Esther Takac on Debbie

Debbie was a beloved teacher, inspiring speaker, passionate writer. Others have and will speak of her many talents. But I speak here tonight of Debbie as a wonderful friend.

Debbie and I met in Jerusalem, the city we both loved.  Both interested in the written word we agreed that the streets of Jerusalem breathe and invoke poetry - the cobbled pathways, the olive and fig trees, the cityscape of minarets and church spires, the density of peoples, and hopes and dreams and hurts.

But we both returned to live our lives in Melbourne and most of our friendship took place in the comfort and conventionalism of Caulfield. In fact in the last twenty years of our friendship we have barely shared any time outside Caulfield, bar a trip to Confest in Northern Victoria. As Debbie would joke one risked getting lost anywhere north of Dandenong Rd.

But, and that was part of her richness, my friendship with Debbie stretched our lives way beyond the routine of our Caulfield suburban lives, the domesticity of our days as mothers of young children and then working mothers running households.

Debbie’s mind and heart were open to the enormity of the world, in all its complexity and richness. I remember trips to the supermarket, often with toddlers in tow, where our conversations ranged wide and deep. I sometimes wondered what other shoppers might have made of the topics we discussed between the freezer section and the toilet paper.

And so too, many evenings as the orchestrated chaos of family dinners beckoned, we kept each other company, cradling the phone on our shoulder, trying to avoid neck ache, as we cut the onions and chopped the salads, sharing our day, all the while our words taking us far beyond the confines of our kitchens.

We loved to walk – along the beach – in any sort of weather, surrounded by the crash of the waves, the stretch of the skies, talking, always talking through the issues of our days.

And around Caulfield Park – that circle of green that holds the secrets of so many – around again and again and again. We promised to meet at out special spot – the inside of the inside – because yes Debbie knew how to laugh at herself and see the funny side of her own serious interests in kabbalah and mysticism.

So what did we discuss as we walked the beach, the park, the streets, the phone wire? What didn’t we discuss?

Our husbands and partners and when we loved them and when they drove us crazy.
Our siblings and parents and when we loved them and when they drove us crazy.
Our children when they flourished and brought us naches and joy.
And our children when they struggled and brought us angst and sleepless nights.
And so David and Booji and Ben, I heard your mum worry about each of you in turn, the focus of her concern and energy and anxiety.
And I also know how proud she has felt – of each of you finding your own way in the world, managing thru these last difficult years.

And when I looked across at you three sitting side by side at your mother’s funeral I saw three beautiful young people that I know she loved very much.  As she herself writes: David with your tall intellect and open hearted naivety. Orly quick minded and quick tempered, petite and fiery. And Benny, always her baby, broad shouldered, handsome with a heart of liquid gold.         

But I have gotten off the track. We spoke of many other things – writing and books and creativity and the fickle world of publishing. When my book won an award, it was Debbie most of everyone who understood its significance and rejoiced for me and with me.

And we spoke of Jewish learning and Torah and Kabbalah and Avivah Zornberg. And Israel and the Middle East. And Hamakom and Shira Hadasha and what makes community. And she spoke of the new physics and I listened but didn’t really understand. And I was always aware she had an amazing mind, and a beautiful gift with words.

But as much as all that she was also a loyal and generous friend.
When my father Sam died 10 years ago, by his own hand, Debbie was there for me, to  walk the streets and the beach and the park and help me come to some understanding, some acceptance of the event. We both knew we shared non mainstream parents with shards of grandeur and dysfunctionality.

And together with her Torah and her spirituality and her insights that were real and genuine, she also had a wild and dare I say wicked side, a playfulness and sense of humor. It was only 2 weeks ago in her hospital room that Leonard Cohen was playing “I’m your Man” and Debbie on her way to the toilet, danced seductively across the room. Full of courage in the face of her illness.

Debbie was full of life, with a generosity of spirit and a breadth of vision. An appreciation of the dappled nature of life, the light and the dark, the joy and the pain. And that is what made sharing a friendship with her so textured and precious, so rich.     

Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget. I will miss her deeply.  I already do.   

—Esther Takac

Posted on August 1, 2011 .