I began the day by attending Jewish Senior Life’s “Eight over Eighty” event honoring eight individuals eighty or older who have served the community for decades. One of the honorees was Ellie Glen, a wonderful human being and a past President of Hillel.
More than 500 people crowded the room to celebrate. There were many familiar faces. A highlight for me was that eight students from the Frankel Jewish Academy presented each honoree to the audience. These eight students had spent many hours getting to know their honorees, and ultimately wrote their biographies, which were printed in a commemorative journal.
I kvelled upon recognizing six of the eight presenters as Hillel graduates. These six and their other two classmates understand the importance of participating in one’s community. In addition, the six Hillel graduates were no strangers to Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit, having participated in our sixth grade Dor L’Dor program. For decades now, Hillel has had a special relationship with Detroit area senior citizens. Sixth graders spend the year learning about the elderly in our community and developing relationships with the residents at senior homes in the community. They engage in activities while enjoying one another’s company, and many of our graduates stay in close touch with their new friends years after Dor L’Dor.
Sadly, I had to leave that event early to attend the funeral of Scott Cranis. Scott was a beloved member of the community, a past Hillel parent and former CFO of Hillel from 1993 to 2002. Scott’s two beautiful daughters Mara and Jordyn both graduated from Hillel. The Ira Kaufman Chapel was packed — standing room only. As I looked around I saw dozens and dozens of past Hillel families and Hillel graduates. I saw current Hillel teachers and Hillel teachers who had retired long ago. Former Hillel Headmaster, Dr. Mark Smiley, traveled from Toronto to attend the funeral. I saw the Frankel Jewish Academy community, and of course the Beth Ahm community, Scott’s beloved synagogue. His warmth, authenticity and Jewish values made every community he touched better.
You could not help but to be moved to see the community out in force, surrounding the Cranis family with love and support. It was especially moving to see all of the teenagers and young adults present to support Mara, Jordyn and their mother Jodi. Rabbi Steven Rubenstein read a note that Jordyn had written to her friends at the Academy in which she emphasized the supportive power of her community and friends during this impossible time. Many of Mara’s and Jordyn’s closest friends date back to their earliest years at Hillel. They were there to love and support them. Mara spoke about how important community was to her father and how important it was to welcome new people into the community. Scott was especially committed to building community during his years at Hillel and made it his passion at Beth Ahm.
The evening ended celebrating a new baby in our community, the grandson of one of our beloved teachers, Clara Gaba, and her husband Arthur. While their son Ron, a Hillel graduate, and his wife Madhu, held the baby’s bris on the eighth day after his birth last October, to be officially entered into the covenant with God and the Jewish people, this past Sunday they celebrated his arrival here in town, with his Detroit family and friends. Again, the room was filled with Hillel connections, past and present.
Life is not meant to be easy. Life is, however, beautiful, and we can find the beauty even when we endure pain and loss. Beauty is not found in pain, but rather in the relationships and community that hold us up when we are down. God willing, the pain and sorrow that the Cranis family is experiencing will be made just a little more bearable because they are surrounded by many wonderful communities that Scott, Jodi, Jordyn and Mara have touched over the years. And at each joyful event I attended on Sunday, the happiness in the room was increased by the presence of the community and the power of special relationships.
Sunday reminded me that we are not meant to be alone. We need one another and we need to look no farther than our own community. Our Jewish tradition includes many rituals and structures to make certain that we are not alone in both times of joy and sorrow. Within these communities, strong, loving and often life-long relationships are created. That is the power of the Jewish community, our Detroit Jewish community, and especially our Hillel Day School community.