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Pirke Imahot- A Tribute to the Wisdom of My Mom on Her 89th Birthday

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

In the world of the rabbinate, we use the expression, “freedom of the pulpit.” It means that, theoretically, no one is supposed to tell us what we are or are not allowed to speak about during services. It DOESN’T mean that everyone will like it, nor does it mean that everyone will we choose in any way that we like. But it does mean that I am exercising that tribute this evening to honor my mom.

My mom, A. Sandra Raphan Koppell, was born in Brooklyn on June 9, 1934. Today is her 89th birthday. I have mentioned a number of times that as birthday gift last year, her grandchildren sent her Storyworth, a service that has provided a question to her each week for the last year, encouraging her to share her life’s wisdom and journey with the family. I thought I’d use this evening to express my freedom of the pulpit to peruse and share some of the gems that emerged during this process.

Storyworth posed to her the rather silly question as to what she would describe as perfect happiness. After dismissing the idea of world peace, she immediately honed in on health. At 89, she is experiencing her first real health challenges and she is definitely not happy with having her intense pace of life interfered with. As she put it, “We are all aware of the fragility of our health, and pray for it. I pray that all of you will be reasonably well. Perfect doesn’t exist in the long run. No one leaves this earth alive. Shalom Bayit – Here is something we can do something about. The best thing for me is when our family all gets together. These are the best of times. I enjoy our smaller family get-togethers, and am so happy to be included to celebrate all occasions with you. This is the happiness that is achievable.”

Mom wrote about the happiness of her own idyllic childhood, the joy of raising her family in Brooklyn, and how much she is enjoying her life today. She is the poster girl for, “I Love NY.”

Writing in anticipation of the High Holidays, she focused on forgiveness. which is about forgiveness. . . We make mistakes, and these lead us to put a crimp in our relationships. Family estrangement is very hurtful to me. Grandpa also felt the same way. Nothing is so toxic that it should tear a family apart. Life is too short to hold grudges. It is time to move on and let go of our hurts and start all over again. That would make me truly happy.” My dad grew up across the street from her, and they were connected from childhood.

Both of my parents truly valued the gift of friendship. My mom still speaks weekly with her best friend from 4th grade. She noted that “there are many kinds of friends we accumulate during our lifetime. There are the friends that we share common interests with. My organization friends; including the United Nations friends, Women’s League friends, Synagogue friends and Neva Hanna Board friends. There are bridge friends, reading groups, walking friends (since covid), friends to play assorted games with and our neighbors. Then there are the friends we open up our hearts to. These are a few select people. They are our very special friends. They give us emotional support. They are the people who we trust most. We want them to be loyal to us. We want them to be somebody who is honest with us; free to criticize us and guide us when they feel we are heading in the wrong direction and then respect the choices we make, after their counsel. They must be kind and sincere. You are very lucky when you have a few of these very close people in your life.”

When asked about her motto, my Sandy cites, “Accentuate the positive”- dwell on the good things in your life and not the negative. As she shared, “I have friends who are always complaining. They have the “Woe is me” attitude. I try and help them to count all their blessings. That is what I wish for you. Count your blessings. Don’t let your troubles get you down. Think “This too shall pass”.”

Mom cited my beloved sister-in-law Fran, who is battling pancreatic cancer- “Your Aunt Fran or Mom (as the case may be) is a perfect example. She has hit a stone wall. Instead of telling us how difficult life has become, she will tell you how wonderful it is that she can spend time with her children and grandchildren and see them grow. I so love her and her attitude is everything I can respect.”

Mom was challenged on what advice she would give to her 13 great-grandchildren, and she quoted Hillel, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now when? This is wonderful advice that Hillel gave eons ago, and still holds true. If I am not for myself, who will be for me? You certainly have to take care of yourself, first and foremost. If you don’t have your own act together, than you will be useless to help others. God helps those who help themselves.

If I am only for myself, what am I? Being caring and kind to others, is what makes you a good person. Helping others is very important. Take care of your family. Reach out beyond your family. Volunteering in your community will bring you a great deal of satisfaction. You all know it is my volunteering that gives me a purpose in life and keeps me going. I really try to be nice to others, even if I sometimes find them irritating.

If not now, when? Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Don’t let things pile up. Simply keeping things organized can make you happy. Look around you. It is so much less stressful, when you don’t let chores pile up or live in disorganization. Organization is key to enjoying life in a calm, peaceful environment. It is sometimes difficult to keep all your balls juggling in the air, but you have to try to do your best. Even when you feel down, try to look for the bright side and forge ahead.”

There is so much more. I cut and pasted her words into a document each week, and it is 44 pages and almost 17,000 words. My mom is truly an inspiration, and, my hope is that hearing just a small part of HER story will inspire you to share YOUR story with your loved ones. It will be the treasure of a lifetime and a gift that will touch the heart.

My mom is so supportive of me- she tunes in each week to livestream our service, and she is always willing to give me candid advice on drafts of my sermons. This one I didn’t share in advance. Surprise! Happy birthday mom!

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