As sun the rises over the ancient stones of the הכותל המערבי - Western Wall and the sun sets on the shores of Bondi Beach, those of us that knew Brenda are going into Shabbat with a gaping hole. I have been asked to share what Rabbi Dovy Rapoport eloquently read on my behalf at the funeral today and like so many meaningful thoughts about this remarkable woman, I hope this brings some comfort to those that knew her and inspires those that didn't:
As my heart was breaking at the news yesterday, I began to contact travel agents so that I could return to Australia for the funeral. After the first said it was impossible, I spoke to two more. We tried through Asia and Africa, America and Europe, but with less than 24 hours, it became clear that it was not possible. As my sadness intensified, I thought to myself – what would Brenda say. And the answer was – as Stephen confirmed – you are where you are meant to be. We can only control what we can control, and faith is the ability to truly accept that. Brenda truly accepted that. Brenda truly had faith. Boy, did she control what she controlled, with incredible attention to detail. But at the same time, she knew how to let go of that which she could not control. And she taught us to do the same with a tehillim book next to her bed and a positive perspective till the end.
When Renana and I came to say goodbye less than a week ago, Brenda was clearly in pain – something she could not control – but she forced herself to smile and make us laugh. Because this is what she could control. She grinned, cracked jokes and spoke so fondly of her adoring husband and the amazing man he is – her beautiful boys and how they make her proud every single day. Her highlight was Daniel’s bar mitzvah where she experienced and shared true simcha with those that matter most to her. She fought through tremendous pain to share so many more highlights with us and she continued to fight till her last breath.
Brenda didn’t just fight in the end but the whole way through life. For anyone she loved – for anything she believed in. One of her greatest passions was for Jewish education. I used to call her the tour guide because if I ever wanted someone to fall in love with Moriah College, they just needed Brenda to lead the way. Staff and students, VIPs and strangers – Brenda’s enthusiasm bred enthusiasm and anyone that was graced with her presence fell in love with whatever she was sharing with them. What was her trick? The fact that there were no tricks – she was authentic. Brenda was as real as they come, and she was always true to what she believed in. There are countless families at the school today because of the way she guided them. But she wasn’t just a tour guide in school – she was a tour guide for life. Always seeing the glass half-full, always curating positive experiences and always seeing the good in others.
Lots of people retreat in the face of hardship – but not the Jankelowitzs. They saw the darkness as an opportunity to increase light. Each time I looked up before delivering a drasha on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, I was strengthened by her smile. As we were concluding Sukkot, Brenda invited a large group of women to learn with Renana in her sukka and then Steve made sure we could do the same with a group of men a few days later. Their presence, their attitude and their actions were a greater lesson, a greater shiur, than we could provide and truly inspired everyone. People have been doing good deeds because of Brenda even before she passed, and I have no doubt this will continue.
So, what now? It has been exactly one year since the diagnosis and what a year it’s been. There can never be enough time on this earth to accomplish everything, but Brenda lived life to the max. Taking advantage of every moment. Whether it was her swims and walks at Bondi or her coffees with her friends, her presence at every communal function, dedication to her job or quality time with her husband and boys who she called her men.
And so now, I ask myself again: what would Brenda say? You are where you are meant to be. It is what it is meant to be. She left us too young but managed to achieve more than most do in two lifetimes. And our job is to learn her lessons and continue her legacy.
Adam and Daniel, as we discussed together last week – it won’t be easy. And that’s okay. But you have the most incredible mum in the world. And the hugs she gave you will continue to bring comfort. That proud smile she had whenever she laid eyes on you, will be smiling from heaven as you continue to make her proud. And the lessons she taught you will last a lifetime.
Stephen, that image of Brenda and yourself, as you delivered your speech together at Daniel’s barmitzvah, epitomizes the meaning of the word love. It was clear to all that you are soul-mates and while you gave your all to her, to her there was nothing greater than you.
She passed away on Parashat Noach. The world deteriorated – everything seemed hopeless. But one family built their ark and through that ark rebuilt the world. We have been blessed to have been welcomed into Brenda’s ark. An incubator for growth and meaning. She has taught us so much every single day in every single way. And while just like the news of the flood, the world seemed over with her diagnosis, as her body deteriorated, her soul soared and healed those around her. Now the flood has hit. We cannot imagine life without her. But it is the ark she built – the microcosm of a better world – that will get us through the next stage. She has built the foundations, laid the planks and this will always guide you on the journey that is life – stormy seas, still waters and everything in between.
Hashem natan – Hashem has given [so much], v’Hashem lakach, Hashem has taken away [so much]. Yehi shem Hashem mevorach.
May the light that Brenda brought into this world continue to shine and inspire us – tehey nishmata tzrura b’tzror ha’chayim – may her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.
Thinking of you in the heart of Jerusalem, hamakom yenachem otchem b’toch sh’ar avelei tzion viyerushalayim, may the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.