Delivered by Rabbi Dr Benji Levy on 24 Kislev 5781 (10/12/2020) Tel Aviv Israel
Shirley Ann Lowy, Chosia Tzerl bat Yaakov v’Golda was born on April 5th, 1934 in Sydney Australia. Her father, Jack, was born in Bialystok and came by foot to London where he met Golda, Shirley’s mother. She had a sister, Leonie, who unfortunately passed away in her 30s, but was married to the late Sid Gould and had three boys, Jason, Adam and Nachum who is here today representing the family. She is also survived by her dear brother, Alan, sister-in-law Ruth and two children, Elliot and Gretta, who live in Sydney. She had a modest upbringing, finishing public school at age 15 to begin working as a typist. She always dreamed of going to university, but her parents did not have the means at the time.
In Hebrew, the numerical value of the word chai meaning life is 18 and when she met Frank at 18, for her, a new life began.
She got married just before she turned 20 and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Kings Cross. A few minutes before the clock ticked over to 1955, on New Year’s Eve, David was born and she became a mum. In February 1959 Peter was born and November 1962, Steven was born, completing the foundation for her most prized possession: family. She did everything for her family and they never remember a moment that she wasn’t there for them. When the boys were young, Shirley would take them all over Sydney, to places like Plumer Road shops, where, she recounted: “I used to feel like a mother duck with her ducklings, waddling down the road, and I loved it.”
She fiercely defended the family. If anyone said anything that she didn’t like, she would protect them. She used to wear an arm bracelet that jingled as she walked. When she and Frank would be out and it happened that one of the boys would feel uneasy, the moment they heard the jingling of the bracelet and knew she was close, they felt calm. She had this effect on them throughout their lives and it was a symbol of the aura she created. David summed it up in the special song he wrote and sung at her 75th birthday, “my mother was always there, she’s the one for me and that’s why I love her.”
As she had finished looking after the boys throughout school, she went on to UNSW as a mature age student, overlapping with Peter and Steven and graduating at 45 with a BA. This was the fulfilment of a dream and Margo worked with her through it every step of the way. Her family was so proud. She did not like being in the limelight, but at some special family occasions, she spoke from the heart and blew everyone away with her words. I remember being at many communal functions and she would often stay in her place rather than wandering around. She was reserved and with her soft-spoken strength of character, served as a magnet – the shamash in the chanukiah – emitting a regal like a radiance that brought people to her.
She insisted on walking to Central Synagogue on Yom Kippur, a tradition Steven and his family continue, literally following in her footsteps and committed to her path, despite living on the other side of the city. When she got to shule in the morning, she would stay there the whole day. Shule was her happy place:
“For me, being in shule with the whole family gives me such a good feeling… Every one of us, the little ones included, have a seat in shule and it’s a wonderful thing. I sit among all the women in our family and look across at our row of Lowy men. To me, this is real richness…” Frank and Shirley Lowy
Shirley vividly describes David’s Barmitzvah, which captures the love she had for Jewish life and of course, her children:
“When he finished [reading from the Torah], he turned and looked up at me. Had he done okay, his eyes were asking me. It was such a moment. My heart was bursting with happiness. He understood and broke out into a wide smile. As we threw sweets, tears of joy streamed down my face.”
She shared similar sentiments in her memoirs about Peter, Steven and the grandchildren, always proud of everything they did. She loved celebrating special moments with the family, as she recalled, “Dad and I are in the extremely fortunate position of having our lives punctuated with family simchas. Our calendar is full of birthdays and anniversaries and bat and Barmitzvahs too. These events are the grid our life is built on…”
One thing that has always inspired me about the Lowys is their close bond as a family and this is one of those things Shirley was most proud of. When thinking back to her youngest grandson Jonah’s bris, she said that having all her children there, “was like the icing on the cake… Regardless of what it takes, David, Peter and Steven go to extraordinary lengths to be at these [family] occasions… That’s something I truly love about them, their dedication to each other and the family.”
They did it just over a month ago, despite everything going on in the world for their father’s ninetieth and of course, they were here, together with her till the end.
Frank and Shirley pumped Yiddishkeit into their home and she was so proud that her children absorbed this pride. She shared how gratified she was, at a special evening in New York, “to hear Peter tell the room full of 500 people – most of whom were not Jewish – that he was a proud Jew… It was an incredibly emotional experience for me… Proud is not an adequate word for how I felt.” It was on chagim and shabbatot that her two loves of family and Judaism elevated one another and deepened the connection. She encouraged the family to own their Judaism. She loved lighting the candles and remembered preparing the fish for Yom Tov, about which she said: “I love doing that and that’s very important to me.”
She took these values beyond the home, being awarded an OAM for her philanthropic work, including setting up the Chai Foundation, where she identified a gap for particularly needy families and ensured they were looked after.
In Israel, she enshrined the memory of her parents through Golda’s House and Bet Yaakov in Jerusalem, which look after children from difficult backgrounds. She used to love taking presents to them before the chagim and found so many ways to express her chesed and kindness in everything she did. Her name lives on at the Moriah Campus Glenayre Avenue, where David went as a child and I remember the distinct admiration she had for Judy who brought this together in her leadership of the foundation. I remember when she approached me to discuss the students who were blessed to go on IST thanks to her generosity and her care and passion for those in need and Jewish education was palpable.
At her eightieth birthday celebration, she addressed the family with meaningful words and a few months later, her condition deteriorated. The matriarch that put everything into her family now gave her family the chance to look after her. And they did so with such dignity and respect. Their love for her only grew, with Frank truly leading the way.
Reflecting on her relationship on the final page of her epilogue, she writes:
“Dad carried me along with him… As we get older, we get closer… I cannot imagine a day in my life without him. He gives me so much. From him I get strength. And I can depend on him… I think ours is a true love story… On seeing him, my heart always warms.” There is no doubt that she felt this way till the end as their love continued to deepen. Israel held a special place in Shirley’s heart. She played the piano when she was young and was very musical, with one of her favourites being Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. She recounts how she felt being in Jerusalem for the first time: “I was overwhelmed at the Wailing Wall. In my lifetime I never expected to see it, let alone touch it.”
It became more than a dream, but a reality as she made many friends here. Early on in her memoirs, she recounts: “at one stage I asked to go on aliyah but as soon as I met Frank that idea was no longer attractive.” She didn’t think she could have both Frank and Israel at the same time and how fitting that her life culminated with both together. In her land, with her boys, farewelling her dear Frank on the anniversary of the first time they met, her yahrtzeit candle will forever provide the opportunity to light one extra flame before Chanukah begins each year as if to extend the light even further.
Reflecting on this tremendous life, we come full circle with the message of Chanukah. With so many other festivals focusing on mitzvot and good deeds outside of the home, Chanukah is all about the home. Shirley was all about her home. A home of Jewish pride, of warmth and of family. For her final moments, she was in that home, surrounded by these values, embodied through her dear children and husband, united in love as they bid her farewell. This Chanukah, for the shiva, they will all be together, in the home she created for them. I know how much nachas she would have.
While her cognitive memory left her, certain elements were deeper and as Frank said the blessing last Friday to welcome her beloved Shabbat, he sanctified God’s name and stated: lehadlik ner, to light the candle and then she uttered her last words, finishing the sentence, shel shabbat, of rest. What a special moment. As she takes her final resting place here in Israel, her family continue to fan the powerful flame that she kindled within them. And like the miracle of Chanukah, her light will outlast itsc physical restraints and continue to shine bright for generations to come. Tehey nishmata tzrura b’tzror ha’chayim – may her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.
As published on JWire: https://www.jwire.com.au/shirley-lowy-lehadlik-ner-shel-shabbat/