We met when my eldest son was just beginning to find his voice, and we spent hours sitting together on her living room floor helping him to learn that skill.
That is my overriding memory of Maureen Kendler because it embodied who she was: a teacher who not only had a unique and distinctive voice herself, but who empowered innumerable others to find their voices.
Whether she was being the “shtetl consultant” for the latest Chichester Festival Theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof, leading March of the Living groups in Poland, teaching her beloved LSJS Jewish literature class, or sharing her passion for 19th century Jewish cookbooks at Limmud, Maureen had a way of keeping Jewish memory alive and vibrant while at the same time empowering her students to make it their own.
I recall working with her on her JDOV Talk, “52%: At the Crossroads.” She knew with great clarity that she wanted to give voice to some difficult truths about women and Orthodoxy. She did so with her signature style and BBC radio voice: thoughtful, classy, never strident or pious, yet powerful, deeply authentic, and challenging. That was Maureen – a voice that could hold you close and challenge you simultaneously.
Perhaps that is what made her such an extraordinary friend, teacher, parent, daughter, sister and wife. She could hold you so safe and secure. And because of that safety, she could push you to discover your own voice.
Maureen once told me that of all her BBC broadcasts, the show on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah was her favourite. I will therefore remember with a “cold and broken Hallelujah” Maureen’s extraordinary voice, which empowered so many and was cut off far too soon. May it forever continue to resonate through all of us who learned from her and loved her.
- Shoshana Boyd Gelfand is Director of JHub