The Complimentary Spouse looked up from his phone and said, “Did you see the email? Ruth Glickman died.”

My heart sank. The world had just become colder. It had lost one of its warmest people.  

From one perspective, Britt and I had known Ruth for nearly 20 years. She was one of the first people we met when we joined Schaarai Zedek. I don’t remember that first encounter, but I’m pretty sure it went like this: Ruth saw two newcomers at shul one night, came over, and said hello. We had a brief but wonderful conversation, and then we parted ways. 

From another perspective, Britt and I have known Ruth for about half a day. That’s because if you add up all the time we had actually interacted with her — talking before and after services, noshing on black and white cookies at onegs, sitting together at events, it wasn’t a lot. If I’m wrong about it being half a day, it’s because I’m overestimating, not underestimating. 

Short but Meaningful Moments

The number of minutes we spent with Ruth doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of each one of those minutes.

When she saw us, she always came over. It certainly wasn’t because she had nobody else to talk to — she was well-known and well-liked at Schaarai Zedek, and people loved socializing with her. But when she spoke to Britt and me, her focus was always on us. No matter where the conversation went — and it went everywhere, from idle chatter about the weather to passionate discussions about the environment and civil rights — she was genuinely interested and insightful.

I learned long ago that it’s easy to fake politeness but not kindness.

I don’t know if there’s a word for people you feel connected to, even though they only play an infinitesimal role in your life. Perhaps we should name them Ruths.

A Fuller Picture

I’ve been thinking a bit about how well you can actually know a person based on short interactions, as wonderful and open as those interactions are. Britt and I had a few pieces of knowledge about Ruth, and from them, we extrapolated an image of who she was. But it’s difficult to derive a trend from a few data points.

At Ruth’s memorial service this afternoon, Britt and I discovered that our impression of Ruth was right on the mark. She was warm and welcoming to everyone. She offered help freely, never seeking reward or recognition. She cared deeply about family, sustainability, and voting rights — topics that frequently arose when we were with her.

We learned about her extensive volunteer experience, especially with Tampa General Hospital. We also learned that she was the same way with others that she was with us: thoughtful and attentive.

Rabbi Simon said Ruth didn’t want a memorial service at first, as she didn’t seek to be the center of attention. She relented not long before she died with two provisos: She wanted Cantor Cannizzaro to sing, and the service had to be short. Both of her wishes were granted.

“That Should’t Be the Case”

Before the service started, Britt told Ruth’s daughter that her mother always made us feel special and welcome. I spoke with one of Ruth’s friends.

“How long did you know her?” I asked.

“All my life,” she said.”

“We only know her from Shaarai Zedek,” I said. “We honestly didn’t know much about her until we read the obituary.”

“I think it’s funny how little we know about people until they die,” she said. “That shouldn’t be the case.”

Truer words have never been spoken.