Learning and Growing From a Life Fully Lived

challah roll

I will never forget the text that I received on January 12th, 2014: “I know that you can’t get texts while you’re away but I don’t know if you heard that Daniella passed away.” I had to read the message a few times in order to comprehend that Daniella, my friend and former roommate, a 24-year-old wife and new mom, was now gone.

Daniella was experiencing one of the most joyous times in her life, having given birth to a baby boy only five and a half months earlier. It had been a time that was filled with hope and tremendous potential for the future, a challenge which she so beautifully and lovingly rose up to. With her passing, there was a dichotomy of emotions– of hope and of sadness. Yes, that beautiful potential still existed with her son but there was intense grief knowing that we would never speak to or see Daniella again.

Daniella epitomized what it means to be a committed Jewish woman and we, her friends, knew that we had to carry on her legacy. She took pride in everything that she did and did it all with a full heart. She was dedicated to her family, her friends, her job as an accountant, Judaism, and all Jewish people. In her community in L.A., she became known for hosting Seuda Shlishit for women and creating a warm, friendly atmosphere. She didn’t simply host in her home, she always made sure to have at least one new face, someone new to the community so that they would have the opportunity to meet other women and feel welcome.

The typical “Daniella style” was a friendly face encouraging everyone to get to know each other in a meaningful way, along with words of Torah and singing to connect everyone on a deeper spiritual level.

Daniella was one of those people who was described the same way when she passed away as when she was alive. She lived her life fully with so much meaning and never kept it only for herself, but spread it and inspired others. It was not unusual to receive a text or email from Daniella sharing something that she heard or read which she found inspiring, or sending a link for clothing that was Tzanua, or just sending pictures of a recent family gathering– something for which she lived.  

Following the initial shock and grief after her passing, we started to find practical ways in which we could honor Daniella’s memory. When we looked at who Daniella was, we realized that there were so many easy actions that we could take from her life and implement into our own to grow from who she was. We were very committed to growing and improving our lives as a way to carry on her legacy.

We were all very motivated to take upon ourselves parts of Daniella. Collectively, as a group, we committed to making sure to partake in Seuda Shlishit, something that is not often done by women. As individuals, we each chose something that was a part of her that we could implement into our lives– whether it was making more of an effort to keep in touch with a friend, introduce ourselves to somebody who was new in the community, or simply working on strengthening existing relationships with friends and family.

The beauty of inspiration is that it is the impetus for change or growth. It gets us to look at our lives and see where we can improve. However, inspiration can be short-lived.  When it is not as bright, the true test of growth comes in and the work starts, where we have to take our motivation and turn it into dedication.

As time went on and we continued to incorporate pieces of Daniella into our lives, it became apparent that it would not be a simple task to continue that growth. Seeing how much hard work it would take on a daily basis gave us a whole new appreciation for who she was. Everything that she did was done in such a beautiful and seemingly effortless way; however, we now saw how much work and dedication she put into her life as we tried to duplicate her actions.  

It was going to take work to emulate who Daniella was, but the harder the task and the more effort invested, the more beautiful the result.

Inspiration and growth are two pieces of the puzzle called life. Often times, we have these moments of clarity, an “aha moment” where we feel motivated to make changes. There are two paths which we can take: We can take the straight path and let life continue as it did, or we can choose the uphill path, the harder path, and learn that we end up stronger and so much higher up than where we started– and with a greater perspective on life.

A rabbi of mine, Rabbi Noam Fix, once quoted a Chazal on Kabbalat HaTorah which states that when B’nei Yisrael were given the Torah, they were told that this was where they needed to accept the Torah upon themselves. It needed to be done in that place and at the moment where there was this amazing spiritual high. Without that acceptance, when the inspiration of that moment wore off it would be so much harder, if not impossible, to accept upon them both the laws and the beauty of the Torah.

This mirrors life, as we often need inspiration to motivate ourselves to accept change and only then can we start the work of growth in life. But it’s not just inspiration that we need; we need dedication to keep up our efforts. I’ve learned this lesson in such a profound way in my continued quest to carry on Daniella’s legacy in my everyday, ordinary moments.   

So, for ourselves, for those that we honor, and for the world, let’s take the moments of inspiration and really allow them to change us.

                      L’Zecher Nishmat Daniella Shaina bat Yehoshua Falik a’h

 

Esther Snyder lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is originally from Cedarhurst, NY. She works as a registered nurse in an ambulatory surgery center in Queens.  Esther graduated from Hunter College, where she did research in women’s health– a field which she hopes to continue pursuing.