Open Letter to My Students 44: This One’s Personal

All day, every day, octogenarian Bernard Cottle sits on the same park bench, as if keeping guard over the cemetery opposite. He used to sit there with his wife, a friend explains, and when she died, he more or less took up sentry duty on it. One night, when no one was looking, he even spread her ashes on the earth below, so that (again, when no one is looking), he could still converse with her.

Bernard is a character in The Thursday Murder Club which I was reading as a break from more weighty matters. But there I was, one of the characters, or, more accurately, many of the characters, because the Thursday Murder Club is a set of aging people in and around an assisted-living home. What I share with most of them is that, like Bernard, we have lost our life’s partner, who, however, still inhabits the places where we used to sit, eat, walk, and love together. 

Like Bernard, we eventually think about perpetuating the presence of the person we have lost: establishing what Isaiah calls a Yad Vashem, “a memorial and a name.” The term was borrowed to name the Jewish People’s Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, but Isaiah used it to describe God’s promise that those who lead the good life will receive “an everlasting name that shall not perish” (Isaiah 56:5).

So Bernard sits dutifully on the bench where his wife once sat as well, and sure enough, people who see him remember her. I imagine he must worry that when he too dies, people will forget them both; had he the means, he would surely endow the bench, emblazoning upon it a plaque with his wife’s name for all to see even after he is gone. We all know people who have perpetuated a yad vashem that way: if not on a park bench, then as part of a synagogue memorial wall that lights up at appropriate occasions.

Those who can, go farther still. They choose some praiseworthy passion of the person who died and fund that passion for the benefit of others. That’s what I am doing now, in this second year of Gayle’s death. And I am writing this because I hope you will help me. 

Gayle was a Jew in a small-town Canadian synagogue. She converted there, learned Judaism there, and paid dues there until she died, even after moving to New York to be with me. But hers is just one of many tiny to medium-sized congregations spread widely across the miles, overall under-appreciated for their enormous contribution to Jewish life, despite meagre resources and insufficient clergy who must often work alone, responsible for everything. I wish to honor Gayle’s memory, by honoring those congregations and those rabbis. 

Toward that end, I am establishing the Gayle A. Hoover Memorial Fund For Adult Learning, a comprehensive system to provide quality offerings for adults like Gayle, using Zoom technology to link small and medium-sized congregations across the miles as an ongoing community of communities. We will encompass, as well, the handfuls of Jews in even smaller Jewish communities, where no synagogue exists at all. The program is just for Canada, but it is a prototype that, once up running, will be replicable anywhere. 

Imagine a faculty of all the rabbis and cantors in the system, as well as professors from universities, and experts in everything from Kabbalah to cooking, in a virtual Academy of Jewish Study. Large congregations who can afford quality programming have agreed to stream selective programs to the smaller and mid-size synagogues where people can gather for the offerings, along with a follow-up conversation with their local rabbi or cantor. 

The fund will also mount an annual or biennial weekend retreat for members of participating communities to gather in person and meet the friends they have made on zoom, thereby creating a “community of communities.” 

Importantly, the program has been enthusiastically welcomed by rabbis and adopted by the Reform Jewish Community of Canada, which guarantees its continuity. 

But as you can imagine, the endowment funds I need just to administer it all are significant; and so, I hope you won’t mind as I ask for your help. If you have resources to share, please contribute what you can. If you know others who might help, please pass the word to them. Your support honors Gayle’s memory and is a gift to me. It is also, after all, a great cause, a model for quality Jewish education even for the smallest synagogues that need feel isolated no more. I cannot thank you enough.

To contribute:

In the United States,

In Canada,

 For contributing foundations: 

Recipient Name: Gayle A Hoover Fund for Adult Learning


Organization Address 633 Third Ave, 7th floor, New York, NY. 10017 ATTN:  Development Department

Organization Telephone Number 212-650-4140

Organization Contact Person: Felicia Schuessler —

Organization Tax ID 13-1663143


4 responses to “Open Letter to My Students 44: This One’s Personal

  1. And so well said! Bravo!


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  2. Everyone says some version of “may their name be a blessing,” but few do as much as you have, after someone’s death, to make it so (or, I should say, to make it so even more than the departed already had done themselves while alive).

    May the small communities you have thus strengthened, and the people you have helped connect–to a living tradition and to each other–bring you a modicum of comfort in your loss.

    (And thank you so much for all your writing on liturgy and ritual over the years, which continues to inform and enrich me.)

  3. I also got this and made a donation. Rosanne

    Rosanne M. Selfon (she,her) WRJ, Past President 2005-2009 Camp Harlam Council, Past Chair Congregation Shaarai Shomayim Board of Trustees, Life Member, Past President Women+ of Shaarai Shomayim, Past President 3232 Grande Oak Place Lancaster, PA 17601 717-285-3910 (home) 717-413-4900 (cell)

    “Religion provides a map of the universe with all its messiness.” Dr. Judith Plaskow

  4. R. Peter Shapiro

    As past chair of the URJ’s Small Congregations Committee I applaud Larry’s decision to create this fund. I always felt that the small congregations were under appreciated and under funded for what they do in support of Judaism and Jewish values. Hopefully the Union and the College can add their support to this project.

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