Goodbye, dear Jackie... Thank you for sharing the journey <3
My beautiful friend Jackie Margolis Bitensky left this world yesterday. I carry with me some vital life lessons that we shared.
For nearly a year now, I have been walking around with two joints in my bag and waiting for someone to smoke them with me. Actually, that’s only partially true. Yes, I do have the joints in my bag, but mostly I’ve been waiting for one particular person to smoke with me: my friend Jackie. She said she had gotten so much pot through her medical marijuana permit that she said she didn’t need these. In fact, that was also only partially true. She didn’t smoke any of it because she wasn’t that interested anymore. That in itself should have been a worrying sign about her condition. “You want some?” she asked me, knowing that, unlike her I had never smoked in my life. I excitedly took them and put them in my bag.
I’ve been carrying these around for a year since her cancer diagnosis, waiting for the old Jackie – the fun-loving, love-life, try-anything, social butterfly, get-out-there-and-live – to introduce me to the experience bring me to new adventures. I wanted to have one more big laugh with her, one more experiment, one more try at something I had never done. I was waiting. For Jackie to get better, just enough for us to have one more great time together.
Yesterday, Jackie died. And I feel like I didn’t just lose that last chance to smoke together. I lost a piece of myself, too.
Jackie and I meet in 1994 in Jerusalem, shortly after we had both moved to Israel. We lived around the corner from each other in the Greek colony, right by the Ramban synagogue, walking distance from Emek Refaim, way before these areas become hipster hotspots. Back then, the only café around was Caffit; Pizza Sababa had recently opened up; and Ramban was mostly octogenarians without a celebrity rabbi. We had a small community of Anglo immigrants with young babies – Jackie (and Tzvika), Aviva and David Janus, and Mona and Ygal Berdugo. A while later Nechama and Matti Munk moved in, as did Hedy and Jeffrey Rashba, and Eve and David Liebowitz moved in to the ground floor of our building. That was pretty much it for a few years. A small group of young, Anglo religious families building our lives in Israel. We all had challenges, many of us had no other family around, and this was the whole support group we had. This was way before social media let you call on a FB group for answers, before cellphones allowed you to easily call people around the world, way before Whatsapp and digital cameras and Waze made people feel a little less alone and a little less lost. These relationships were more than just shul-buddies. They were a lifeline.
Jackie and I came from very different worlds, but ended up sharing our journey for a while. She came from a non-observant but very proudly Jewish family. She came to Israel after college seeking religion and spirituality, and decided to become Orthodox. She got married, covered her hair, brought four beautiful children into the world, and dedicated her life to her love of Judaism and Israel. She was extremely spiritual and loving.
Although at a certain point she realized that there were parts of her “old” self that she had left behind and which she missed.
For me, I came from an Orthodox background, and I never had the party-girl experience she had in college – no sororities, none of the partying, none of that. When Jackie and I first met, we were both in the same space of dedicating ourselves to building a nice Jewish, religious family, but we came to it from opposite directions.
At a certain point, while she was questioning some of her choices, so was I, but from a different place. She was longing for something she once had – the free-spirited, energetic, self-driven, passionate, sensual self. And I was longing for something that I never had, which was pretty much the same thing. We were both searching for who we were before Orthodoxy told us what we, as women, were supposed to be.
Years after we both left the German Colony, we reconnected around the similarities of our journeys. I think we were part of a generation of women who kind of came to the same conclusions at the same – that we were sort of tired of the way we were socialized. The way we were educated into thinking that to be a good woman, especially a good religious woman, we had to give up something of ourselves. Something about the joy, the passion, the desire.
Jackie and I talked a ton about this. About desire. About listening to our inner selves. About allowing. About feeling. About giving ourselves permission to dance and to laugh and to take chances and to travel and to experience and to get out of our comfort zones. I loved that about her so much.
She taught me so much about this at a crucial juncture in my life, which was also a pretty big juncture in her own. The allowing. The giving ourselves permission to let go and fly.
She opened doors for me and helped me craft the language that I needed to understand my own experiences and desires. I am so deeply grateful for that, for the friendship, for the love, for the joy.
Over the past year, Jackie and I had many conversations about life and meaning and connection. Her prognosis was not very good from the outset, but she was hoping that the treatments might have given her a bit more time. We talked a lot about the things she wanted to do before she left this world. One of the first things I did was give her a notebook. She laughed. “My author friend,” is how she would introduce me. Of course I gave her a task of writing. I suggested she use it to leave behind some of what she wanted her children to have. She used it, but in not exactly in that way. She used it in her own Jackie way, not in the Elana way….
She told me that what she actually wanted was to hear from her friends. She wanted to know what she meant to them, how they would remember her. She wanted to cherish those connections, to mark her indelible impact through friendships. I sent her an article about Shatzi Weisberger, the death and dying guru who died this year. Shatzi Weisberger promoted the idea of dying well by celebrating life. Instead of waiting for the funeral to say nice things about a person, she believed in doing the funeral during one’s lifetime. I have been a believer in that for many years. I make it a practice of telling the people I love what they mean to me, and of using every opportunity to bless one another and spread the love. I also try very hard to leave crumbs of myself in this world – essays, messages, videos, books…. To live as if I may actually die tomorrow. And sometimes I tell my kids that what i want for my birthday is a funeral — which naturally freaks them out. What I mean is that I would like birthdays to be times to celebrate people’s lives, in a way that is usually reserved for funerals, unfortunately. We should be doing that during the living years.
Jackie loved the article. This attitude resonated with her as well. She was a no-holds-barred kind of person. She laughed with abandon, told people how she felt, took chances, traveled, danced, loved, and lived fully. She was straight, honest, and direct. I loved that…. When we talked about celebrating her life during the living years, she was excited! She said that’s exactly how she felt. I said we should make her a celebrate-life party like Shatzi Weisberger suggested. She loved the idea. She said maybe around Purim time. She very much wanted to see her next birthday, in July. So we made a plan….
In the meantime, though, she asked me if I would do her a favor and ask people to send her messages about what she means to them. I opened up a Gmail account and spread the word in our “Team Jackie” whatsapp support group that we were going to make Jackie a scrapbook of photos, stories, and memories of Jackie.
People started sending in stuff. Beautiful stuff. Stories from childhood through college through Aliyah and parenthood and Jerusalem life.
And something really interesting happened. Many of the stories started to sound the same. There was a distinct recurring theme, which was this: Jackie brought people so much joy. She laughed a lot. She loved people as they are. She accepted everyone. She walked into a room and reminded people to have fun. Over 100 people in her support group were testament to the way she simply loved people and loved living. She smiled and laughed her way through life.
But we never did make that party. God had other plans. It is crushing to me that I wasn’t able to fulfil that promise. I hope she forgives me.
I do think, though, that party or not, she got what she wanted. Which is, over the past 2-3 months, she received dozens of messages from people around the world from different parts of her life who shared with her that they loved her. They she made an impact on them. That she brought them love and joy. That is what she really wanted.
I understand that. She wanted to know that she mattered. She did matter. So much.
Her impact was very clear. She brought love and joy into the world. Into every room she entered. And she died knowing that.
Over the past year, as Jackie shared regular updates about the cancer treatments, she ended every update with the same line:
💚Don’t forget to do something nice for yourself today!
I’m going to do that, and remember Jackie, and think about all the fun times we had together over the years. And maybe even try some new things, like that stuff I have in my bag, and think of her….
Jackie, my beautiful friend, thanks for the friendship, and for sharing the journey. It’s been an honor, and I love you! See you in the next life
💚 💚 💚 💚 💚 💚 💚 💚 💚 💚
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