I walked into the hospice room with a profound sadness. This was no stranger, but she also wasn’t family, a congregant, or even a close friend. She was a mentor. She was a woman who helped teach me how to be the Cantor I am today. She was one of the strongest Jewish women I have ever known. Diana was a lover of Judaism and music, a great supporter to Rabbis and Cantors, a teacher to new Jews for conversion and the inspiration to many lapsed Jews who, with her help, discovered what they had been missing. She was opinionated and strong-willed, a gutte neshama and wonderful teacher. I didn’t even realize how much of an influence she had had on me until the day that I received an email from her current cantor informing me that Diana was going into hospice. I hadn’t known that she was sick. I hadn’t spoken with her in a long time.
I sat in the hospice room with Diana’s two daughters, her husband, her sister and brother-in-law, her Rabbi, her friends. I took her hand. I kept trying to sing to her. She wasn’t conscious, but I knew she could hear us. She had so many “favorite” songs. I tried to get out just one for her. Craig Taubman’s “Hashkiveinu” seemed a good choice. “Lay us down to sleep, our G-d, in peace, and raise us up O Sovereign to life renewed. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace.” I couldn’t get past the first syllable of the first word before the tears stopped the prayer in my throat.
A few minutes later, Diana’s current cantor, Cantor Shuchat-Marx, arrived with her guitar. We talked about all of Diana’s favorite songs and then Cantor Shuchat-Marx began to play. Mah Tovu, we sang, “How good it is”. We sang the psalms of Hallel because Diana loved the festivals. “Hodu L’Hashem ki tov Ki L’olam chasdo.” “Give thanks to G-d who is good, G-d’s loving kindness is everlasting.” How strange to sing songs of praise at this moment! I think we were all thinking of how lucky we had been in our lives to know her. We sang Hashkiveinu. Harmonies flowed from all over the room. Not one of us could make it from the beginning to the end of a song without losing it, but luckily there were others to keep the music going.
Today was Diana’s funeral. We sang all those songs again for her today and I believe she heard them, only now her soul is free.