Monday, April 12, 2010

Deborah Togut

I remember exactly where I was on August 20, 2000. I was at Temple B'Nai Israel in Rockville Maryland. My 48 year old cousin Sammy, born April 8, 1952, was getting married. I have never seen anyone happier than Sammy was that day. Except maybe for Deborah, his bride.

Deborah was not only a prize in terms of beauty, intelligence, and class, but she was also the beloved cantor at the synagogue. No wonder Sammy was beaming. He had hit the jackpot. And Deborah: She too was elated. I have never attended a wedding where there was such joy. Yesterday I heard someone describe Deborah as being radiant on that day. Anyone who was there knew that radiant was the word.

And there were plenty of Zarembas there that day. I have this great photo of my clan standing on the bema. About forty of us gathered for a family photo right in front of the ark. I'm not sure if we were supposed to group up there, but knowing my clan any prohibition was not really taken seriously. I remember my cousin Neil trying to round up the clan. Finally we were in place surrounding the delighted bride and groom. We were kibbitzing and kidding back and forth. "Hey" shouts a cousin standing next to my father. "I don't want to be near Meyer Zaremba". Instantaneously my dad quips, "I second that." We all laugh. What a simchah. We are beaming in the photo, noone radiating more than Deborah and Sam.

I find out yesterday that Deborah spoke 7 languages; graduated from high school and Hebrew College in the same year; studied in Japan, and at the Jewish Theological Seminary; and influenced the decisions of three other women who became cantors. Yesterday her brother told us that Deborah came from a long line of women who would not take no for an answer. Apparently, her grandmother approached a rabbi and asked to learn Hebrew. The rabbi responded with four words that spurred her descendents to become the incredible achievers they turned out to be.

"Goils we don't teach" said the rabbi. This rocketed three generations of women to breakdown barriers, become physicians, lawyers, and in Deborah's case a cantor in a field dominated historically by men.

Sammy and Deborah have two beautiful young sons imbued with the love of this couple that began their journey together on August 20, 2000.

Today, I keep staring at the photo of our clan surrounding Deborah and Sammy. Because yesterday on that same bema, in front of that same ark where the Zarembas kvelled, joked, and beamed, in front of at least four hundred congregants whose lives had been touched, I heard 7 eulogies for Cantor Deborah Togut who perished from brain cancer on Friday April 9th, 2010.

Deborah made an indelibly strong positive mark on our universe. I know readers are unlikely to know my cousin Sammy, but I'll ask you, nevertheless, to wish him and his two sons comfort during this difficult time.

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