I recently attended Hashivenu, a conference for leaders in our movement, commonly referred to as our “think tank”. At the event we were blessed to participate in a memorial service for Ellen Goldsmith, one of our most esteemed leaders, who sadly died of cancer in January after a heroic 2 1/2 year battle.

In listening to the many tributes, not only at the conference’s memorial service, but also, from the video of the service held in LA in January, it was clear that somehow Ellen had succeeded in making each of us feel exceptionally connected to her. She had the gift of such an expansively open personality that I think more than one person felt as if he or she was Ellen’s best friend. We compared notes of when she would chat with us by phone. Given the time difference, it became clear that her time for others lasted from at least 5 AM California time to midnight EST, cramming just a few hours of sleep in each night. Not to mention the time she spent with her loving husband Steve whom she adored. He was her beshert, her soul mate.

We each reflected on what it would be that Ellen would want us to take away from knowing her. Live fully, be great, don’t hold back, don’t give up, persevere in bringing His light to others, grow and deepen our faith. For me, what really set Ellen apart was her candidness and vulnerability. She could be brutally honest, but always motivated by love. So whatever she said felt fine since her words sprang from a place of love, and she was completely vulnerable about her own challenges. Since in her world view she did not put up a personal wall, when she would spring over mine, I still felt safe, that she was there as a friend, as someone who loved me, who knew me deeply, and I her.

When we are transparent with others, yes, we can get hurt. But the beauty of building meaningful, deep relationships requires such transparency. By exposing our own weaknesses and being loving as we nurture others to do the same, a judgment free zone develops naturally. As our flaws are revealed, and we still feel loved, and vice versa, we each become comfortable in the inescapable truth that we are all only human, doing our best. We learn from our and each others’ mistakes. As we reach that level of sharing with our loved ones, we learn how to trust, we learn who we can trust, and we are able to experience a taste of the unconditional love that our Abba has for each of us.

The process won’t be perfect, because we’re not. But being in more truly meaningful relationships with others is what I will seek.

Thank you, Ellen. You are deeply missed.

Shabbat shalom.


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