By now it is likely that you have heard, read or seen the news of the traffic accident that took the life of our beloved DuBow Preschool Teacher Esther Ohayon and placed her daughter, Orly, an MJGDS graduate, into stable, but critical condition as they attempted to simply walk to attend Kol Nidre services at Etz Chaim Synagogue last Friday evening. There are no words to describe the loss of a teacher as sweet and beloved as Miss Esther and a world where a child as kind and loving as Orly must endure such tragedy. The shock has not yet worn off and the sorrow is only beginning…
By now Esther’s body has been returned to Israel for burial and Orly remains hospitalized with a long convalescence ahead. For those in our local community, we will share information about possible memorial services once they are decided and, for now, despite the multitude of fundraising vehicles that have been created to support Orly and her family, we are honoring Etz Chaim’s Rabbi Fisch’s request that those looking to help make their donations directly to his discretionary fund. (You may contact Etz Chaim directly for more information.)
Teachers, parents and children returned to school on Monday and we summoned the courage to comfort when appropriate, to shelter when necessary, and to love with ferocity. Our faculty met with Jacksonville Jewish Center Senior Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner for the purpose of providing information, planning communication for parents and especially children, counseling the bereft and to take a moment as a faculty to mourn the loss of a colleague and a friend. Clergy and social workers have been available to meet with parents and students in the Preschool and the Day School to offer counseling and to answer any questions.
Miss Esther was my younger daughter Maytal’s teacher a couple of years back and Orly was in my first graduating class.
My initial message to families ended like this:
I wish there was something more hopeful, more encouraging I could add to lessen the blow, but I, too, am both at a loss and feel the loss. It is in such times as this, that I feel blessed to work and live in a community such as ours. The collective strength and love it possesses will be relied upon by us all as we do only what we can – to ensure Esther’s memory everlasting, to pray for Orly’s recovery, and to finally learn the lesson of life’s fragility and ensure we treat each day as if it could be our last.
And it is in the spirit of wishing I had something more hopeful to add and in the spirit of recognizing life’s fragility that I am moved to share what our students are doing today – on a rainy afternoon headed into what is supposed to be the joyous holiday of Sukkot.
The sukkah itself is a symbol of life’s fragility. We are commanded to dwell in these temporary structures as a physical reminder of that fact. As frustrating as it can be to deal with rain and wind while trying to enjoy meals on Sukkot, I actually appreciate the tangible opportunity to remind my children, and myself, that we are at the mercy of a life unpredictable. To remind ourselves that there are those less fortunate for whom a sukkah would be a step up. To remind ourselves that when we return to our homes and our lives when the holiday concludes, there are many who cannot and do not.
And so I cannot imagine a more fitting symbol than the sukkah as I think about Orly Ohayon. No one knows more about life’s fragility than she. And as we return to our normal lives after Sukkot, Orly upon recovery will never know normal again.
As hard as it is to find something hopeful in a situation such as this, I must share that as a principal I am inspired by an act of lovingkindness that the Middle School of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is performing today. Recognizing that holidays come whether we feel like celebrating them or not and recognizing that those staying in the hospital with Orly would be without, our students, under the leadership of our Middle School Vice Principal Edith Horovitz and with the additional help of students from Torah Academy (housed at Etz Chaim Synagogue), are on their way to the hospital to build a sukkah for Orly. And even though she will be in no condition to dwell in it, it is in her honor and the honor of her mother’s memory that it is being built.
Esther Ohayon was a teacher of young children. She loved, nurtured and protected them. She was their sukkah. And so we will build a sukkah in her memory so that, in some small way, she can continue to love, nurture and protect those who now care for her own child.
This is what it means to be a true community of kindness. This is what is means to be a true community. This is what happens when students grow up in a school where learning about things is not sufficient. This is why we do weekly mitzvah trips. Learning must lead to action. Learning must inspire us to make the world a better place. Learning must make a difference in the lives of others.
So on a rainy Wednesday in Jacksonville, Florida, we will build a sukkah for Orly that she will never dwell in. But by doing so we will honor the memory of Esther and demonstrate our love for Orly. I pray this Sukkot that even as our joy is tinged with sadness, that we take the time to celebrate this happiest of holidays with loved ones and friends and as a result of a tragedy unfathomable, to finally learn the lessons of life’s fragility.