Bet Alpha Editions officially came into being in Rochester, New York in 1985 after financial agreements were signed and legal papers were executed. However, from my standpoint, Sharon and Neil Norry became parters with me within about a half an hour after I first met them in a hotel room in Jerusalem several months before.
Sharon’s remarkable parents, Sol and Ruth Singer of Atlanta, had wanted to get us together for quite a while. Sharon and I had corresponded briefly when she first saw the articles on my revival of the handmade ketubah in the early 1970s. But it was through the insistence of the Singers that we finally met. I brought a photographic copy of the Haggadah I had created for the Levy family with me to that first meeting at the Hilton. I remember them carefully looking at the pages one after the other as I explained some of the imagery, ideas and texts I had incorporated. When I finished, Neil asked me if he could purchase the original. I explained that the Levys had just patiently waited four years for me to execute the work and that I doubted that they would want to part with it. Neil immediately responded, “If I can’t have it, then I want to publish it. This should not remain in a safe in Florida. It must be shared with the Jewish world.” I told Neil that I’d love to publish it, but I’d want it done as a perfect facsimile copy of the original and that was impossible because of the many unique techniques I used like gold leaf, papercuts, added mirrors, a seal, moving parts and so forth. Neil Norry—never one to be dissuaded by the impossible—responded that we were going to do it, that I was to find someone, somewhere in the world, who could reproduce it perfectly, and to my standards, and that he, Sharon and I were going to be partners in this endeavor. Bet Alpha Editions came into being at that moment.
Not only did the seed of an impossible-to-reproduce book come into existence that night, but also an unlikely liaison between a practical, highly successful businessman with his wise, sensitive and talented wife, and a dreamy, Jerusalem artist was formed. It’s hard to guess which one of us was more surprised at our suddenly becoming ‘publishers’. That life-changing evening for me created a wonderful partnership between the Norrys and the Mosses. But more importantly, it gave birth to a deep, abiding and cherished friendship that lasted as long as they lived; it is treasured still and deeply mourned.
The fact that this successful businessman, careful real estate developer and powerful communal leader had impulsively plunged into the vagaries of the publishing business struck us all as humorously incongruent. Sharon, in fact, used to joke with us that some day in the future she and Neil would be sitting together in their rocking chairs on the veranda of their old age home, and some young visitor would yell into Neil’s ear: “Well, Mr. Norry, how did you first become a publisher?”
It is certainly one of my life’s most gracious blessings that this unique couple entered our lives. And it one of life’s most unfair tragedies that neither one of them got even close to those rocking chairs.
At Neil’s funeral, Sharon asked me to read a note I had written to him when we learned that he was terminally ill. Exactly five years later, the Norry family requested I give a eulogy for Sharon.
May their memory be for a blessing as were their lives.
I’ve been thinking about angels.
Not the namby-pamby, silly, rosy, flapping kind.
But the fleshy ones like those that visited people in the Bible.
That look human
That you speak with
That you feed
That sit around the table and drink beer with you,
Those angels that quietly depart before it occurs to you to say,
“Hey, something very weird is going on here;”
“My G-d, I’ve been sent a celestial being and I knew it not!”
I’ve been thinking about those earthy kind of almost unrecognizable Bible angels.
And I’ve been thinking
Damn it, no sneaky angel is going to pull the old silent departure trick on me
Damn it, damn it, damn it,
No tricky angel is going to slink away before I recognize it,
I’ve been thinking about angels
The kind that show up in your life and shower you with blessings
so generous that you know they must have been sent from somewhere
The kind that conceal their wings behind business deals
And their halos behind partnerships.
The kind that you can laugh with, enjoy, share and advise with.
The kind that celebrate Shabbat with you on three continents.
The kind that encourage you to do the very best you can,
That enable you to share your meagre gifts with others,
That support you in contributing what you never knew you could.
The kind that makes your family theirs and their family yours.
I’ve been thinking about angels
And one or two in particular
That have touched my life
And made it so much richer, so much fuller, so much more blessed.
Damn it, DAMN it, DAMN IT.
No sneaky angels are going to slink out of my life before I’ve recognized them for exactly what they are
And before I’ve said
The deepest, most sincere, and most tearful
I have ever said.
I am deeply humbled by the task of attempting to translate into words the nobility of the life of Sharon Norry Seidman who now lies lifeless before us.
But with the permission of this deeply bereaved family,
And with the permission of all her heartbroken friends, I shall try.
I pray to the Holy One who sent this soul into the world, and into our lives—and so inexplicably took her from us—that I may be worthy today to eulogize the soul of a truly great woman.
In many communities, a culmination of our morning services on Shabbat and holidays is the magnificent hymn Anim zemirot probably composed in the 12th century. In front of the open Holy Ark, before the Torah scrolls, with the entire congregation standing, the voice of an innocent child begins with these words of yearning:
Anim Zemirot v’Shirim Eerog, Ki Elechah nafshi taarog
“Because of the immense longing of my soul for You,
I shall compose melodies
And I shall weave sweet songs.”
We are here today to honor and mourn a truly beautiful weaver of very sweet songs.
A weaver of fabrics.
A weaver of love.
Sharon was an extremely talented weaver and was gifted with the weaver’s magical ability to intertwine insubstantial fragments of thread into holy garments.
But Sharon was a weaver of much more than garments.
She was a weaver of material and a weaver of the immaterial.
Sharon was a weaver of souls.
Virtually everyone who crossed her path she lovingly drew into the fabric of her life with a genuine interest in his or her well being, with a kind word, a special gift or a thoughtful note. There was no one neutral, no one peripheral, no one outside the vast tallit with which she enveloped her universe.
With delicate grace, with exquisite sensitively and with an unfathomable, quiet strength this radiant woman mysteriously wove tightly toward her everything and everybody that touched her too short life.
Those of us in this room, and so many hundreds outside this room who have had the privilege of knowing her are acutely aware of how she elevated each of us as she gently drew us in, beautifully and lovingly integrated us and firmly bound us into that sumptuous living cloak which she wove hourly, daily and as the years passed.
Though we came as quickly as we could from Israel, Rosalyn and I missed by ten minutes the expiration of Sharon’s final breath. But the inspiration of years of friendship with this magnificent, most human of human beings, shall always remain. Sharon inspired so many of us so very profoundly.
Hers was a deep and radiant warmth.
Hers was an openness and acceptance-so genuine that she was a magnet to people of every age.
Hers was Beauty – Both physical and spiritual that touched everything she touched.
Hers was Honesty – She received the world on its own terms, but marvelously transformed it by responding to whatever came her way with dignity, love and affection.
Hers was humor – A refreshing lightness that gave a very human face to a life that in other places and in other times might have been called saintly.
Hers was wisdom-she seemed to always know just what was right.
Hers was Strength – an awesome, imposing and mighty strength of character and personality that I have never witnessed elsewhere.
Sharon Norry-Seidman was a weaver, and has left us all a garment of light and love.
Every morning I wrap myself in this beautiful Tallit which Sharon made for me. Every morning except one. On our national day of mourning, on Tisha B’Av, the joy of wrapping myself in all that love is symbolically postponed to the afternoon. This morning too, I prayed without this Tallit which she wove and whose Tzitzit we tied together in our living room in Jerusalem.
Join me now in enwrapping ourselves warmly in the precious life we knew.
Join me now with all the comfort and consolation we can muster in embracing the dear family who mourns her,
Join me now in weaving together the sacred individual memories of each one of us here.
As I now recite the blessing of enwrapping and embracing Join me with a final, heartfelt Amen to the true blessing our precious Sharon was to us all.
Baruch Atah HaShem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam Asher Kiddshanu Bemitzvotav vitzvanu l’hitatef batzitzit.
December 13, 2002