This Sunday, the lights of Chanukah were dimmed for my family. For all of us, now this season of lights is dimmer. Psalm 34 says, “God is close to the brokenhearted and helps those crushed in spirit.” Like the rest of you, my heart is broken with Jennifer’s unexpected and untimely death.
When I received my father’s message and heard his trembling voice—I knew something was wrong but I had to replay the message to make sure I heard him correctly that Jennifer had died. The loss of such a beautiful and lively person is beyond comprehension.
I have known Jennifer for at least 21 years and I always considered her a member of my family. It is hard to explain our family’s close relationship with the Kempers—indeed before I flew down here my 6 ½ year old son Zev reminded me that Lillian is my third grandmother. I have always considered Andrea a sister. You are our family and we are walking around in the dimmer world with you this week.
Having not lived in Wilmington for over ten years, most of my recollections of Jennifer are of when she was younger. These memories revolve around special occasions—the kinds of times that are recorded in numerous pictures. Jennifer always was photogenic and whether it is a little girl with pony-tails or the more recent pictures of a beautiful grown woman, one sees the same smile and twinkling eyes.
My first memory of Jennifer is from the Labor Day weekend I spent staying with you at Cavalier apartments. Although I was sick, I remember enjoying watching a toddler Jennifer play. The next memory is our Rehobeth vacation. Jennifer was now five years old and I baby-sat her on the boardwalk one night while the adults went to a seafood dinner. At the office yesterday, I saw a picture of Jennifer and my father on the beach from that vacation.
Once when I was home from college, I stayed with you and brought a book of Jewish stories that I was reading. Jennifer asked me if it contained the story of “Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego.” After finding the book in the index, we sat down to read the story. I don’t know what appealed to Jennifer about the story of Jewish leaders surviving the burning furnace. Ever since then, I think of Jennifer and her connection to this story.
In this story, the furnace’s flames did not harm the king’s ministers who refuse to bow to the king. They stay true to their beliefs and are rewarded for their actions by being freed. In the end, Jennifer lived her life in the same way. Jennifer was full of warmth and friendship. The needs of others were always important to her. When she saw us, her face would light up and she would give you a hug. Indeed, in her last words, Jennifer saved Angelo’s life by telling him to get them out of the car. The version of the story “Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego” in my book finishes with the words, “their names became known throughout the land.” , Jennifer’s all too brief life ended the way she lived it. Judging by the family and friends who have gathered from across the US and Greece, her name will always be known wherever those who knew and loved her live.
Even as a rabbi, it is hard to make sense of this tragedy. To help me, I draw the following from the Wisdom of Solomon:
A good person,
Though taken from us too soon,
Will rest in peace,
For honor does not come from length of life
Perfection in limited years
Is like living for many years.
So, Jennifer, a good person,
Though taken from us too soon
Your good soul will rest in peace.
May all of those who loved Jennifer be comforted in the life she lived and the hearts she touched. Tehi zichra brucha. May her memory be a blessing.