Dorothy Roth - Devora Meita bat Aharon Baruch


Introduction: Devorah

ודבורה אשה נביאה אשת לפידות, היא שופטה את ישראל בעת ההיא (שופטים ד:ד)

“And Deborah was a prophetess, a woman of fire; she judged Israel at that time.”

So begins the biblical story of the prophetess and judge Deborah, a woman whose story reminds me eerily of the life of Dorothy Roth, Devorah Meita bas Aharon Baruch. A spirit of prophecy must have rested upon the hearts of her parents when they named her.

I’m not going to recap Dorothy’s biography, which everyone has already told. Instead, I’ll spend a few minutes showing how Dorothy’s life corresponded to that of Deborah, her biblical namesake.


1: Woman of Fire

First, Dorothy, like Deborah, you were a woman of fire.

Everyone who knew Dorothy understands what I mean. Dorothy, your motto might well have been: If you’re going to take up a cause, don’t do it halfway; go all the way with it. That’s the way you did everything; whether fighting for better attention to detail at hospitals, or for integrity in our public officials, or for rehabilitation vs. incarceration, or for drug rehabilitation programs, you fought with every drop of strength and then some.

You were fiercely loyal to your causes, and even more so to the people in whom you believed. You told me about the way you supported Rabbi Rothenberg at Sons of Israel when he faced trouble at home, and that was the way you supported everyone you trusted. You honored the memory of your beloved husband Saul, with what you called Saul’s “shrine” in your home; you kept your love affair alive even after he had passed on, you never tired of telling me about this man you admired so much. You supported Robert Csandl of Keenan House, or the Daddonas, or the Reverend Franklin Sherman and the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding, or Sacred Heart Hospital, you spoke up and you did everything humanly possible for them, and you were vocal, making sure everyone knew what the issues were.


2: Judge over Israel

Second, Dorothy, like Deborah, you were a judge over Israel, and everyone else as well, constantly learning about new areas and finding causes to champion.

There was no issue that was unworthy of your attention. After we discussed a particular program at Sons of Israel one September’s day, you wrote to me in an email, “my problem is that the world is my oyster...that i am so involved with so much and find everything so exciting that my calendar until november is jammed full. That does not mean i can't juggle things to accommodate what interests me. So please send the information. It will be appreciated.” Everything was worthy of your attention, and once you had learned about an issue, you quickly determined your opinion.


3: Judge of Politicians

Third, the biblical Deborah was a judge of politicians, too; in her time the Jews were oppressed by Canaanites, and Deborah instructed the leading Jewish general, a man named Barak, to go to war against Canaan. Barak replied, “I won’t go unless you come, too,” for which Deborah chastised and mocked him; she had no patience for leaders who feared to lead.

You judged politicians, too; I remember well which one you said was an absolute saint, which one was a good businessman but lacked heart, which one was dishonest and said exactly what you wanted to hear, which one meant well but didn’t have the business sense; all of them went under your microscope, so that you could determine whether to help them or not. When I sent you an email that you thought favored a certain politician, you responded in no uncertain terms with your opinion.

Your opinion was highly valued by those same politicians you judged; I remember sitting by your bed at Sacred Heart Hospital during the run-up to the mayoral primaries last year, and hearing as representatives from various campaigns wished you well. You borrowed municipal plans from Minneapolis to market here in Allentown. The Morning Call ran article on you when you made sure to come to the JCC to vote – from your hospital bed. You judged, loudly and clearly.

The Talmud teaches that the biblical Devorah was named “Devorah” because “Devorah” is the Hebrew word for a bee or wasp, and she had a sharp judicial sting; how appropriate, Dorothy, for you as well.


Jewish Universalist

In addition to all that, Dorothy, you were a Jewish universalist. You fulfilled the Torah’s instructions of “ואהבת לרעך כמוך Love your neighbor” and “ואהבתם את הגר Love the stranger.”

You loved your family, first and foremost your husband Saul, and your daughters Yolanda and Lydia, and the grandchildren Jason and Justin, Ilan and Raphael. You were always so proud of your grandsons; you never tired of telling me about their exploits.

You loved the Jewish people. You were so proud of your father’s role at the helm of the Jewish community in South Africa. You were concerned for the welfare of Israel. You weren’t a synagogue-goer, but you were proud that your husband Saul attended the daily minyan at Sons of Israel. Jewish tradition mattered a great deal to you, even if your practice was private rather than public.

And you loved the world. You would have taken a more active role at the synagogue, but you were too much the universalist, and too frustrated when you perceived parochialism in others. You felt we should all be engaged in the world at large. And you made sure that I practiced what you preached: In my first months in Allentown you brought me to Keenan House to meet Robert Csandl, and to a program held by the Allentown Human Relations Commission.


Closing: Optimistic

And in closing: Tonight is the holiday of Shavuos, a holiday that calls to mind a lesson I learned from Devorah Meita bas Aharon Baruch, Dorothy Roth.

On Shavuos we celebrate the Revelation at Sinai, when Gd gave the Torah to the Jewish people. Presenting the Torah, a guidebook for life, was, for Gd, an act of faith - It showed that Gd believed that the world needed direction, but that we could listen, we could learn, we could redeem ourselves.

Dorothy lived her life by that lesson. On the one hand, you were gloomily disappointed with the world and its failings, but simultaneously, you were so sunnily optimistic that we could get it right. May we always live up to your example.