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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dear Aliza

Dear Aliza Mizrachi Keddem,

I suspect the first time you met me – was it 13 years ago? – you wondered what on earth qualified me, just a little girl to you, to be your “boss,” the Chairperson of the department at Marylhurst University in which you were teaching sociology as an adjunct instructor. So, that was the first of several things we had in common, as I wondered the same thing! I didn’t know at the time that you were more than twice my age--I only came to know that recently. But what I did soon discover upon meeting you was that you had already lived at least three or four lives. As someone said today, you lived the history most of us only read about.  Born in Israel in 1930, immigrating to the US in your youth, you’d been a Zionist (I heard someone today mutter that you’d even been a “gun-runner” on behalf of the effort to establish Israel's independence.); you’d been a fierce freedom-fighter, an activist, a sassy spiritual warrior; you’d been a mother and a wife, and then a single mother struggling to make ends meet; you’d been a leftist-feminist-sociologist; a mentor, a friend, a colleague, a  Safta (grandmother). You were opinionated, sometimes even dogmatic; you were principled, deeply moral, critical, lucid, argumentative, exacting, frugal and generous. Though we were world’s apart culturally and chronologically (but not, in actual fact, philosophically and politically), we turned out to be almost contemporaries in terms of when we did our graduate work, you in sociology, and I in gerontology (as I discovered today, I was at UO close to the same time you were, and we even took courses from some of the same sociologists!).  

Unlike many of the people who offered tributes to you today, I knew you only as a colleague and member of my faculty, as a treasured professor to our shared students, as an enthusiastic and committed educator. Now I wish I’d also known you as a friend.  I enjoyed the few times we went out to lunch together; I discovered today that going out to eat was one of your most favorite things ever (mine, too), and, as I experienced (and found terribly charming), no matter whom you invited out to eat you almost always picked up the entire bill and left a large tip.

I think I may have made a grave mistake, the kind of mistake one makes when one is overwhelmed with responsibilities (professional and personal) and isn’t thinking spaciously enough, because I think you extended the opportunity of friendship to me several times. I didn’t realize until today the gift you were offering me, and now it is too late to accept it. Had I accepted it, I may have learned much sooner how to mash-up in cool ways the categories of  "colleague," "student," "teacher," "friend," etc.  I might have learned much sooner how to be a gracious and generous host, opening up my home to others for conviviality and "theory talk," even when I was feeling under-resourced and stretched thin. I might have learned much sooner how to not feel ashamed when I speak my mind and expose the "elephant" in the room, I might have learned much sooner the power and beauty of living my convictions and beliefs no matter what.

Toward the end of your memorial service today, one of your friends, the wife of a graduate school comrade, spoke about the raspberry shoots you gave her years ago when you were preparing to move from Eugene to Portland.  She planted the shoots in her garden in Portland, where they grew “wildly crazy” and produced wonderful plentiful fruit. And then she dug them up and transported them to and transplanted them at their current home in Gig Harbor, Washington, where they evidently are doing even better than they (the raspberries) did when they lived first in Eugene and then in Portland. Continuing on the theme of raspberries, one of your daughters-in-law spoke about how you knew raspberries are her favorite fruit and harvested berries from your own Portland bushes in the heat of the noon-time summer sun in order to bring them to her for her pleasure. And then someone else said something that rang so true to me about how your legacy can be found in the noble life you’ve lead, the ideas you have taught and promoted, but also in the raspberries you have shared.

You will be missed, you will continue to be an inspiration, and we will continue to fight the good fight.

Love, and thank you,



Jillian Johnson said...

Jenny this is lovely. In many ways I am a more courageous and confident woman because of Aliza. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Catherine Al-Meten said...

Beautifully expressed and written. Jennifer Sasser you are a gift to all who know and work with you.

Jenny Sasser said...

Thank you to both of you, Jillian and Catherine!

Amber Shively said...

Jenny, I really enjoyed reading this and seeing you at the memorial service. My grandmother (Aliza Keddem) was the most loving and inspirational person I have ever met. It was wonderful to hear how many lives she had touched. There will never be anyone like her. Thank you for sharing.