The following is a condensed version of the eulogy delivered by Rabbi Max Weiss at the private funeral service for Harriet Hausman, who died last week at the age of 99:
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible begins with a poem about our eternal struggle to find meaning in life. Buried within this text is hidden the line, “The eye never has its fill of seeing, the ear never is satisfied with all it hears.” While I think Harriet was deeply satisfied with her life, she was still eternally curious. Her eyes and ears were still hungry. She was not done. She was not done loving. She was not done laughing. She was not done enjoying a good meal. She was not done writing. She was not done listening to our stories or sharing hers. She was not done sharing her life or pushing and working mightily for justice. She deeply loved her life and more importantly she deeply loved the people in her life.
It is impossible in a eulogy to summarize a life like Harriet’s. She saw so much, did so much, touched so many people, traveled, mourned, celebrated, cared. She lived life so fully and well that once we begin to tell her story it would likely take more than her 99 years to finish the telling and it would be the height of hubris to attempt to tell her story to people who have known her and loved her for decades and decades, her closest circle of friends, her family, her dear ones.
Harriet was one of a kind. To the world she embodied dignity and graciousness that, on first meeting her, one might mistake for passivity or weakness. If a person made that mistake, it did not last for long. Harriet was fierce. But she was fierce in all the right ways. If you were fighting for justice or peace or for simple human dignity, she was fighting by your side, and there was no greater advocate or ally. She was a worker, a warrior, an encourager and a leader. For Harriet there was never an excuse to do nothing. If a task needed to be done, we should just do it. Why wait?
In the second-century rabbinical text Pirke Avot, the rabbis ask the rhetorical question, “Who is rich?” And they answer, the one who is satisfied with what she has. Harriet was extremely happy with her life. She was deeply satisfied with the little part of the world where she had some control, with her family, her friends, and her community. At the same time she was deeply unsatisfied with the state of disarray and the injustice she perceived in our world. Her joy with her life never turned into self-satisfaction, never caused her to turn inward and ignore the world around her. Instead it motivated her to help other people achieve the same successes and happiness that she appreciated.
Harriet lived with a bottomless well of gratitude and thankfulness. Gratitude radiated from her. I imagine that almost everyone in her broad circle of friends has received at one time or another a note from Harriet, a note of thanks or praise, a note of encouragement. Think about those notes for a minute, not only their beautiful penmanship but what they meant. Those notes meant that Harriet was thinking about you even when you were not currently in her presence. She was thoughtful and considerate. She was also very, very clear in her expectations. Just as she had high standards for herself, so she did with her friends and especially her family.
For decades Harriet and Marty were inseparable. They adored one another, improved one another and grew together. They centered their lives around each other and worked together not only raising a remarkable family but also trying to make the world a more just and equitable place. They believed in the potential of people and in the potential of our country and devoted their time and resources toward helping make our world a better place for everyone. But mostly they just loved one another and brought joy to each other that was palpable. It radiated from them. Marty died much too young and Harriet continued to carry their joint legacy and work forward. Until very recently she did not slow down. A slowed down Harriet was usually twice as good as any of us on our best day. While her body failed her, her mind never did — even last Wednesday her column came out in the Wednesday Journal.
While Harriet deserves all of the credit for her force of will and her continually sharpening intellect, the credit for her ability to continue to thrive as her body weakened belongs to Barbara. You took care of one another physically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally. I know your mom’s presence in your life was a gift to you but your presence in her life was a gift to her beyond measure.
Harriet was a constant companion and source of love to her friends and family, a theater- and concert-goer, a lover of all things sports, a card player and compassionate listener and advice giver. She was funny and earthy and also ladylike and proper. I have no idea how she pulled that off but she was Harriet. She could do anything.
There are certain people who live in my head, people I imagine a conversation with to help me figure out what a proper next step might be. Harriet is one of those people. Sometimes, faced with a dilemma, I ask myself, “What would Harriet do?” Usually the answer is simple. “Just do it. Show up. Make the call. Write the letter. Would you like a piece of cake, dear?”
Harriet had a life full of blessings, deep love, prosperity, true friends, embracing family, an ability to make a difference in our world. Our lives have been truly blessed by her. May our blessing to her be that we are all able to be a little like her. May we have some small measure of her dignity, her passion, her intellect, her energy and her love.
May we thus keep the blessing that was her life alive.
Max Weiss is the rabbi of Oak Park Temple.