Dr. Sandra Shimoff a"h
I don't usually put up memorial posts for people who have died. When a
famous or infamous person dies, there are usually enough bloggers out
there who can put the person's life into perspective far better than I
can. However, not everyone that passes away is famous or infamous -- and
sometimes the person who dies is someone who was an important influence
on my life. Until now, the only time I composed such a memorial post
was for my first-grade rebbe, Rabbi Nachman Mandel when he passed away
in 2008. Unfortunately, the time has now come for another such post.
Last month, Dr. Sandra Shimoff of Baltimore passed away at the age of
68. Dr. Shimoff was an instructor in the Judaic Studies department at
UMBC, where she worked alongside her husband, Dr. Eliot Shimoff, who was
a professor of psychology. She earned a Ph.D in aggadic literature. She
taught herself both Greek and Coptic in order to better understand
historical texts in their original languages. Her work was published
in scholarly journals in her field. She completed learning Shas (the
Babylonian Talmud) three times over* -- a feat that many men do not
accomplish even once in their lives.
But I don't want to talk about her intellect or her academic
She was born in New York in the 1940s to non-observant parents. In
fact, having known her parents, I can say that they were certainly
not neutral about Orthodoxy -- on the contrary, their biases leaned
against it. Nonetheless, at the age of twelve, she decided to embark on a
journey to Orthodoxy on her own. Her parents reluctantly gave permission
for her to attend a yeshiva high school, provided she arrange for the
transportation on her own. She acquired her own sets of dishes, pots,
pans and cutlery in order to be able to keep kosher in a non-kosher
home. I don't know for a fact, but I would imagine, that Shabbos (and
certainly Pesach) were sources of tension in the home as she stuck to
her religious beliefs. She went on to a Jewish college and ended up
as an observant woman running an Orthodox home raising four children
in the Orthodox tradition. They raised a family with a love of Torah,
Yiddishkeit and Eretz Yisroel (so much so that one of her sons made
aliyah with his family).
But I don't really want to discuss her incredible life journey
either. Instead, I'd like to (perhaps selfishly) talk about how she
affected my life.
Twenty five years after Dr. Shimoff grew up in a non-observant home,
I was doing the same in Queens and later in New Jersey. As it turns out,
my parents and the Shimoffs happened to know each other fairly well. As
a result, my sister Skipper and I were often invited to spend time with
the Shimoffs and their family in Baltimore, usually over Pesach when we
got to join the family at the seder. In fact, my earliest memories of the
Pesach seder are of the sedarim in the Shimoff home. I still remember
those sedarim -- the songs they sung, the warm family atmosphere, the
foods and, of course, Dr. Eliot Shimoff searching for the afikomen **
(the highlight of the seder for any little kid).
Although I didn't know it at the time, the time that I spent in
the Shimoff home would mean far more to me than songs and matzah and
afikomen presents. The Shimoffs were the very first Orthodox family that
I knew. Aside from the Shimoffs, my parents generally didn't hang around
with many Orthodox Jews. While Rabbi Mandel (my first-grade Rebbe) was
perhaps the first Orthodox role model whom I got to know on a daily basis,
what I did not (and could not) learn from him was what Jewish family
life was all about. He could teach me about a Yom Tov, but he couldn't
show me firsthand how a Yom Tov is celebrated with family. That lesson
was provided by the Shimoffs. While teachers may have given me some of
the educational tools to learn Judaism as a child, the Shimoffs showed
me how to apply it to daily living. Of course, at the time, I was too
young to understand that -- but their example remained in my head as an
ideal for how to run a Jewish household when we later did become frum.
My parents separated when I was nine years old. About six months after
they separated, my mother decided to become observant. She called in
Skipper and I and asked us our opinion *** on the matter and whether or
not we wanted to become Orthodox. We both said yes, but, at least for me
(I can't speak for Skipper), one of the factors in the decision was the
fact that the Shimoffs showed me that being frum didn't just mean no
TV on Saturday or no more non-kosher food. The Shimoff kids never had
a problem (that I, as a ten year old knew of) with being restricted on
Shabbos. I never heard the Shimoff kids complain about missing out on
a McDonalds burger. In short, the Shimoffs showed me that you could be
religious AND be normal at the same time. They showed me (at the level
of a ten year old, of course) that you can be observant and not have
life seem boring or restricted.
As a teenager, I went to a very right-wing yeshiva ****. You know the
type -- where they put forth the message that going to college will ruin
you completely and that if you get a secular education than there's no
way that you can ever properly learn Torah. I always knew that their
approach was wrong. Perhaps because I started out not frum and because
the vast majority of my family was not frum, I was well aware that most
of what they espoused about the "outside world" was false, including
their beliefs about college and secular education. But perhaps the best
example I had, the one that I could always fall back on as proof that
you can be college-educated and lead a Torah-observant life, was that
of the Shimoffs. They showed me that it was possible to synthesize
a Torah-observant lifestyle and a secular education -- and still be
shining well-respected examples in the community.
It's been about six years since Dr. Eliot Shimoff passed away and I
often think back to his warm personality and wisdom. I cannot recall
ever hearing a single person ever saying a bad word about him. I remember
clearly when, in an internet posting on a Usenet group, he once described
how, as a psychologist, he was very driven by data. In some ways, I
adopted that ideal for myself and now, when discussing various matters,
I often try to focus on the available data when making conclusions.
And now, his wife has passed away too. I don't know if they ever truly
knew the effect that they had on my life and my mother's life (and, I
strongly suspect, Skipper's as well), and it's perhaps to my shame that
I never really told them. But they did have a very strong influence on
me -- one that will be felt for the rest of my days and in the lives of
my children and beyond.
* At the levaya, it was mentioned that there was a rumor in Ner Yisroel
that if any bachur wanted to date one of the Shimoff girls, they had to
be fahered (tested) by her mother! (I don't know if there was, in fact,
such a rumor or if the story is apocryphal. But either way, the fact that
such a story could be said about Dr. Shimoff says quite a bit about her
level of learning.)
** The custom in the Shimoff home was that the kids hid the afikomen
and then the adults searched for it. One year, we hid it under a couch
cushion. As it came time to look for the afikomen, Dr. Eliot Shimoff
got up, looked around the living room and then eventually began pulling
up the cushions on the couch. He eventually pulled up the cushion where
the afikomen was hidden. You couldn't miss the white afikomen bag against
the dark fabric. Yet he just put the cushion down as if he never saw it,
continued searching for a few more minutes and eventually gave up.
*** Looking back on it now, as an adult, I am truly awed that my mother
asked us -- at the ages of nine and six -- what we thought about it. She
might well have been within her rights to say "this is the way we're
doing it, the end," but my Mom was (and is) a truly remarkable woman
who would never think of forcing anyone -- even a child -- into such a
life-changing decision without getting their input on the matter.
**** Don't ask why I went to such a school. It was not of my choosing
and our particular circumstances made that school the only option.
beautiful. A wonderful tribute.
maxine in ri
On Jul 6, 6:48 pm, Micha Berger <mi...@aishdas.org> wrote:
I agree.. The wolf (whoever that is) is a good writer.Micha once said
(paraphrasing) that you
should live your life according to how you want to be remembered in
your eulogy...I suspect she
should be pleased.
And from Adelle -
Couldn't have said it better. Thank you for such a touching Memorial.
: And from Adelle -
: Couldn't have said it better. Thank you for such a touching Memorial.
I think that those of us who remember Elliott are probably unsurprised by
this description of the woman he married and the home they made together.
But no less moved.
May their memory be a blessing,
: On Jul 6, 6:48?pm, Micha Berger <mi...@aishdas.org> wrote:
: > Fromhttp://wolfishmusings.blogspot.com/2010/07/dr-sandra-shimoff-ah.html
: > -Micha
What a lovely tribute. I remember Elliot well for his kindness adn
intellegence and his never losing his cool in all those OCT ward of he
time. I am thrilled to know he had a wife of equal mettle.
Thank you for the compliment. However, in this case, it's fairly easy
to write when you're writing from the heart and you have good source
material to work with.
She was lovely, warm and quite a wonderful woman and dying a 68 isn't
Shalom From Dvora --
- give without remembering --
and -- take without forgetting -
Thank you for sharing a truly inspiring hesped.
Abe \\// Kohen
Adelle asks The Wolf -
Wondering if we might know one another or have mutual acquaintances from
Queens. If you are interested in playing 'Jewish geography,' Please contact
me off line. My email address should be fairly easy to unmunge
Probably not. I left Queens when I was six years old (that's the
point at which we moved to New Jersey). Nonetheless, feel free to
drop me an email (wo...@wolfishmusings.com).
Don't sell yourself short. It was an _excellent_ job. Thanks.
I met Mrs. Shimoff in Israel several times when her husband would
have an "SCJM get-together". A lovely person.
May I ask the meaning of that momiker?
IAC, it was a pleasure reading your eulogy. I hope you'll post
It is a tremendous Mitzvah to always be happy! - Reb Nachman of Breslov
The home and family are the center of Judaism, *not* the synagogue.
May Eliezer Mordichai b. Chaya Sheina Rochel have a refuah shlaimah
btoch sha'ar cholei Yisroel.
Disclaimer: Nothing here necessarily reflects the opinion of Hebrew University
>Dr. Sandra Shimoff a"h
Gave me goose bumps and made me teary (is that a word?).