Imagine, if you will, that shortly after your birth you were chosen to get an extra heart. You are perfectly healthy but technology made it such that certain people could get an extra heart, another source of extra blood flow, energy and emotion. You can get used to this. In times of stress, sorrow, and struggle this heart was there for you to give you a boost. When you needed a little something more it pumped extra nurturing blood into you. It was always there for you and it always worked. It’s was a part of you, you just weren’t born with it.
One day, after 30+ years of it being there for you, of working, it’s taken out. That extra everything is no longer there. That space, where it was, that was left behind, will never fill back up and you can never go back to the way you were when you were born. You’re body has adapted to it. You were built around it. You don’t have any of that awesomeness, that support, that extra everything that was always there for you!
Mrs. Lowenbraun was my extra heart. She was a mother, a confidant, a teacher, a shrink, a warrior, a source of inspiration, insight, vision and wisdom. She supported me, without judgement, and always flipped any pre-conceived notions, or ideas, on their head with a whole other unique viewpoint that would upend my perception of the status quo. She taught me to challenge, to debate, to educate and to lead. She did almost all of this by just being herself. You watched her exist and wanted to be more like her and learn from her. She was a friend, in every sense of the word.
The stories of my presence in her home are legendary! There are those that might even have gotten mad at some of my antics. She never did! I would have to take responsibility and rectify whatever it was that had to be dealt with. She laughed it off as par for the course and I just had to deal with the feeling of letting her down. Though I knew she didn’t look at it that way.
Her home was always open. Literally! I would just walk into the back door at any time, day or night, like Kramer (Seinfeld) or Norm (Cheers), maybe grab a bite to eat, something to drink, take a nap on the couch. Someone might be there to chat with, sometimes not. It didn’t matter. It was home! Countless people can share similar stories and it was home for them too!
I learned to be responsible, efficient, hard working and motivated in that home. I learned to get things done! More than that, I learned how to be a Jew and the greatness, and importance, of that role, when done right. I learned how to be a part of something much greater than myself. To be a part of a family. To be a part of the Jewish people. To be part of a group and still be a leader.
I’m no prize and I’m not sure I fill those roles but she saw in me what took some time for me to see in myself. That the potential is/was there, more so than in most. To her I stood out and with a little bit of this and a dash of that I might turn out just fine. As for me, I got to hang out with greatness on a daily basis.
There is the generic, cookie cutter Jew that is manufactured in schools, Yeshivas and other Jewish institutions. Then there is the Jew that walks out of Mrs. Lowenbrauns home. The two are completely different! She always emphasized education above all else and she recognized that education can be presented in so many different ways. Her awesomeness was that she led by example, and that was education enough for me.
She was filled with love and still fought for justice. I came into her life at 13 years old, after going through one hell of a time in Jewish school, public school and a special private school. It was a lot of turmoil for my parents. Once I was in her life I never left. Her husband, Rabbi Yitzchok Lowenbraun, was her other half and complimented all that she was. There was no greater balance of Yin and Yang than the two of them. At 17 I got kicked out of the yeshiva again but by this point I was becoming a leader and mentor in my own right. The reasons for kicking me out were unjust and unwarranted but as usual that school system was failing me just as it had/has so many others. She fought for me and while she didn’t win the fight she won the battle. This was not the first time she defended me and wouldn’t be the last. The stories are all laughable now but, at the time, were very trying. She was justice and peace all rolled into one. They do not always coexist. With her they did! She was truly an amazing woman in every sense of the word.
I flew in to see her right before she died. I missed her by, maybe, 15 minutes. I might’ve been the last person she saw if Hertz didn’t screw up my rental car, which wasted 20 mins of my time. Oh the bragging rights I coulda had but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s probably for the best as her condition had deteriorated so much that I should probably always remember her as I knew her and not as the frail person she had become. She died around her family, peacefully, which is, ultimately, the way it should be. Which is the way she wanted it. With her family singing to her as her soul left this world.
I always made her laugh. Often times not even intentionally. Her existence made me recognize my existence, my purpose and my talents. She came from a chassidic dynasty which was very different than the family I was raised in. All that never mattered. She was all about the person, the soul, in each and every one of the people that walked through her home. In her home I was introduced to music I would never otherwise hear. In her home I was introduced to her extended family I may never have known. Uncles, Aunts, Brothers, Sisters, kids – now all grown up, and believe me, if you saw the contrast between me and them, you would never in a million years, believe we could co-exist, and yet, I can call them family – because of her. I can also assure you when they all met me at a young age they would never forget me – and somehow I feel Mrs. L. knew that’s what would happen. It’s about the soul, what’s inside that mattered. Not the clothes. Not the language. Not the culture. Not the customs. Not the meaningless external things that have divided humanity, and the Jewish people, since the beginning of time but rather one flame coming together with another to create a bigger, brighter, more powerful flame. The union of Jewish souls, dancing together and singing together.
I always came to visit when I was in Baltimore and she always laughed and we always talked about the past, present and future and there was always still more for me to learn. I thought I’d have her brain to pick for years to come and I could ponder her insights as adult life was going full throttle. I was robbed of that wisdom and, I can even say, I’m a bit pissed at G-d for doing that to me. Mrs. L. would have wanted me to figure things out on my own and, as usual, I don’t agree and I think the good Lord could of handled this a bit differently. At the same time I’m thankful the Lord orchestrated it such that I played a role in her life most of mine.
I am proud to have known her and learned from her, and even more proud to call her a mother to me. I often think about her and what her perspective might be in any given instance in life. The time I had with her, the knowledge I received from her, the light that shined from her, the laughter that emanated from her and the belief she had in me I will share with others. While I will likely continue to let her down I also know that she would never see it that way but rather the mistakes I make are simply lessons to learn from and to keep growing and looking forward. When I was little she saw something unique and something special in me. It took many years before I would be able to see it in myself. This time she was right!
This is just some footage of her being interviewed for an upcoming documentary on my life. This was shot 2-3 years before she passed away. I wrote this blog shortly after she died and only got to see this footage, for the first time, after months after that. I was amazed at how easily these clips just fit right into this blog – what she is saying was right alongside what i wrote – or vice versa – either way its very cool!