As strange to read as it is to say, funerals inspire me. It’s not only that for a brief hour I get to live in someone else’s life, experiencing the texture and contours of that life. It’s that I often leave feeling both challenged and inspired by the short time we all have to really make a difference in the lives around us and far beyond.
The Jewish community, and indeed the world, lost one of our heroes last week. Anne Heyman lived deeper and more meaningfully than many who live many more years. At her funeral, her family and friends spoke about her vision in creating Agohozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, responding to the devastating effects of war and disease on Rwanda’s orphans and modeled after Yemin Orde in Israel. Anne took the Israeli model, created in the aftermath of the Holocaust to provide orphans with a safe and loving home, and shaped a place for African children.
Why did she do it? Anne knew very little about Rwanda. That didn’t stop her. She knew very little about children and trauma. That also didn’t stop her. Here’s what she knew. She knew she had energy, intelligence, and access to resources both human and financial. She knew she had a responsibility to do what she could. And, as it turned out, that was enough to change the world for hundreds and hundreds of children. That’s why she did it. Because it needed doing and she could do it.
I sat in the synagogue, tears rolling down my cheeks at the tragedy of her death and for the many, many people whose hearts will ache every day now. I felt privileged to be in that place and hear her story. I felt challenged and inspired by her life and her work. "Save a life and you will save the world," says Jewish tradition. "We are not required to finish the task but we are not absolved from starting it," says Jewish tradition. Anne’s life was that tradition lived out loud. And she will live on as long as each one of us embodies that spirit.