My Aunt Essie, my mother’s sister, known outside the family as Estelle, has boosted my self-esteem ever since I was a little girl. Even though she lives 200 miles from me, she has gifted me with a special type of mentorship that only one’s personal cheerleader provides.
Voted most popular in high school, Essie has always had a way with people. She cares so much about what those around her have to say, listening with rapt attention whatever the topic. Lively and optimistic, Essie is a memorable presence, whether at a party or in a hospital waiting room. When I once complimented her love of listening, she replied, “I’d rather listen; I already know what I have to say!”
About a month ago, my aunt had a major stroke, which left her paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak intelligibly. It’s unclear how much she understands when people speak to her. At this juncture, the doctors cannot say whether she will regain her abilities to have a conversation or to walk.
As I struggle to adjust to this new reality, I am in awe of my luck in having visited her with my husband and two young granddaughters the evening before her stroke. The five of us enjoyed a take-out dinner from Legal Seafood, as we sat around her kitchen table, appreciating the warm interaction of three generations of family. Just as she always has with me, Essie took great interest in whatever my six-year-old grandchildren had to say.
When the children left the table to play with some of my aunt’s knickknacks, she spoke with me about how, at age 95, she worried over being a burden to her children. I reassured Essie that no one saw her that way, that for many decades all of us in her orbit have been on the receiving end of her warmth and generosity of spirit and now we are happy to be there for her. I don’t know what the future has in store for my aunt, but I am glad that it’s my tradition to send her a card every Mother’s Day, reminding her that she is a second mom to me and how much I appreciate her.
When I think of the life mentors I’ve had, I realize that so many of them are Hadassah colleagues. I’ve been active in Hadassah for over 40 years, and many wonderful women have influenced which roads I have chosen. I wish I had told them all.
The late Esther Kesselman, from the Millburn-Short Hills Chapter of Hadassah, once said to me, “You will be national president of Hadassah someday. I’m sure of it.” I doubt she meant it literally, and I told her I didn’t have it in me. And it was true. But her staunch support did influence me to seek higher leadership positions in Hadassah. My life would have been different if I had not internalized Esther’s confidence in me. I wish I had told her.
The late Ellen Meth, another of my Hadassah personal cheerleaders and the mother of two sons, would tell me every so often that “if I had a daughter, I would want her to be just like you.” What an extraordinary compliment—especially coming from someone I admired so much! I wish I had not missed the chance to tell her that her awesome comment has fortified me for decades.
On the flip side, Hadassah colleagues have walked up to me at meetings to tell me that they wouldn’t be where they are in Hadassah if I had not recommended them for a leadership mission to Israel. Others have reminded me that they might not have taken on the presidency of their chapter or our region if I had not invited them to lunch and convinced them that their skills and talents would make them great presidents.
As time went by, these life snapshots faded from my memory. But it occurs to me now that they are snapshots worth preserving, both as pick-me-ups for when I’m feeling less productive and as reminders of who I want to be.
As I write this column, I am promising myself to tell more people when they do things, large and small, that enrich my world and sense of well-being. After all, not everyone is able to do cartwheels or jumping jacks, but we all can be cheerleaders in someone else’s life.
Lonye Debra Rasch is a member of Hadassah’s National Assembly.