Toby Stein: In Memoriam

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein emailed these remarks to Rabbi Julie, who read them at Toby’s funeral on Sunday, February 4. 

This past Shabbat our Torah portion, Yitro, tells, among other things, of the advice that Yitro, Moses’ wise and big-hearted father-in-law, offers to Moses. He tells him to find special people who will be able to support Moses in guiding the community. Yitro says: “You should look out, from among the entire people, people of valor, who revere the Almighty, people of truth, who shun selling out.” (Ex. 18:21)

He could have been describing Toby Stein. She impressed anyone who encountered her with her forceful personality, her mighty, independent spirit, her fearless commitment to her beliefs and to the importance of finding ways to express them in an impactful way.

Back before the shul adopted the Lev Shalem Machzor for the Days of Awe, Toby was instrumental in producing booklets of supplementary readings. When I first got to Shomrei I had the privilege of reviewing her work with her. I discovered her discerning eye and ear, and, most of all, I discovered her own writing. Toby was rightfully proud of her command of language. She was a novelist, essayist and poet. Whatever she wrote displayed her authentic voice and her sheer love of getting at the right word.

Oh, the right word was not only a literary concern, but a moral concern. Thus, she was also dedicated, every year, to writing out the signs of welcome that we used to hang on every door for each IHN family that came to stay with us. As everyone knows, Shomrei was her home and she believed that it should also be a home for all in need. Her efforts established one of the crown jewels of the community, the Mensch Squad.

Toby had a very deep and deeply complex connection to her Judaism. She worked very hard at finding an authentic way of being Jewish. This was another reason she cherished Shomrei so much, for it exemplified for her the aspiration to grow and sustain a serious and mature approach to Jewish tradition and practice. She never wished to advertise her acts of generosity, but I think it is OK to mention now her delight and pride in being able to grant support to the Masorti Movement’s Tali Program, a program devoted to offering secular Israelis in the schools around Israel a curriculum of Judaic enrichment that was egalitaritan and inclusive and non-fundamentalist. She wanted others to have the resources that she had to struggle to gain access to.

Toby’s fierce spirit, intellect and energy inspired the friendship and loyalty of so many people who became her friends, even, sometimes, despite Toby’s attempts to thwart them! I think this is because we all could sense the nobility and purity of her quest as a person, a woman, a writer and a Jew.

יהי זכרה ברוך – May her memory ever be a source of blessing!

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