Editor's note: Rabbi Michael Lerner gave a moving eulogoy in honor of his sister and UsAgainstAlzheimer's co-founder Trish Vradenburg at the May service celebrating Trish's life. Rabbi Lerner's remarks are reprinted here in their entirety.
I am Rabbi Michael Lerner. I'm Trish's older brother. I think I knew her longer than anybody in this room. I met her first when she came back from the hospital, and being born. Our family that she came into was a family that was very involved in talking at the dining room table all the time about politics. My parents were leaders of the Zionist movement before they became leaders of the New Jersey Democratic Party. I quickly learned that discourse and became part of those conversations. Trish always wanted to know how she could get in and she found a way. She became the table comedian who would always come up with some way of switching the energy from "Oy, all that's happening in the world," to her humor.
She was the class comedian in grammar school and high school. The teachers hated her, but the kids all loved her. My mother used to say to her, "Trish, you know your brother's the smart one, but you're going to be the one everybody loves." But the truth is that she was the most brilliant person in the family, because she developed a form of humor which, at the same time, was deeply incisive and, simultaneously, not hurting anybody.
Just to tell you two little stories. One of when she got to Washington, many of you may have met her at the various parties there that she was invited to, dinner parties. George and Trish were brought to a lot because of Trish's humor. She told me of this one time she was seated, she was always seated next to the guests of honor. One time she was seated next to Antonin Scalia, whose political decisions in the Supreme Court she hated. At a certain point she turned to him and in a voice that everybody could hear she said, "Tony, you're not looking so good. Your health, I'm worried about your health. Tony, don't you think it's time for you to retire?"
The classic for me was, she was so deeply devoted to my mother, and so very, very close to my mother. My mother was also a powerhouse of a woman who became the campaign managers of the various governors and senators from New Jersey. My mother became the administrative aide to U.S. Senator Williams. When she died, it was heartbreaking for all of us in the family, but Trish had been there every day for five years that she was deteriorating through Alzheimer's.
She didn't die of Alzheimer's. She was in Alzheimer's. She couldn't eat anymore, she couldn't drink anymore. She caught a fever and died from the fever. We're all in this room in the synagogue just before the funeral, a little room for the family. Most of us sitting there crying of the shock of it. Trish decides she wants us to go to the casket and then insisted, against Jewish tradition, that they open the casket so she could see her mom for one last time. She comes back into the room and we're still there crying. She says, "Good news." What could be good news at a time like this? She says, "The fever has broken."
Trish was somebody who simultaneously, while presenting herself as the comedian, was also somebody with deep passion and deep commitment to a different kind of world. She was, in my view, a very religious person, or as a deeply Jewish person, believed in God in a way that we in the Jewish Renewal movement understand God. Not as a big man up in heaven waiting to hear our prayers, but as the force in the universe that makes possible the transformation from that which is, to that which ought to be. As God says to Moses when Moses asks for his name. God says to Moses, "I shall be whom I shall be. I'm the force of possibility." Trish was somebody who truly believed in this God, truly believed in the possibility of possibility. She was somebody who understood that the world needed to be healed, and needed to be transformed.
That was why she became and brought George into being co-publishers of Tikkun magazine, the magazine that I edit. Tikkun is a Hebrew word. It means to heal, repair, and transform. She identified with that message and showed that message in her life by saying, "Okay, let's take on the toughest thing. Let's end Alzheimer's." She put the energy into that and the commitment that was actually, I believe, a deeply religious commitment. A commitment to say that when people were saying it's impossible, she would always say, "No, no, no. It only hasn't happened yet." We have to fight for the impossible and make it possible. Most of the things, most of the fundamental transformations we've seen in this world have happened when people did that.
Trish poured her energy into this incredibly important enterprise of trying to get the Congress to put enough money behind research so that we could end Alzheimer's. She was never one to accept the notion that what people are saying is unrealistic is really impossible. On the contrary, she saw that as a form of idolatry to say that something is unrealistic. It's only something that needs to happen. What needs to happen can happen when enough people decide to set their mind to it. People ask me now, "How do I best memorialize her? It's going to be so sad to be without her."
I say very simply, "What you loved about Trish, be Trish, be Trish." This is how you, everyone in this room, can keep her memory alive. Take what it is you love, whether it was the humor, whether it was the commitment to fight against Alzheimer's, whether it was the commitment to build a world of love, and kindness, and generosity. If that was what you loved about her, her generous spirit, her kind spirit, be Trish. Be Trish, and by being Trish, you will give Trish eternal life. [Rabbi Lerner then led people in saying Kaddish, the Jewish prayer said by mourners for the dead.]
Rabbi Michael Lerner is an American political activist, the editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish interfaith magazine based in Berkeley, California, a founding member of ClergyAgainstAlzheimer's, and the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley. Rabbi Lerner can be reached at email@example.com.