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In Celebration Of Rachael Pevnick – Rabbi Smason’s Tribute

We’re here to honor the 40th anniversary of Rachael Pevnick’s 50th birthday. What a milestone! Rachael has been blessed with wonderful children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. So what better way to begin than to share the following thought about grandmothers:

An 8-year-old wrote, “A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own, so she likes other people’s boys and girls. Grandmas don’t have anything to do except be there. If they take us for walks, they slow down past pretty leaves and caterpillars. They never say, ‘Hurry up.’ … They can answer questions like why dogs hate cats and why G-d isn’t married. Everybody should try to have a grandma, especially if you don’t have television, because grandmas are the only grownups who always have time.”

Every grandmother is special, but some may be a bit more special than others. I think we all agree that Rachael fits that bill to a ‘T’ — she’s the youngest 90 year-old we know. Rachael Pevnick has discovered the fountain of youth! What is the secret of Rachael’s almost-eternal youth? Let me share five examples.

Quality number 1 of Rachael’s secret of youth: She never complains! Rachael has had more than her share of difficulties and heartbreak. But what does Racheal have that even most people half her age are missing? Rachael has optimism.

Somehow, somewhere, Rachael Pevnick discovered that being optimistic doesn’t mean “things are going to be better”; after all, who but G-d Himself knows how things are going to turn out? But intelligent optimism — the Rachael Pevnick type – means believing things CAN get better. Even in the depth of despair and darkest moments, Rachael has always put a smile on her face and said, “Yep, things are tough, but HaShem is running the show, and things can get better.”

The perpetual smile on Rachael’s face brings us to the second quality of Rachael’s secret of youth: her terrific sense of humor!

Ladies and gentlemen, Rachael is so much more than our Jewish bingo lady. She’s NHBZ original Joan Rivers! She loves to laugh and to tell jokes. But most importantly, she regularly uses her delightful sense of humor to make people feel better. For decades — literally, decades – Rachael was the president or copresident of the Sisterhood and Social Club and held monthly events with good food and bingo that regularly
attracted at least 50, or 60 people.

Rachael always began her remarks with a smile and a joke, and then introduced me. And for years, with great affection, Rachael introduced me and said, “And now, our young rabbi”. What a great introduction when I was in my 40s! And even into my 50s. What a marvelous sense of humor…and what a good heart!

This brings us to Rachael’s third secret of youth: I don’t have to remind anyone that the pandemic was particularly difficult for older people, many of whom were completely isolated from friends and family.

But Rachael did something amazing during the Pandemic. There were plenty of people who were alone, isolated, and effectively gave up. But not Rachael. Rachael figured out how to use a computer, get on Zoom, and became a regular participant in just about every one of our many Zoom classes.

Together with a number of others, Rachael and our group studied and learned the Book of Ruth. Then, we studied Sefer Shmuel, the story of King David. We currently study the Book of Kings. We had 15-minute evening get-togethers where I just told a story, or a joke, and we said a Psalm together. Rachael not only came to virtually every session (and CONTINUES to attend our daily Book of Kings class), but regularly stayed after class to shmooze, chat, and make connections with others. Rachael’s third secret of youth is her resilience. She never gives up. She never has. She never will. She’s one of the most positive, can-do people I know.

Rachael’s fourth quality is her willingness to share her wisdom: We used to have a program at NHBZ called Starting Points on Shabbos. It was always about contemporary topics that were relevant to daily living. I’d begin by asking various questions of the group. “Who was the most generous person you ever knew?” “What is the definition of courage?” “What’s the difference between love and infatuation?” Take a guess who the first person was to raise their hand with an answer. Yep — you guessed it — Rachael Pevnick.

Invariably, Rachael’s answers were right on the money. She would often share lessons for living that she heard from her father, Max Katz, or from her beloved husband of blessed memory, Teddy. Rachael discovered the fountain of youth because she discovered the fountain of wisdom. From those she most loves in her life (including, of course, her wonderful children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren), she often shares with us lessons of wisdom.

Fifth and finally: Did anyone see the Jewish Light this past week? There’s a must-see article about how Rachael was given an opportunity by her family (in celebration of her milestone birthday) to have an all-expense paid cruise to the Caribbean. But what did Rachael do? This past week Rachael presented a check for $10,000 to the Jewish War Veterans Post 644. It was for a scholarship in memory of her beloved husband Teddy. Ted Pevnick was a veteran and active in the post, so Rachael and her family thought it fitting to honor his service.

What outstanding generosity. Who takes an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime cruise and then donates the money to a veteran’s scholarship in memory of her husband?

I could go on and on about Rachael, and why she’s the youngest 90-year-old we know. Her optimism. Her sense of humor. Her strength and resilience. Her wisdom. Her generosity. Ladies and gentlemen, those are just the highlights. But let me conclude with the following thought: Time passes by so quickly. A little girl was once fascinated by her mother’s egg timer, a small hourglass with sand in it. Her mother explained that it took the sand exactly three minutes to empty, then you just turn it over and it does the same thing all over again. That afternoon the little girl brought a friend into the kitchen. “See?”, she said. “You run it through like this, then you just turn it upside down and you get your three minutes back.”

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

However, the great King David wrote: Od y’nuvun b’seivah, k’rananim yee’yu (Psalm 92:15). “Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.”

The fruitfulness of ‘late bloomers’ and ‘late producers’ continues on long after others have retired and put themselves out to pasture. But Rachael Pevnick was never a ‘late bloomer’ –from the beginning she was young! She has lived a life full of meaning and productivity for 90 years. And the good news is: The older the violin, the sweeter the music!

Rachael: may you be blessed with many more years of good health, the opportunity to do more mitzvos, and experience abundant nachas from your wonderful family.

~ Rabbi Ze’ev Smason

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