A few weeks ago I lost one of my teachers when the wonderful Eliza Shawn passed away.
This woman, the first sisterhood president of my synagogue, was married to the late Edward Shawn, a founder and first president of the kehila.
This eshet chayil was so happy, so positive and so active until the very end. All of us were blessed by her 96 years, and her enduring legacy will be cherished by many more than just her five children, 14 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.
I sometimes wonder how this woman became such an inspiration for so many. I believe the Torah has an answer in the beginning of the book of Shmot, where it states, “And a man went from the house of Levi and he took a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and gave birth to a son.”
Later on, the Torah tells us that these two were none other than Amram and Yocheved, the parents of Moses.
We may ask why the text initially omits the names of Moses’ parents, while revealing them later? Many answers are given, two of which I’d like to share with you here
In describing Moses’ birth, the Torah emphasizes that Moses is a human being with flesh-and-blood parents, not an angel. Another answer points out that the Torah avoids suggesting that Moses’ lineage was primarily responsible for his position and achievements.
Moshe became the greatest prophet of all time on his own merit, achieving his position of leadership and realizing his potential by talent and hard work. It was not an issue of proteksia (social connections).
Mrs. Shawn did not become an inspiration through shortcuts. She became the wonderful woman she was through labour, love and perseverance – and by example. She assumed leadership positions on behalf of the Jews of her communities in Japan and Canada, after leaving her native India.
Life was not always easy for her, as she experienced significant hardships. She lived in Japan during World War II and lost a daughter just a few years ago. Nevertheless, she continued to live a rich and fulfilling life, always expanding her potential.
My father, Meir Yaacov Acoca, who passed away 18 years ago and whose yahrtzeit we recently remembered, was also a great mentor to many. His last years, too, were not easy. He was on dialysis for a couple of years before he passed away, but he took every moment with a smile, endearing himself to fellow patients and staff alike with his good humour at the clinic.
I once asked him how it was possible for him to be so positive in such difficult moments. His answer was brief but profound: “Make the best of every moment.”
Mrs. Shawn and my father knew how to live each day as the special gift from God that it is. In their humility, I don’t think they knew how many people’s lives they would touch so deeply.
Let us all strive to live our lives as robustly as did these two very special people.