Kathryn Hellerstein


(nee Schecter) z"l

Born December 9, 1924, died January 5, 2005
(Funeral service January 10, 2005, Levine Funeral Home, Brookline, MA
Burial, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA)

Dayne bloye oygn, sharf un neshomedik…

Your blue eyes, sharp as your wit,

Gaze out from the cover of your book,

And you smile over your shoulder

Just a moment, before turning

Away from the camera, back to Earl

To continue the interrupted conversation.

Your voice, surprisingly deep

For a woman so petite, made you

Diminutive before nobody.

With Earl, four sons, your daughter,

Students, colleagues, friends,

You worked to make a better world.

Zi hot gemakht a beser velt,

Says Earl, in grief. Woman of valor

In your modern way, immigrants' daughter

Toughened by the Depression

And the war, intellectual, passionate, wild,

You took on as your personal project

That old Jewish job--

Tikkun olam--to repair the world.

An aunt by marriage, in another city,

You touched me throughout my life.

When I was twelve, you bought me

Blue sheets to encourage

My beautiful dreams. When I was

Twenty, you invited my brother and me

To your family's feasts, fall and spring,

And talked with me about poetry.

Brown rice, salads, stuffed turkey,

Matza, brisket in a glazed ceramic pot,

Flourless nut cakes, chocolate

Dizzied deliciously! Who needed

Wine, with modernism and Robbe-Grillet?

When I was twenty-five, you and Earl

Sent the Yiddish books I needed for my work

From New York to California.

After I turned thirty, you became

My colleague--a mentor and an aunt!

Your wisdom helped me through the treacherous years.

Conferences became a family affair,

And I proudly shared your name

On the pages of the program

And in the lecture hall.

Teacher and wife, writer and mother,

You showed us all a way to live.

In your book, you wrote of Virginia Woolf

With words I'd choose for you:

"Curious, constantly stimulated by life

and art… she could not be imitated…

but she could inspire." (1) In your dog-eared copy,

You underlined Woolf's own words

As a coded guide to how you lived:

"…if we have the habit of freedom and the courage

to write exactly what we think,

…if we face the fact… that we go alone

and that our relation is to the world of reality,

…then the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister…

will be born… When she is born again,

she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry." (2)

Dear Marge, the reality of this bright day

Turns cinematic, "day for night:"

Light filters out because you're gone. (3)

The camera brings into "deep focus"

At once the fullness of your life and our loss.

Yet your death marks no "fade out."

Yes, the screen of loss goes black

At the beginning, but gradually

You appear, shining in our memory,

Brightening to full strength.

With love,

Kathryn (#2, 1/11/05)

1 Marjorie H. Hellerstein, Virginia Woolf's Experiments with Consciousness, Time, and Social Values (Lewiston, NY, Queenston, Ontario, Lampeter, Wales: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), 122.

2 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, 117-118.

3 Marjorie H. Hellerstein, Inventing the Real World: The Art of Alain Robbe-Grillet (Selinsgrave: Susquehanna University Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1988), 150-151.