Molly's Story

Words fail to fully capture the essence of our beloved girl. Her dad, Jonathan, shared the following words at Molly's memorial service. They provide a glimpse of Molly's uniqueness and her beautiful soul.

I am here to say a few words about my daughter, Molly.

As you can imagine, I am in a lot of pain right now but I am going to try not to focus on me and the pain and hurt. Rather, I intend to focus on Molly and the joy and pride she brought to me and so many others.


I know everyone says this about their children – and they should: Molly was an incredible, special, and amazing girl. From the very first day she was born – and I can still see it in the very first pictures of her as a newborn – Molly was paying attention to everyone and everything, analyzing everything, and trying to learn and make sense of things. And indeed, for her first four months, until we could sleep-train her, she was a very difficult sleeper – she would hardly nap for more than 10 or 15 minutes; she woke up all the time; she refused a pacifier for more than 30 seconds or a minute at most; and both Kaye and I would try everything to put her back to sleep. 

I am sure some of my friends and family will remember all the “tricks” we’d try: I still vividly remember my friends Marius, Ginger, Dave and Lauren coming over to see her for the first time when she was a few weeks old, and they just saw me and Kaye take turns bouncing on a yoga ball with Molly for the entire time they were there. Some days, we would have a hair dryer going in the bathroom for hours in the hope that the white noise would calm her somehow; we then tried using a recording of a hair drier, recordings of rain, recordings of the ocean, recordings of a heartbeat. Anything. Everything. But nothing really worked more than one or two times. It was just four long months. Kaye finally saw a special sleep consultant whose very expensive advice was basically to let her cry it out with a few modifications once she turned four months old. I remember coming home the Friday night we started to sleep train her with a big bottle of vodka to cope with the anticipated crying. And Molly definitely drove me to drink that night. I forget the exact numbers but on two occasions that first night, she cried it out for well over an hour each time. But she quickly got it – the second night was much less extreme and the third night she was sleeping, well, sleeping like a baby. Something just clicked and she was a relatively sound sleeper from then on out. I tell this story because I am convinced that her mind – even at that young, young, young age – was just so busy trying to learn and understand things around her that she could not sleep at first until she was taught to do so. She was just too busy observing and trying to figure out this strange world she found herself in.

At about 7 or 8 months, when Kaye went back to work, Molly went to Hill n’ Dale, a daycare and nursery school in Santa Monica where she thrived for several years. There, she learned how to sit at a table and eat and there made her first friends.

Her brother Nate was eventually born when she was 20 months old, and he soon joined her at Hill n’ Dale 6 or 7 months later. Molly adored Nate from just about the first moment she met him; and I remembered the teachers at Hill n’ Dale talking about how she would ride her tricycle around the little yard and always stop on every round at the fenced off yard for the babies and say “Hi Baby Nate,” and proudly tell the other 2 and 3 year olds that that was her baby brother. And then she went on her way only to constantly circle back to him every few minutes, stop and say “Hi Baby Nate.” It was also at that time, when she was 4 years old, that she decided that she was going to be a vegetarian. Neither me, nor Kaye, nor our families are vegetarians. But Molly just didn’t like the idea of eating animals. And at 4 years old – 4 years old! – she decided she was a vegetarian and that was that. There was nothing we could do about it but try, try, try to get her to eat protein in some form, ultimately getting her to agree to eat fish but she largely reneged on that agreement.

Later on, Molly came here – to KI, Kehillat Yisrael – for her last year of preschool. And I remember they were so happy to have her because her class only had four others girls and like 10 boys. And I still remember the other four girls – Bella, Evie, Sunny and, of course, Emmie, who just so happened to live a few houses above us on the same block and who Molly would be friends with for the next 8 years, and who is here with us today.

Taking a step back, Kaye was not born Jewish and we were not married in a Jewish ceremony. Rather, she decided to convert, of her own volition, after we married. She completed her conversion to Judaism after and she went before the Beit Din and into the Mikveh at American Jewish University when she was pregnant with Molly. And it was here at KI that we discovered that Molly’s soul was as Jewish as those of our ancestors who stood before Mt. Sinai thousands of years ago receiving the Torah and laws of Moses. Looking back now, I am sure Molly’s soul called out to Kaye long before Molly was born and told her to become a Jew. 

Turning back here to KI, and although it was only her first year at KI, with kids who had been here for 2 or 3 years already, Molly’s dear teachers in the Silver Room, Eileen and Jandira, consistently remarked that she was the Rabbi of the group, as she confidently explained Jewish concepts and philosophy, as only a five year old can, to her classmates and teachers.   

Now “Israel” not the modern State, but the larger Jewish people – Am Yisrael – is named for Jacob our ancestor, whose name God changed to Israel because he wrestled with God. He struggled with God and argued with God, as did Abraham in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Molly was exactly part of that tradition – wresting with God. For example, Molly did not like the idea that Eve came after Adam so I explained to her that that was actually the second story about humanity’s origins, and the first chapter of Genesis, Breishit, the first book of the Torah, actually says, quite clearly, that God created man and woman together in his own image. זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם - man and woman he created them. Look it up. Genesis 1:27, before the Adam and Eve story. Recently, when I was telling the kids a story from the Torah, Molly challenged me about why I always referred to God as “he” or “him” as God was everything and I should use both he, she, etc. 

I told her that that was just the way I learned about God and that I used those words because it’s the way I was taught to think of God. She really did not like my answer and argued with me about it but I stood my ground. That’s the way I thought of God and Molly should envision God her own way as we all are created in God’s image as Genesis tells us. But she still didn’t like that answer so I told her we just had to agree to disagree. But Molly was not done with that so she apparently appealed to a higher court. About a week later, I got a call from my Mom who told me that Molly had told her about our conversation and that she, my Mom, who also had been raised to think of God in male terms, now agreed with Molly and that I was sending the wrong message by insisting on always using “he,” “him,” etc. to describe God. But I stood my ground still – stubborn like Molly. Now, in these last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation as I have said a lot of prayers, as you can imagine, and in the Jewish prayers, we often refer to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Avoteinu, Avraham, Yitzchak v’Ya’akov), and that’s how I learned the prayers in the Reform prayerbooks of my youth. Now, today, in the prayerbooks of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, these are coupled with references to our foremothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah (Imoteinu, Sarah, Rivkah, Rahel v’Leah). I never added those when I pray because that’s just not how I was taught and I am a small-c “conservative” person (not politically conservative). But with Molly in mind, every time I’ve said these prayers in the last few weeks – and it has been a lot – I never skip Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. As Felix Frankfurter, the great Jewish Supreme Court Justice, said, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.” But I should say that in these next few days and weeks, my references to God will surely be in the masculine because I’d like to think that the feminine aspect of God is not what let this all happen. But that was Molly – at 11 years old, this was during the last year in the pandemic – wrestling with God, the most Jewish tradition of them all. She was a very Jewish girl.

I could tell stories of Molly’s wisdom and intellect forever so I won’t continue too much longer but there’s one more story that so encapsulates her that I must tell it. In third grade at Marquez Elementary, Molly’s teacher Mrs. Schwartz had the kids do a report on the life of a great American in character as that great American. Ultimately, the parents were invited to class to speak to all the kids in character. There were the classics like Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson but Mrs. Schwartz encouraged the kids to choose a woman or minority so we also saw Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., all of blessed memory, but who did Molly do? Deborah Samson. Does anyone know who Deborah Samson is? Other than those of us who know this story about Molly? I didn’t and I’m like a true history buff; I know a lot. My Dad didn’t know and he too is quite knowledgeable about history. So this is who she is: Deborah Samson was the first woman to fight in the US military. She dressed as a man and fought in the American Revolution. She was even shot and wounded. She then was denied her pension because she was a woman until someone, I think Patrick Henry, interceded on her behalf. So here’s the crazy thing about all this: At Molly’s parent-teacher conference just after that with Mrs. Schwarz, I complimented Mrs. Schwartz on Molly knowing this and Mrs. Schwartz having made Deborah Samson available as a person to do a report on. But Mrs. Schwartz told me she had no idea who Deborah Samson was until Molly told her and had just assumed that me or Kaye had given Molly the idea. But we didn’t. Molly came up with this on her own. In third grade. We think, but are not entirely positive, that she learned of Deborah Samson from watching a cartoon called Liberty Kids when she was younger and it just stuck in her head somewhere. And a few years later, I saw an article in The New York Times, the headline of which was “The Woman Who Sneaked Into George Washington’s Army.” It was about Deborah Sampson and the renewed historical interest in her. I’d like to think that we can trace that article back to Molly’s report – someone told someone who told someone and it eventually got the ear of a reporter. 

But this was so Molly – a third grade girl coming up with a unique idea on her own and the story appealed to everything she was about – a person doing something right even when other people told her she wasn’t supposed to do it, a woman showing that she was just as good as a man, and injustice to boot – being denied her pension because she was a woman when she had done as well as, if not better, than all the men who were getting their pension.

Now I’ve spoken so much about Molly’s intellect and wisdom, I don’t want to leave anyone with the idea that she was not also just a fun little girl. She loved to go swimming in the ocean and to dive under waves. She loved to boogie board. She just loved the ocean and was so free and brave there. In the last few months, she asked me several times if Uncles Nick and Matt would teach her to surf and I know she would have done it. She loved to play handball when she was in elementary school. Surely, some in my family will remember her making them play handball with her against our garage or against my parents’ garage. She loved, loved, loved musical theater and performed in plays at Theater Palisades and at Marquez, most notably starring as Princess Jasmine in a Marquez summer production of Aladdin. She also had roles in musicals like Peter Pan, Guys & Dolls, and The Little Mermaid. And she never let anyone tell her she wasn’t good enough for anything. I remember she was once upset that she didn’t get a part she wanted, and a friend of Kaye’s told Kaye she should not to worry about it because Molly would be producing all the plays and movies eventually.

My wife Kaye made this point to me when we were coming to terms with what God had done a few days ago, and it is so true: Molly had 12 great years; she had a very happy 12 years, a happier life than most; she never experienced a disaster or heartbreak. She was loved very much by me, by her mom, by her brothers Nate and Eli, by Mimi, Grammy, Baba, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, her neighbors, her friends and classmates, and by so many others. Molly was named for my grandmother, my father’s mother, Molly Steinsapir. Yes, same name. I know that my Molly had a piece of Grandma Molly in her and I am positive that is why her aunts, uncles and so many others who could not agree on so much but could all agree on one thing: Molly was extraordinary.

I’d like to close with a lyric that has not left my mind for the last week. It’s not from the Psalms, the Torah, or a great piece of Western literature. Rather, of all places, it comes from a song by Don McLean, the American singer/songwriter best known for his song American Pie. I am not a big fan of his or anything but a lyric from another song of his, about Vincent Van Gogh, just keeps going through my head when I think of Molly. Van Gogh passed away under very, very different circumstances of course, but the lyric that stands out just encapsulates my feelings, “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” And Molly, I hate saying it, but this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you and I know you are still with us but you are in a better world now. You are with my Grandma Molly who is so proud of you. You are with Nanny and Papa. You are with your cats Lila and Ellie. You are with my friend Ryan who is protecting you, as he would have liked to protect his own daughter but was taken from this world just a few weeks after she was born. You are with my dear friend Max who is making you laugh with some silly song and telling you a story of something dumb your Dad and he did when we were in middle school.

Thank you Molly for choosing to be my daughter. Thank you so much. Thank you. I am so proud to be your father. I am just so proud to be your father. Just so proud.