wars theme.
The other two are my children Joanna Marie Solkoff, 26, an EMT who is about to begin nursing school at Chapel Hill after receiving an honor’s BA in English, where she wrote about obscure novels by the guy who wrote Robinson Crusoe. Amelia Altalena Solkoff, 20, is currently spending her junior year abroad in Spain and we recited the Jewish mourner’s prayer over a Skype connection earlier today. Both Mother’s granddaughters smoke cigars.
I plan to sit shiva, a Jewish custom of mourning during which I will say prayers in Hebrew and Aramaic and receive visits from my friends. The Jewish community at Congregation Brit Shalom, under the direction of Rabbi David Ostrich, a wonderful rabbi, will take good care of me. I will continue to cry as I think about my mother and mourn her death.