Blogging the Torah: Parashat Lech L’cha, Remembering Winnie

I gave this dvar Torah at shiva for my mother-in-law Winifred Spence Rudden.  On her second yarzheit, I remember Winnie.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

This week’s parasha is the third in our Torah.  In just the passed two weeks, we read about creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, the Tower of Babel, and now Abraham, or Abram, as he is called in the beginning of the story.  At the end of last week’s portion, we learned of Abraham’s family tree and his birth.

The portion begins with God approaching Abram and telling him it’s time to leave his father’s home and go out on his own, ”to a land that I will show you.”  I think Abram is so stunned that God has to say it three times in three different ways:  lech lecha – go out, mayartzicha u’memoladticha – from the land where you were born, umibait avicha – from your father’s house.

It’s clear to me that Abram doesn’t quite want to leave.  He’s content with his life, but God says lech lecha, go out, or as the midrash explains, go out and find your true self.  And so begins his journey, and ours too.

Much might also be said about Winnie’s journey.  Winifred Jean Spence was born in Manhattan January 25, 1922, moved to the Bronx in 1929, and graduated from Evander Childs High School in 1940. She was living in Silver Beach in Throggs Neck when she met Tom in 1941 or ’42.  They were married in 1942. He was on active duty and they lived in Washington Heights while he was in the army.

He remained on active duty when they moved to Rockland County.  I sense it was kicking and screaming because she always bitched about living up there.  But like Abraham, she went.  And made the most of her journey.  She had three children, she became active in local public education issues in North Rockland, and volunteered for Community Concerts and the Association for the Visually Impaired. She was the office manager of Clarkstown High School North Annex 1966-1982. And co-founder of Clarkstown Educational Secretaries Association in 1967. Her union work was something that she was very proud of and I think inspired her daughter just a little bit.  And many of those Rockland colleagues stopped by yesterday when we sat upstate.  (Sitting shiva there.)  She was revered by many, and both former students and teachers recalled how she saved their butts more than once.

She also returned to college as an adult.  She attended Hunter College is the 80’s, but never graduated, much to her Hunter-girl daughter’s consternation.

Her husband Tom died in 1995 after a 53-year marriage.  Later that decade, as she was facing her second bout of breast cancer, she became close to Henry Eck.  Now, I’m not going to tell you that she had a child in her old age like Abraham and Sarah, but their relationship in their old age was the love story of the century.  It lasted until Hank died just two years ago.

Music was always important to her and her favorite bands were The Stones, Beatles and Jimi Hendrix.  Just yesterday, an old friend from Rockland told me that he bought a car from Win and she had Stone Temple Pilot cassettes in the car.  When he tried to return the cassettes, she would not have it.  She told him to enjoy them.  He still has them to this day and calls them the Winnie Tapes.

I met Winnie in ’97 or so, and she always had a smile, and a salty word or two for anyone who would cut her off or do something improper. In later years, as her filters dropped, she became saltier and more revealing about everything. It made for nice video. She was fiercely liberal and concerned about others.

That is her journey.  It wasn’t 120 years like Abraham’s – only 88.  But it was a good journey.  And may her good works live on and may her memory be for a blessing.

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About Gail F. Nalven

Jewish Educator, Rabbi, Tefillah Leader, Songleader, Teacher, and Freelance Jew
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