Remembering Toby Stein

Editor’s Note: Charlie delivered this eulogy at Toby’s funeral on Sunday, February 4. The photograph of Toby was taken by Nick Levitin. 

I believe in the legend that the soul stays in this world until the body has been buried and Toby is still around us, taking this all in.

Toby, in your last days you kept planning a great symposium on important Jewish affairs and with important Jewish scholars. I didn’t quite understand what you were talking about until Alan recognized you were looking ahead to this very day. And as with many things, at many times, I will do my best to fulfill your wish and take a moment to talk about important Jewish things.

Toby, you told many of us about being left an orphan and the subsequent rescue by Barnard, I don’t know how many you told about how you ended up a Catholic. You told me you needed to be close to God, but you didn’t quite see a path in Judaism as a young single woman with no family. You became a proud daily communicant and even still maintained a stuborn belief in transubstantiation long after you returned to the Jewish people. 

Perhaps you told even fewer of how you returned to us, your people. You were in Sfad, a mystical place, and sitting alone in a shul, and all of a sudden you heard a quiet voice that said “yes.”  Since you told me that story, I always think of the quiet voice from Unnatanetokef – also a small voice, but with so much power.

This sanctuary was truly a sanctuary for Toby.  Here you found that belonging, peace, even love as shown on the Shabbat we celebrated your birthday – everything you feared you could not have as a young girl.  Even more important, here you also enjoyed years of learning and intellectual stimulation on important Jewish topics.  I think you often reflected on that moment in Sfad and that soft “yes.”  Where did the voice come from?  From your soul?  From your parents? From trembling angels?  From HaShem?

So Toby, you believed in a lot of crazy things, so would it be too crazy for you to agree that the yes you heard all those years ago was from us very important Jewish people during this very important shiur to the answer to the question, “Was Toby Stein an important part of our congregation whom we loved, appreciated, will miss dearly, and always remember?”. Please join me in a loud voice to reach 50 years in the past to say:  YES.

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