I am overjoyed that our synagogue, Kehillat Israel, has named its preschool the Molly Steinsapir Early Childhood Center. We are humbled by this tremendous honor for Molly and our family. Molly’s time there was transformative. Although she started as a new student in her pre-k year, Molly immediately felt at home at KI. There, she made her closest friends. After preschool graduation, their bonds deepened on Sundays at the Jewish Education Center.
Molly’s kind, helpful nature was nurtured at KI. She developed her core values, centered around doing mitzvahs (good deeds) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). An “old” and pure soul inhabited Molly’s human form. She felt dismayed and confused by the violence, hatred and inequities that corrode our society. Molly had an inherent sense of justice and fairness. She was destined and determined to make the world a better place. The Molly Steinsapir ECC will keep her indomitable spirit alive and inspire future generations to join her mission.
As Molly was welcomed to pre-k, I was similarly embraced when I converted to Judaism. I grew up without any real religion. I became Jewish while pregnant with Molly. I will never forget immersing my pregnant self in the mikveh (a ritual bath filled with rainwater) after appearing before a Beit Din (a Jewish religious “court” of 3 rabbis that confirmed my soul was indeed Jewish). As Jon said in his eulogy, Molly was a very Jewish girl. She was a proud member of the tribe. In her recent poem, “Where I’m From,” Molly included multiple nods to Judaism, writing that she was from America and Israel. Although Molly never visited Israel (for obvious reasons, we cancelled a planned family trip in April 2020), it had a special place in her heart. Molly loved lighting the candles every Shabbat. Although it hurts to light them in her physical absence, Molly’s spiritual presence is undeniable every Friday when our family lights the candles just before sundown. I feel her closeness in the glow of the candlelight.
As a Jewish convert, I sometimes experience “imposter syndrome.” I rarely share my Jewish experiences because I sometimes feel like I’m not really Jewish. But after more than 12 years, I’m a Jewish girl, too. I’m grateful that Judaism brings me closer to G-d, a relationship that I’ve been simultaneously “leaning into” and “wrestling with” since January 31, when a Sunday morning bike ride changed our lives forever. Like Molly, I appreciate that Judaism encourages questioning and “wrestling with G-d.”
Without deep faith and the unwavering support of our KI family, I don’t know how we would have endured the past few months. I will never forget the seventh night of shiva, when our community walked behind us, everyone holding candles under the light of a full moon, as we took our first steps out of our house of mourning and into the world without Molly physically by our sides. I find comfort, meaning and connection with the Divine in these rituals that date back thousands of years. They remind me that we are all on Earth for such a brief time.
The naming of a place where our precious children learn about Jewish values, provides a moment to acknowledge that our sacred traditions remain under threat. Blue squares fill my Instagram feed, acknowledging the astronomical rise in hate-fueled attacks on Jews here in United States because of recent violence in the Middle East. I never second-guess my decision to raise a Jewish family, but it frightens me that our children face any heightened risk in a world that already feels dangerous. No one should be less safe because of who they are. Period.
As for Israel, I admittedly don’t know much about a tiny country, thousands of miles away where I’ve never been. It’s hard to relate to an ancient, extraordinarily complex people and place. I’m not an expert on the Middle East, but I know Molly like I know myself. Our souls are intimately and eternally connected. I practice tikkun olam by sharing Molly’s passions, dreams and messages with the world. Molly loved Israel. She knew – but could not understand why – Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years and need a homeland, a place of refuge. Israel is surrounded by enemies, many of whom hate Jews just for being Jews. She did not understand this mentality, including by Jews who hate others. Molly was a peacemaker. All life - human, animal and plant - mattered to her. Molly was vocal in the face of injustice. She would have seen through the “complexities” and spoken out against all violence.
Some members of the family into which I was born fear “the other.” My grandparents, who were my greatest source of support during a difficult childhood, were raised in the segregated south. The “n-word” was frequently, unabashedly used. I somehow knew as a small child this was terribly wrong. I demanded they stop saying it. My grandfather thought it was funny to get a rise out of me, and used it more. It is strange how love and hate, like sorrow and joy, sometimes co-exist.
When my aunt married a Jewish man, my father said, “Jew,” like a dirty word. He expressed the hateful stereotypes of Jews as greedy, big-nosed swindlers. Even after I converted to Judaism, I remember him talking about “Jewing” people down in price. My own little family has not been off-limits to his antisemitism. Although we have not had a relationship for years, I feel shame.
Like me, Molly innately knew that racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and all forms of hatred are wrong. This is not to imply that I do not have subconscious biases, which we ALL possess, and I believe should be acknowledged. Fundamental truths were simple in Molly’s mind. As the Torah teaches in the first chapter of its first book, Genesis, EVERY human being was created in the image of G-d; ALL are equally deserving of dignity, safety and respect. It is wrong to treat people differently because of the color of their skin, religion, or anything else. Molly often saw the world in a binary way – right versus wrong, good versus bad. For example, she could not understand why anyone lives in poverty when many of us have more than we need. Passing a homeless person always upset Molly. She would insist that we help, even when I wanted to keep walking. My mother was homeless and unsafe to be around, and I feared encountering her begging on the street. I kept my thoughts to myself, reminding Molly that we often donate to shelters. Molly didn’t care. Here was a hungry person, we had food or money to spare, so we needed to help.
Despite her short time on Earth, Molly was wise beyond her years. She is my greatest teacher and role model. Always helping younger children with patience and care, Molly is smiling at being forever remembered at the Molly Steinsapir Early Childhood Center. Perhaps now more than ever before, it is imperative that we invest in teaching about the beauty and generosity of spirit that is Judaism.
Kehillat Israel, like most organizations, has faced an enormous budget shortfall since the start of the pandemic. It does not turn away congregants nor children who want to study Judaism, on account of finances. Donations made at http://www.ourki.org/steinsapirecc will be used to pay for those who cannot afford membership dues and/or school tuition. You can help more families to experience the love that infuses Kehillat Israel, and the Molly Steinsapir Early Education Center. Please contribute if you are able. Most importantly, we ask that you remember Molly and be guided by her spirit in helping to repair the world.