Sam Woll had purple eyes and wild black curls. She was very beautiful.
She was the very definition of life. If you met her once, you remember.
Her laugh was a bit too loud always, and she wore her heart on her sleeve. It was a huge heart. Room enough in it for all the friends she collected in her travels, for all the injustices to be righted in the world.
Sam brought a powerful energy, an electricity, vitality to any space. She argued with everyone; she hugged everyone. She held her opinions strongly, articulated them, stood by them. She was an outspoken advocate for the Jewish people and their right to live in their indigenous homeland, while soliciting, deeply listening, and validating the experiences of others. She knew clearly who she was, and wanted to know who others were. It was a talent she had.
She wore brightly colored tie-dye t-shirts with the many causes she supported bannered across the front: flowers for battered women’s shelters, PRIDE shirts, friendship circles, danceathons, improving education in urban settings, for Israel, for Muslim-Jewish dialogue, for peace. She was an unwavering ally. She also wore suits at city hall and in her political advocacy. She wore dresses to the weddings of her friends, and to my wedding where we danced together until we glistened.
She composted. Oh that day that the worms escaped into her apartment and we hunted for them behind her rainbow ‘PACE,’ peace flag.
She prayed. Loudly and great fervently, over the Torah which she loved, or over interfaith gatherings, or sometimes when it was needed, privately with a friend, or alone in her own space.
She struggled. Like we all do. She was not fearless, but she seemed that way because she knew fear and acknowledged it and moved past it. She was courageous.
She connected. With her authenticity, her compassion, her vibrancy, and enthusiasm for life. Travelling across the world with a backpack, meeting people across continents and languages. Standing tall in her community welcoming all to engage, to come as they are, to work for a better tomorrow. She spoke the universal language of love. Love of life and of each other.
Maybe you have someone in your life who you haven’t spoken to for while, but know deep down that you could call any time of day for anything, and they would show up for you? She was that person. For many of us. Those people are unique; if you have one, treasure them.
Sam was the brightest star.
There are no lessons to be drawn from grief. Losing her drives home the sense for Jews everywhere that it does not matter how ardently you fight for social justice, for peace, that we are not safe: as I assume the message was intended.
But she would not approve of us accepting that. No, she would argue loudly that this was not the message she was to bring, not her legacy.
So I want to write to her and promise her: we will not drown in the seemingly impossible task of righting the many wrongs of this world. We will each take a little spark from your flame which burned so brightly and carry it in our breast, call on it anytime day or night when we feel it is all too overwhelming. We will speak our truths, fearlessly, as you did. We will advocate fiercely for our people, our countries, our friends, but we will never let that obscure our humanity or concern for others. That is what you would say.
We miss you already but will carry on with us your strong voice and passion for making this world better.
In memory of Samantha Woll, 1983 – 2023.