Last year, at about this time, my eldest grandchild, Stephanie (Shira) Prezant fell to her death in a rock climbing accident in Mohonk, NY. Stephanie loved adventure, and this was her first rock-climbing experience. She was accompanied by her boyfriend, also a novice, and two supposedly experienced climbers. Tragically, one of those “experienced” climbers did not secure the ropes.
In the normal course of events, children bury parents, and not the other way. And certainly, it is the grandchildren who eulogize their grandparents and not the reverse. This is reflected in the Torah, when Isaac and Ishmael bury their father Abraham; Jacob and Esau bury Isaac; Jacob is buried by his sons; and his most distinguished son, Joseph, is buried by his sons. The one exception is Aaron who, when two of his sons die suddenly while engaging with a “strange fire,” is left speechless, unable to express his grief over the unnaturalness of his sons predeceasing him.
When arrangements were being made for the funeral, Stephanie’s parents were approached by both the director of the JCC on the Palisades, where both had served on the board at different times, and the headmaster of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, where Stephanie had graduated; both officials said they believed that no funeral home was sufficiently large to accommodate the expected attendance and each offered to provide the venue for the funeral. They were right; an estimated 2,000 mourners were in attendance, including five busloads of students from the University of Delaware, where the accident cut short Stephanie’s senior year.
Stephanie’s yahrtzeit is only several days past Yom Ha’atzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s independence, and Yom Hazikaron, the day one which the country’s fallen soldiers are remembered. On Yom Hazikaron, the song “HaRe’ut” (“Friendship”) is repeatedly played on the radio. It tells of a soldier mourning his comrade’s death when he realizes that it is only a year since his passing. And it is a year now since I lost my granddaughter, Shira. And when I think of her — as I often do — I not only recall how she loved her family and her boyfriend, but also how she loved our tradition. We often conversed in Hebrew. We studied Tanach together, and I was so proud at the way she engaged with Moses, David, and so many others. And how she loved Medinat Yisrael, which she visited a number of times, including as a Birthright participant.
Though her life terminated abruptly at age 22, she left large footprints. A religious school in Tenafly bears her name, as does the music room at the Bergen County Solomon Schechter school. Also dedicated to her memory are an annual Tikun Olam Award given to a graduating senior and a fund to help Bergen County youth participate in the Maccabi Games, as she did several times.
The many people who came to pay their final respects at the funeral and the shiva week all realized that a precious piece of their lives had been taken. Yet we treasure the memories of her great joie de vivre, her courage to stand up for her beliefs, her willingness to do battle for her siblings, and the love she carried for those of us who knew her — a love that knew no bounds.
“May her name be a blessing forever.”