Rabbi Barry Gelman's Eulogy for Rabbi Abrams

Delivered at the funeral of Rabbi Abrams on October 24, 2014

"Eulogy for Rabbi Judith Abrams"

Every now and then at about 5:45pm on Monday evenings there would be a knock the door of my home. It was Judy. "I am sorry to bother you", she would say, "but the Shul is locked and I need to get in to teach my class."

Occasionally as I walked by the library in UOS, Judy would call me in. Barry, she would shout, come on in, we have a question. She would ask, and I would answer. More than once she sort of looked at me with a "really?" type of look and her sort of mischievous smile. I knew she was not buying what I was selling.

The occasional knock on the door ritual was something my wife and I came to cherish. The first person I called after Rabbi Lyon told me the terrible news of Judy's passing was my wife Gabi. Her first reaction was, I will miss her visits at the door!

I tell you this, because the image of unlocking doors is a fitting one for Judy. She did not let closed doors, external expectations or pressure define who she was. She was her own woman - she was unique.

Last night I read an article Judy wrote in 2011 for The Reform Jewish Quarterly. It's an autobiographical account of her career. Here are some gems that highlight her uniqueness:

I was going to have to define my own version of an A in the Rabbinate. I'd have to step off the ladder to success, which led me, surprisingly, to my own version of success.
Judy was independent.

On being a trailblazer in terms of women in the rabbinate, she said:
The earliest were trailblazers, the very first women who became Rabbis when this was quite simply unthinkable. You might just as well have expected to see a giraffe on the Bimah, that's how rare, odd and shocking women rabbis were.
Judy was a pioneer.

Perhaps the most striking and spiritually deep part of the article is when Judy writes about her study of Kabbalah and the physical effects it was having on her. Here are her words:
As I was studying Kabbalah...I was also trying to get pregnant. It didn't happen and I believe I knew why. As I became more and more invested in the life spiritual, I was letting go of my physical life. I simply wanted to be all spirit. But being pregnant is about as animal-like a state as there is...I realized I'd have to give up on Kabbalah...That month, we succeeded in conceiving our second child.
This is truly an astonishing account of how in tune Judy was with her spiritual side. Many of us know her as an intellect, as a scholar. She was also a spiritual seeker and a dreamer.

There are family members here, friends and students. There are also bereaved colleagues. The Rabbis of this city are devastated by the loss of a friend, a teacher and a role model. I asked my colleagues of the HRA to share their thoughts of Judy. Here are a few selections.

They highlight that Judy loved to teach and loved to learn. I think this is how she would want to be remembered.

Here are two stories shared by our colleague Rabbi Yossi Grossman:
A few months ago, I was asked to give a CLE lecture for a law firm about the Torah's view on hiring people with disabilities and, in general, the Torah's view on disabilities. I could not find any great source material. So I called Judy and she invited me over to her house where we spent hours going through the topic with various source material including from her own books on the topic. She was extremely helpful and knowledgeable and helped me immensely in presenting the Torah's perspective...
The second story was when she wrote an article in the JHV on the Jewish perspective on abortion and I vehemently disagreed with the way she presented the Halachic view. I wrote a rebuttal in the JHV and she called me and said she wanted to learn with me all the sources including... to understand why she was wrong. So again, I went to her house one shabbat afternoon and we studied all the t'shuvot (responsa), etc. with her own set of Igros Moshe. How many other Rabbis, Orthodox or Reform would do that?
This is from Rabbi Pam Silk:
We were blessed to sit with Judy last week in the sukkah, learning together, eating together. It is truly strange to reflect back on it and now know she is gone. This past Sukkot we sat side by side, quietly, comfortably. Next year she will be among the ushpizim to our sukkah. Two days ago I received an envelope in the mail from Judy... It was a copy of the JHV front page from last week, where I am pictured with our religious school kids. The enclosed card, her personal stationery, said "I thought you might like an extra copy." So very thoughtful, so simple, so understated, so Judy. She was a real mensch, a brilliant mind and passionate teacher. Our community, our people have lost a very bright light. She was always kind to me, personally, professionally, asking about my kids, and how things were at the Shul. She was modest and humble. She will be missed. She will live on in her family, whom she adored and felt tremendous pride, and in her students and their students as we share the richness of her teachings with them.
Rabbi Mark Urkowitz shared this with me:
One night Judy and Steve came over to ask Devora and me whether we would be willing to serve as the guardians for their children in case....

Of course we said yes.

It said a lot that even though Judy was a reform rabbi, they were willing to have their children brought up in an orthodox home.
Judy approached her learning with a childlike enthusiasm and glee. I would see it in her face whenever she was talking Torah. She also had a personal relationship with the Torah. Here are her words:
For me, Rabbinic literature is not only filled with wisdom, laughter and inspiration. It offers a cure to one of the greatest existential problems of my life: Loneliness. Once I'd studied enough Talmud, I felt that I'd installed the Sages on my "hard drive." They were always with me. So not only do I have a cure for loneliness, but the souls keeping me company are some of the greatest people that ever lived.
Dear Judy, you are all spirit now and you join those great sages who accompanied you all these years.

You have done your work. Our responsibility is to live the lessons you taught. Love Torah. Learn Torah. Dream. Don't let labels define you. Demand emet - truth - and seek God.

When trying to express the loss of a unique person of faith, our tradition used the following: Chaval al d'avdin v'lo mishtakchin - woe for those who are lost and are no longer among us.

Woe unto us indeed, for we have lost an irreplaceable friend, mentor, teacher and guide.


A Jewish Funeral in Vitebsk
Shlomo Yudovin
ca 1926

Rabbi Abrams' Funeral

Rabbi Abrams' funeral was held on Friday, October 24, 2014 at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas.

If you are interested, you may listen to the entire funeral service.

The eulogies delivered by Rabbi Abrams' daughters, Ruth and Hannah, can be found at approximately 11:30 into the recording.