Ellen was on her way to meet a new client and somehow she wound up in this strange, unfamiliar place. I once drove through there some years ago and I remember this looks like my old home in Africa and thinking: “are they kidding, who could imagine a major railroad runs though it?” How primitive.
Later that night when I came back from a meeting in the city and realized that we hadn’t heard from Ellen I went out to look for her. I had no idea what had happened to her. Her new business we had been developing together was taking off and she was on her way to make it grow. The last time I spoke to her, her heart was full of optimism and she spoke with her usual exhuberence.
That was exactly the same spirit of the girl I met back in 1989 at a friend’s reunion when she somehow stood out of the crowd with her youthful enthusiasm. Her enthusiasm never lagged and never got old. That was her gift – it was her signature presence and it opened doors for us everywhere.
Ellen could light up any room and she made friends with everyone. She was the ultimate networker but most importantly, she was willing to listen to everyone and always offer help. When we threw our first party together she made sure her college friends came and met the right guys and one even got married because of it. Our love was so powerful and so infectious, she wanted everyone to have that. She never tired of playing matchmaker and when the Bachelor appeared on TV she watched it as religiously others watch the Superbowl.
I always called her El – which in the Jewish world suggests something divine. And in many ways she was. She never tired of hearing peoples’ problems. She had the heart of a Social Worker and always tried to find a solution for people – even if they didn’t necessarily want one. You couldn’t just cry on her shoulder, she had to make it right. I think that’s why she never became an actual social worker – she was too much of a closer and maybe even too upbeat.
No guest was unwelcome in our happy household and she entertained them with her stories and hospitality. She was forever funny, upbeat and never short on detail. And our family was always there to revel in her sunshine. I never realized just how much until one day the children of some old friends visited us. Their parents had since divorced and we talked about the old times when they were together. Ellen told them how much fun and entertaining their parents were. The children were stunned to hear this and said their home was not like that at all. That’s when we realized, Ellen brought the party with us and gave life and spirit to any get together.
El lived life to the full and loved every minute of it. She cherished things like live comedy, dancing, watching the girls games at school and anything to do with helping the community when called upon. When she first met Rabbi Benji and Hinda at the beginning of the Chabad in Dobbs Ferry, she brought in all her friends and told everyone else what a wonderful place it was for kids. Our girls grew up there and 2 were Bat Mitzvah’ed here.
El loved traveling with the kids. Our trips were always an adventure and she was game for every challenge. She also supported my ventures both the solid, businesslike ones and the other, crazier ones. She was there, running the digital Entrepreneur events in NY and she is known to thousands who have come over the years. She also supported our fabulous but incredibly strenuous annual South African BBQs that, for 17 years, brought hundreds to our backyard and then hundreds more to parks in Westchester. She never expected this back when we got married, but she never complained. She even supported me when I felt compelled to put on South African rock concerts, comedy shows, a South African musical and even when I discovered a genuine white Zulu singer who wound up living our home for a month. What other wife would do that? She also helped raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund, and for orphans in Africa.
Most of all, Ellen helped her children grow into the loving, centered people they are today. No effort was too much for her and no detail of their lives too small to escape her attention. She was the ultimate mother and it was her proudest achievement. She made our kids great and they loved her with all their hearts. Over all those years I never stopped marveling at her ability and her passion to nurture them and everyone else who came by.
El helped me too – not just as my wife or in my business. She helped me as a person. You could say she civilized me in this world. She made me an American. She also loved my late mother, who loved Ellen so much that she began treating me like the in-law.
Ellen also stood up for me. Once, when a relative’s boyfriend got into a heated argument with me that threatened to get out of hand, she grabbed a glass of water and poured it over his head. I was astounded. She had become my superhero.
I always tried to do the same for her. Whether it was advising, championing, fixing, carrying stuff or driving her around – or just making her coffee every morning, I always tried to be there for her. I generally succeeded but on that night I wasn’t able to. I wanted to be her superhero. Only God knows why I couldn’t be there to save her. All I can do now is ask that we remember her for the joy and love she gave us. It will never leave our family and our friends..
At our wedding, we played the song, “A Ribbon in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder. It symbolized our rainbow of joy – a special bond that held us together at the highest level of aspiration because we were as much friends and companions as we were in love. We knew each other’s thoughts and we finished each other’s sentences. If it came on the radio while I was driving, I would call her up and let it play on the speakerphone. When we heard it together in the house, we danced. She would stand on my feet and we would enjoy the togetherness of our love. It was our special bond. Our ritual.
On the way out, when we leave today, we will play that song and I want you to remember her by it. Her spirit in the sky, a symbol of the love that we had together along with the love and affection she had for all of you.
My beloved father David passed away 24 years ago of cancer. He was only 60 years old.
His struggle with cancer and untimely death brought my sister and I even closer as we moved through our twenties and thirties and started our own families.
And now Ellen – our beautiful Ellen – her life has been cut short even more – she wasn’t even fifty.
Words can’t do justice to what my sister has meant to me, to our family and friends and her loss is indescribable.
Ellen was my big sister. Three years older, she looked after me when I was really young but we were grew up as close friends in the family and that’s how we got through our childhood together.
As co-conspirators she once dared me to dive over the hedges outside our house in Queens, when I was about 10. When I did that and broke my arm, we told our parents that I had tripped over the cat so she wouldn’t get punished because she was supposed to be looking after me. I think we only revealed the truth way after I had my cast removed.
Our relationship strengthened even more when we were in our twenties – forging our young new lives. She was always there for me, my wife Vivienne and eventually my son Dash even though we have been living abroad for more than ten years.
She twice flew into Paris to help us when I was recuperating from an accident. Gifts would regularly arrive for Dash and how often would she ask why don’t you guys come back to NY and live here. We miss you.
And when we would come to New York on visits. She would always be at the airport to meet us with the family, with her dazzling smile and laugh, scooping my son Dash up in her arms.
Ellen took caring to a higher level. There was never anything pretentious or cynical about her.
She just wanted to be there for you, to be relied upon, to be engaged in your life, in your interests, in your world and involve you in hers. She didn’t judge you, she gave freely of her affection, her wisdom and her love for live was contagious. She was just an incredibly fun person to be around.
She told me just recently that as she approached her 50th birthday that she felt really good about her life and herself, she was in a really good place and she was incredibly proud of her daughters, her family and excited by her blossoming career.
Her happiness was so apparent – she would light up a room. Her personality was so effusive, her smile and happiness so genuine. She was just one of those special people you just wanted to be around.
I’m a journalist. I ask people lots of questions for a living. But I’m sure Ellen could learn more about anyone she met in a few minutes than I could in months of knowing someone.
She just had that special quality that people wanted to open up to her. I think it’s because people knew she was genuinely interested in them. She really cared.
The death of Ellen leaves a hole in my heart and in those around us. I will miss her laugh, her stories, her positive view on life. The way she spread happiness and cheer all around her with such ease.
I am shattered that Ellen is no longer in this world. Shattered for myself, my family,
Ellen’s daughters Alexa, Julia and Danielle and her husband Alan who need her the most. And for the community and all who loved her. We must remember her, talk about he, trade stories about her and not let Ellen’s spirit die. I know she would want it that way.
Recently we had been talking about throwing my mom a 50th birthday party …or maybe a vacation, or a brunch, or a potluck. My mom was charmingly indecisive because of her enthusiasm for life. But, as my dad said to me, he would give her everything she wanted.
Being with friends and family meant everything to mom. She was a charming, warm hostess and that feeling continues to radiate our house. I can only hope that my sisters and I can embody even just one ray of her sunshine.
She is one of the only people I knew who made friends every day. On line at Costco, at the bank, in the jewelry store – she even softened people on the phone. She loved sharing all of these stories with us and hearing ours.
Julia and I went on birthright – an organized trip to Israel – in December, then stayed with family when we were done with the trip. She was so elated that we were seeing relatives, even though they are on my dad’s side of the family, and going on an adventure together. She loved all our family and loved when her daughters came together.
I emailed her detailed accounts of our adventures every day, and I know she pored over every word. She loved to hear about everything in our lives. She was always so excited for AND about us. She was our biggest cheerleader and our support system.
I don’t want to talk about myself up here, but my mom would have told everyone this news: I got a full-time job as a reporter the Westchester County Business Journal. I started on Tuesday. When I told her I got the job, we were all home. She screamed louder than I did and we had a family group hug.
Many of you shared happy moments with us here at Chabad for our Bat-Mitzvahs, which she completely planned. She was amazing behind the scenes and dazzled when she was center-stage.
We wish you were all here to put her center stage for a happy occasion. We take some solace in the fact that many of you genuinely feel this great loss as well. We hope all of you keep her memory alive in your hearts.
Writing this may be the hardest thing I will ever write, but I will get through it. Just like I will get through your passing. How can I possibly say all the amazing things about my best friend in so little time? Mom, Mama, I don’t think you will eve know how much I appreciate you. Your love and support that you have provided me with in just 16 short years will last me a lifetime. I am so happy that we have grown so close in the past few years. Every time I had even the smallest thing on my mind I knew I could come talk to you and I knew you would sit and listen. I told you everything; things that kids are definitely supposed to keep from their parents, I shared. I will always, always remember our heart to hearts and every small thing you had to say. Your advice will stay with me forever.
You always made sure I was happy. If I was stressed or sad you would drop everything you were doing and fix it in anyway you could. It amazed me how much you tried and always succeeded to make me feel better. Staying up until 2 in the morning to find me an AP bio tutor, finishing my projects for me, or just doing the whole thing for me, you were there for me 100 percent. You raised me to be independent and strong. I hope to grow up to be just as beautiful and caring and outgoing as you are.
Your smile lights up the world and my life, and right now it’s so dark because the largest and most beautiful light went out. But it will shine again. I will miss our conversations on the pone about my day. I will miss immediately telling you my test grade and a reply saying “you smarty pants” and you just being so proud of me. I am still going to talk to you every night and have my heart to hearts with you, but I will miss your hugs and your hundreds of kisses, your smile and your consistent love.
I know you will always be watching me, you will be there when I go to prom, graduate, go to college. You will be there and I will always know that. Always. You will be missed, and I will always think of you when people complement my smile because it’s yours.
We are all so lucky to have been touched by you. You will never be forgotten. I still can’t believe you’re gone. I love you with all my heart mommy.