Sunday was the saddest day of my life. After a Herculean struggle with stomach cancer, my dear friend Rachel Abrams passed away early Friday morning. On Sunday, her family and a throng of friends said goodbye and shoveled dirt upon her plain pine casket, as is the Jewish tradition. I could not bring myself to write about her until now, perhaps because her passing had been unimaginable, even as we knew the end was near.
She was a brilliant editor, writer, painter, carver, potter, mask-maker, poet (hilariously so) and wit, but her unique, unmatched talent was in wrapping her family and friends in a blanket of warmth and fellowship. She inspired, defended, comforted, regaled, fed, encouraged and enchanted us all.
In the darkest hour of the shared grief of her family and friends, I am reminded that Rachel would often say that gratitude was the central precept of Judaism. Her belief was vindicated by her own life and passing. Her three children and their spouses — every child should have a mother or mother-in-law like theirs. How fortunate they are to have had a nurturing a parent so irrepressible, loving and devoted. “Tiger Mother” has taken on a different connotation these days, but she was the fierce tigress who would maul anyone who messed with her cubs. Her siblings were blessed with a big sister, protector and biggest fan.
Her husband — every man should have a wife as loyal, endlessly fascinating and inspiring as Rachel was to create a life of adventure and joy and to weave a web of loving friends.
And to those who had the incomparable joy of basking in her friendship, most will never have as fascinating, vibrant and loving a friend as she was. When I looked around the sanctuary I was struck by how many people knew one another because of her. If her parents Midge Decter and Norman Podhoretz and the late Irving Kristol were the intellectual leaders of neoconservatism (who passed the torch to so many who had come to mourn her passing), then Rachel was the heart and soul that bound so many together. Her home was a modern day-salon that filled and refilled with food, laughter, friends and family.
She loved dogs, the Food Network, Audrey Hepburn, movies (especially romantic comedies), the U.S. military, her country, folding laundry (one of the few things about which we disagreed), New York, Israel, Napa, the heat and humidity, dancing, rap and the blues, and the New York Yankees (whom in the last few years my Dodger household would root for in solidarity with her). Not even the ravages of cancer could blemish her physical beauty. Throughout more than three years of suffering she never showed an ounce of self-pity. She had a remarkable physical constitution like her mother, which we convinced ourselves would help her overcome any disease. And she could swear like no one I had ever met. She was a force of nature.
So she was right. Gratitude to God for having given us her, and her family and friends to each other, is the purest expression of our faith. In the love among those of us who adored her resides — still and always — Rachel. She left us far too soon, but she left us one another to bear her absence.