I met and fell in love with Rachel Brodie over coffee in a café in Jerusalem.
I had coffee with Rachel because my Jerusalem cousin, Nancy, said she knew a young couple, Adam Weisberg and Rachel Brodie, spending the year in Jerusalem, who were about to move to Berkeley. (Nancy’s husband, Benny, was a first- cousin of Rachel’s mother, Deborah Brodie, z”l.) Rachel would be looking for a job.
I made the date with Rachel mostly out of family loyalty. I didn’t have budget or plans to add a staff member but I thought I might have helpful hints about their new community.
Then I met Rachel. I rearranged my budget and hired her before I left Jerusalem.
For the next 10 years we were more or less joined at the hip professionally and personally. We were core staff of The Jewish Family Education Project at the Bureau of Jewish Education (now known as Jewish Learning Works) which served all of Northern California’s Jewish preschools, synagogue schools, day schools, JCCs and more. In those days the BJE was a hub of about 30 staff and an ever-growing menu of projects.
We carpooled and we shared Shabbat meals. We celebrated the purchase of their home and the births of Sophia and Ariella.
It’s hard to recall post-Covid, the collective human energy generated by juggling a 3-year fellowship of a dozen full-time Family Educators, a Jewish Great Books Seminar, a workshop focused on reading YA literature as a pathway to reaching adolescents, a family history curriculum for 6th graders, an Israel leadership program, and an annual bay area-wide 30 event month-long “Feast of Jewish Learning”. And doing it all in person. Our corner of the BJE (Bureau of Jewish Education, now Jewish LearningWorks) was always pulsating with educators and their energy and their creativity. Rachel’s laugh could always be heard ringing out above the hubbub.
She stood for excellence and commitment. We had been advised that educators would never come to anything longer than 90 minutes. We made every workshop and gathering 3 hours. At Rachel’s insistence we gave assignments (whole books to read) and homework. In our world, Family Education went far beyond (and eventually jettisoned) challah covers and tzedakah boxes. It was ‘big Jewish ideas” packaged for kids, parents and teachers and new packages in which to deliver them. Anyone remember “Café Dilemma?” F.I.B.?
She rocked text teaching. She inspired and grew and laughed all the way. You couldn’t learn to teach like her but you could be inspired and nourished by her teaching.
Rachel was one of a kind. She pushed boundaries and refused to be defined. She is one of the only great Jewish educators I’ve ever met who was 100% “not-a-camp-person.” We sometimes disagreed on the proper balance of education, entertainment and edutainment, but we loved each other.
Her work at a hub like the BJE gave her incredible exposure and soon enough she needed a bigger world. The Jewish Family Education Project was too confining for her. She flew the nest and the rest is history.
In recent years we didn’t see each other much but we stayed in touch. I followed the twists and turns in her resume and admired the varied niches in which she found a home for herself and her talents — and I always knew she was on the job: passing on Torah.
Rachel was a gift to this community. She got so many people moving on the path of Jewish study. She was and is a gift that continues to enrich our community through her students and the students of her students.
May we each find our way to live out our Rachel-Torah.
May her memory be for a blessing.
Vicky Kelman is nationally known as a teacher, speaker, coach, cheerleader for family education and innovator as well as the author of many books and programs in the field of Jewish family education.