Delivered by Rabbi Ben Weiner, October 29 2018
We are here to honor and to lay to rest Jane Trigere, Hannah bat Shlomo. We are here also to hold her mourners in our embrace in the midst of their deep sorrow. We reach out to console her beloved husband, Ken. We share our condolences with her children and stepchildren, Shatay and her husband Matt, Rachel Cassia, Seth, and Becca and her husband Matt. We offer our sympathies to her grandchildren: Emmet, Shunie, Skaya, and Leah, and also to her brother, Ed, and her sister, Lainie.
There will be a number of chances to remember Jane as we move together through this period of mourning, from the gatherings of shiva to the memorial that will be held in a month to mark her shloshim. My goal today is not so much to tell her full life story in detail, as to give us some image of her to recognize and hold on to, as we undertake this sad task of laying her body to rest in holy ground.
I’m also mindful of the fact that Jane shared with me, a few times, her vision for all of this. She stressed in particular that she didn’t want anybody to be bored. You can picture her saying that–can’t you?–through her glowing smile that intermingled delight and a little mischief, and in a voice that had music like a song of laughter. There is a certain crackle of attentiveness and enthusiasm that she cherished, which came out in her aesthetic sense, and in her feel for language–as if words and phrases were objects with color and texture to be carefully considered–and I think she would be upset if people didn’t experience something like that today, and came away with the impression that her funeral was not up to her standards.
This is a tall order for me, as her rabbi and her friend, and so I thought I would let her speak for herself a little bit. Maybe you’ve already had a chance to read her obituary, whether in the paper or on her website, some of which smacks clearly of self-assessment.
“Jane Trigere has been many things,” she wrote, “a costume and set designer, almost an architect, an art bookbinder, a calligrapher, a cobbler, an eyeglass frame designer, a reporter and editor, a museum director, a teacher, an embroiderer, a painter, a gallerista, and most recently a published author, but always — an artist.
“Jane believed that every object and every activity was an opportunity to express aesthetic delight. Nothing we wear, build, or live with need be any less than an expression of our personal sensibilities and vision. Many have said that her home is a work of art that transports guests into another world.”
The whole website itself is a testament to these things that she named about herself, and then some. You can find images of her multi-faceted artistic achievements: the women of the balcony, the intricate three-dimensional Sukkot collage that hung on the wall in the little room where she breathed her last, the midrashic wimpel, depicting the Binding of Isaac, that we studied at the JCA this past Shabbat as a commentary on the weekly Torah portion.
You can also review the extensive archive of interviews she conducted with other artists for public access television, or peruse the annals of the Deerfield Arts Bank, an enterprise which, though short-lived, brought real value to the regional artistic scene and provided Jane with a crucial outlet in the first years of her illness.
But there’s also a written word section, where you can study her musings and memories, divrei Torah and stories for children, or recollections of her father, Sioma, whose legacy it was so important to her to preserve. Then there’s a dropdown index titled “working in community” which reminds you of the energy she poured into the creation of the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts, the founding of the Lander-Grinspoon Academy, and the betterment of the town of Deerfield, which she came to call home, and where she was deeply loved and respected by her neighbors.
She was, indeed, as Ken called her, a “Jane of all trades,” gifted at so many different things. She could fix, draw, visualize anything, take care of whatever needed taking care of.
But even all of this information doesn’t entirely give us a sense of the depth of Jane’s artistry, and the nature of her greatest medium. Because she was also someone who struggled, and faced obstacles and challenges, from the tumult and upheaval of her early life, through the strains of her adulthood, to the days of her illness. Even though she only arrived in Israel as a grown-up, and even then only sojourned there for less than a decade, she was something of a Sabra, boisterous on the outside, even prickly to an extent that could sometimes take you aback if your weren’t braced for it, but so sweet on the inside, and so vulnerable. She didn’t have an easy life. But despite her adversity, she overcame. It was her inner strength, pushing through her wounds, filtering through her mind and her senses, that issued into the world as her boundless creativity, and her most profound creation of all was herself.
Certainly, she did not do this on her own. Jane was, in fact, half of one of the most remarkable partnerships I’ve ever encountered. She and Ken were married in a week when we read a haftarah from the 54th chapter of the prophet Isaiah, beginning: oniya sokhara lo nukhamah. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.” This was a fitting portent of the home they would create together, secured by the deep love and respect they shared, enlivened by an incredible mutuality of taste and intellect, and as beautiful and intricate as a museum. “We were a world unto ourselves,” Ken said. “We spent the whole day together, in the same building, [at our work.] We were pretty much together all the time. She stood by me, if I was feeling sad or upset. She always was a source of strength.” Jane spoke of herself as Ken’s GPS, and it would be important for her to hear us, today, affirm that we are here to support him in this time of excruciating grief, and going forward.
Jane also established foundation in her life through claiming, as a young adult, the Jewish patrimony that was denied her as a child. She came to Judaism with a passion. She lived as a very proud and conscious Jew, a fact reflected strikingly in her art and her writing. Her cherishing of our tradition also shone through in a devotion to the cultivation of Jewish memory and community, whether through the historical society and LGA, or her active participation in synagogue life, at Congregation B’nai Israel, and then at the JCA. She taught calligraphy in our community, displayed her art in our hallways, and even ended up for a time on the building and grounds committee. There were so many Shabbat mornings when I would look over to see that she and Ken had cornered some fresh face or new member at kiddish, and were subjecting them to an interrogation, drawing them away from the margins and into our hearts with that perfected blend of her bewitching extroversion and his gentle and attentive reserve. Ken credits her with the strengthening of his own Judaism–even with bringing him back into the fold.
But there’s another section, both to the obituary and the website, that speak to what was closest to Jane’s heart. In the summary of her life, we read: “The job and responsibility she always took most seriously was parenting. She was known as Ima, Ima-Jane, and Omi.” We find visual confirmation of this on-line, in the section called “family archive”, where, after the smattering of black-and-white photos of the old days, we discover a folder called “Present and Future”, devoted to pictures of her grandchildren. She loved her children, and only wanted the best for them, and she was very proud of all of her grandchildren and so happy when she was with them. One of her final acts was to complete a children’s book called “What is a Grandparent?” which reveled in the special tenderness of this relationship. She wanted so much to be here for her family, to be her for a longer time with her grandchildren, to do art with them, to teach them things, to talk about life. Our sorrow today is measured, in part, by the number of these years that should have been.
Jane displayed a great desire in her final months to complete things, and also some regret for the things she realized would go unfinished. Her message became: don’t put anything on the back burner–get things done. With her devoted assistant, Tyler, she worked on adding crucial elements to her website. She oversaw the redoing of the little firehouse kitchen, as if it were a final jewel in the crown of that functional building she had so lovingly remade in her own image. She tried to put her papers in order, as well as to organize the papers and artifacts of the illustrious Trigeres for donation to Brandeis University and other museums. She spoke of the importance of her friendships, and how much she had enjoyed mentoring and being available to people. She talked about her legacy, how she so wanted to be remembered for the things that mattered to her.
Jane was very courageous in dealing with her cancer, She would object to it being called a “battle”. She was not a warrior, she said, and saw no hope in going head to head with such a formidable opponent. So, instead, she called it a “negotiation.” With a music therapist at the hospital she composed her own setting for “asher yatsar”, a prayer for the well-being of the body, and she chanted it to bolster her courage. She and Ken would sing Adon Olam together, finding particular comfort in the sentiment of the final stanza, which we’ll hear at the close of this ceremony: And into God’s hand I commit my spirit, when I’m asleep and when I wake, and with my spirit also my body, the Lord is mine I will not fear.” She became close to those who treated her, and they loved her, just as anyone who came to know her couldn’t help but do. She accepted her plight with grace and fortitude, until the end, when the pain became too much and she was ready to go. She would want to thank her caretakers, the medical staff and the hospice people, her sister Lainie who arrived and turned into her incredible nurse, friends like Theresa and Richard who became constant and reassuring presences in the house.
She died in that beautiful little room, with a broad smile of peace and relief on her face. She left a note that she had composed some years earlier for the hevrei kadisha, thanking them for their care, and regretting that Ken would not be with them, though in the end his were the final hands that held her and placed her in the casket.
And now we have to do this sad thing, and I find that there are three particular passages of literature playing in my mind, that seem so appropriate to this moment and this remarkable woman. The first is from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music” and speaks to the sense of loss, and even outrage, that this must be the end of someone who brimmed with so much life:
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
The second is a from a wonderful, evocative, and mischievous little song from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play we might call in Hebrew oniya sokhara, after the verse from Isaiah, which invites us to be comforted by the playful fantasy that this too is another in the series of aesthetic self-transformations that were so characteristic of Jane’s life:
Of [her] bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were [her] eyes:
Nothing of [her] that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
And finally there is the one that would have been closest to Jane’s heart, from one of her favorite books, “The Little Prince”, the story of a child from a far-away world who yearns for home and connection, and who imparts to those around him the wisdom of his way of seeing. There’s a kind of test at the beginning of the story to gauge the extent to which adults have grown jaded and benighted by dour practicality, which Jane once administered, on the fly, to my six-year-old son, Efraim. I can still see the beaming smile that radiated from her face when he didn’t fall for the conventional top hat, but saw, right away, the elephant that had been swallowed by a snake.
This, for me, is the essence of Jane. This is what we yearn for, when we say in Hebrew yehei nishmata tsrura b’tsror hahayim–may her spirit remain bound up in the bonds of life. And this, too, is the burden of these final words of the Little Prince:
In one of those stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me.