BDE – Mara Kochba
I was devastated to learn a few days ago that Mara Kochba, a friend for decades, had passed away on Shabbos.
Mara was an activist’s activist. Professionally, she was a PR guru, a fund-raiser, an event planner. She only worked for organizations whose activities she could be enthusiastic about – which meant either social or political groups that would help the State of Israel or the status of Jews. She was a news junkie – but only insofar as events impacted on the Jewish community. She loved Jews who devoted themselves meaningfully to Jewish causes, and detested stupid ones who compromised the well-being of the community.
She was energetic and feisty and elegant. She never married, although she had been quite attractive. (She told me that this was not because of lack of interest or lack of opportunity. She suffered from medical issues that she felt were unfair to burden a husband with, so she never availed herself of the possibilities.) So she went through life with no children or immediate family. Instead, she became Doda Mara to nieces and nephews, which meant some by blood, and some by choice. The group, from what I learned yesterday, was larger than some of us realized. She would inquire after the well-being of the spouses and children of her friends by name when she called. And she called often, because after the collectives of Israel and the Jewish people, she lived for the friendship of people.
She also lived for Torah. For decades she organized the weekly parsha shiur I gave. When a change in job responsibilities made it impossible to continue, she did all the facilitating of the shiurim I gave in each Yom Tov season. She would dictate terms, of course, about what she wanted included. But it was never enough. She would insist on private time before Pesach and before Yom Kippur to receive some magisterial vort that she could keep in mind through the Yom Tov that encapsulated the essence of that day – as well as a few selections that she could share with others at mealtime.
We had many, many long conversations about hashkafic matters that troubled her. There were many occasions at which I had to try to get her to climb down some difficult theological tree. At times, I was lucky and there was a breakthrough. Yet, I never felt that I was teaching her anything new. Instead, she was struggling to remove issues and complaints in order to lift their lid from on top of a huge trove of emunah. She just wanted to hear what she already knew from the mouth of someone else. She would complain about the burdens Hashem had given her, but the complaints were all from the lips and outward. I kept telling her that she was a giant in emunah and bitachon.
Mara was brought to kevura in an unusual manner, reminiscent of the way she seemed to always pull off the impossible. It looked like it would be a quick and lonely affair. It was hard to find ten men willing to drive out to Sylmar when everyone was hunkering down in their shelters. Somehow, she was able to pull strings from the new abode of her neshama. Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob drove out, even though Mara was not technically part of his congregation. (She had loved his shiurim and guidance in recent years.) There were several moving hespedim, both in person and sent from afar. Most importantly, it was made available on Zoom, and a respectable crowd took part – and then stayed afterwards to trade reminiscences. I suspect that it was one of the larger such events during this difficult time.
The last years of her life were extremely difficult. As she got older, she found fewer clients. She had no savings, or at least nothing adequate. She had no immediate family to take care of her. She had a healthy self-pride and dignity, but was forced to live in a manner entirely inconsistent with her self-image. She became dependent on friends from whom she had to borrow from one to pay the other. She had to do this month after month. A small group of very devoted friends helped constantly, but there was no long-term relief for her that she could see. (I don’t know the identities of some of those friends, but the two I do know have to be mentioned for their devotion: Stanley Treitel of LA, and Rabbi Paul Glasser in NJ.) An incredible group of physicians made themselves available to her complex and interrelated medical issues. This proud woman who had devoted herself to the community for decades looked at herself reduced to penury, with nothing but uncertainty in the future. It is important to realize that there are many, many others out there who also enter their older years without a safety net, and without a communal response to their problem. Some of them, like Mara, devoted their lives to the community, and are shocked to find out that the devotion is not reciprocated.
Less prone than most to claiming to understand Hashem’s mind, I will nonetheless speculate that the timing of Mara’s petirah was a chesed elyon. Just a few more days, and she would have seen Israel brought to its knees, in complete lock-down. It would not have mattered that it wasn’t Iranians or Palestinians that accomplished this. It would not have mattered that the rest of the world was in the same position. The sight of his happening to her beloved Israel, with all its shuls shuttered, would have been overwhelming, even though she was used to discomfort. She would have taken the pain of Israel’s nine million citizens upon her, and it would have broken her. In the end, she prevailed by exiting with dignity. Undoubtedly, she is at work giving a hard time to angel she sees as slow-moving.
She will be sorely missed by many people. תנצבצ”ה
After viewing comments sent to me, including those who attended the shiurim that Mara organized, it occurred to me that some might appreciate listening – especially since it is more than likely that you will hear her speaking up. I’m providing links (which I have not tested) to some of the shiurim on the Hagaddah