When I was in college, I traveled to Israel with the AVI CHAI Fellowship, which brought together Jewish college students in the Washington, DC area for weekly sessions of Jewish learning.
Before we departed for Israel, we were each handed a copy of a book called Alex: Building a Life. The book tells the story of Alex Singer, an American immigrant to Israel who volunteered to serve in the IDF and was killed in action in Lebanon in 1987, through his journal entries, letters home, and drawings. It was published by his parents, Max and Suzanne, nine years after his death.
I was captivated. Alex was a gifted writer and artist and he used his remarkable talents to express his convictions, his doubts, and his innermost thoughts in strikingly beautiful ways. He lived an extraordinary life and those of us who did not have the privilege of meeting him nonetheless got to know him thanks to his parents’ efforts to keep his memory alive. I also noticed certain parallels between his life and my own, as well as between his internal deliberations as a college student torn between his love of America and Israel and my own thought processes at the time. I devoured the book within a couple of days and started recommending it to anyone who would listen.
Two years later, I was a recent graduate working at Hillel International as a special assistant to then-president Wayne Firestone when I noticed a meeting on Wayne’s calendar with Suzanne Singer later that morning. I excitedly jumped up from my desk, ran into Wayne’s office, and announced that I would be joining that meeting, offering to accompany Suzanne up from the lobby.
What started as a conversation in a DC elevator developed into a lasting friendship. Suzanne and I started exchanging ideas about how to share Alex’s story with young people. Several months after our first meeting, inspired in part by Alex’s example, I returned to Israel and started the process of joining the IDF. I joined Suzanne and Max for dinner at their beautiful Jerusalem home on numerous occasions and participated in the annual hikes their family organized in Alex’s memory. Several times they invited me to share how Alex’s story had impacted my life with various audiences. On Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, I would find my way to Alex’s gravesite on Mount Herzl and join Suzanne, Max, and their families in paying tribute to him.
In recent years, as Max and Suzanne’s health faltered and it became more difficult to meet, our interactions grew more infrequent. We last saw one another over Shabbat dinner, followed by what Suzanne termed a “tachlis” (brass tacks) meeting a few days later at a Jerusalem cafe near our homes, where we discussed how else we might get Alex’s story out there.
Suzanne passed away on Sunday, two years after Max. I will remember her as a truly remarkable woman, at once iron-willed and kind, brilliant and warm. An accomplished editor and writer, she made it her life’s mission to keep Alex’s memory alive and it now falls to those of us who were touched by her determined efforts to carry the torch of remembrance in her stead.
May her soul, as well as those of Alex and Max, be bound in the bonds of everlasting life and may her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.