My Faith Heroine : My Aunt, Susie Sokol by Danny Richmond
Sunday marks the Jewish holiday of Purim wherein we remember the great role Queen Esther played in saving the Jewish nation of ancient Persia. When thinking about who is my faith heroine- I immediately thought of the women, who through their actions, carved their place in history. Upon reflection, I realized the multitude of great but simple acts that women all around me carry out but will never make it into the history books for.
Growing up, I never understood the blessing of being surrounded by strong and incredible women. My Grandmother Olly Mittleman z’’l, the matriarch of our family, would spend days preparing our weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner for our family and cousins. The first time I cooked a Shabbat dinner with a quarter of her grandeur, I felt completely exhausted by the time the meal came around, however every week my 75+ y.o. grandmother sat at the end of the table with energy and joy.
I never fully grasped the extent of her inner and outer strength until after her death and later in my own life. That’s when I started to understand the stories of her life- the time she stood up to Nazi soldiers in the concentration camp, the times when she helped set up apartments and jobs for countless new immigrants in Canada, the preparation of Shabbat dinners to sustain our families, and even the subtle but arduous ways she prepared one of her delicious cakes for us every week.
It is that incredible humility and strength that I see when sitting opposite my mother and aunts at Shabbat dinner, and in particular when sitting opposite my aunt- Susie Sokol. My aunt is a person who lives out her faith in everything she does. She is well known for her generosity of time, energy, ideas, patience, and a space at her Shabbat table. For me, she shattered the stereotype of a reclusive and close minded Orthodox community, but rather illuminated the interwoven nature of Judaism with the values of social justice and inclusion; that to be a Jew was to be actively involved in the bettering of ourselves, family, community, country and ultimately the world. She exposed me to the wonderful traditions of the Orthodox community in humbly taking care of the needy and sick.
Three years ago, she co-founded Developing and Nurturing Independence (D.A.N.I.) in order to create a much needed place for young adults with special needs when they graduate from high school. At the D.A.N.I. house, young adults learn essential life skills. Susie’s vision was not a centre separate from the broader community but deeply entrenched with a sense of dignity and pride. The programs that are run with the community teach of the importance of inclusion and accepting others. While developing solutions to larger communal problems, she consistently fills her days with simple but profound acts of kindness. Her kind and selfless nature is all the more inspiring when you note she is a single mother of 5 amazing children, one of which with special needs. I often think world leaders should sit with her because she is never satisfied with the notion that social justice is too ideal or impractical, but rather something we haven’t figured out yet.
She may not go down on the world’s most influential list or have her name etched in any building walls, but if there is a powerful lesson in faith traditions it is to find great examples of humanity from the unknown Samaritans; that a woman who ‘opens her mouth with Wisdom, and the teaching of kindness on her tongue’ is great beyond measure (Eshet Chayil - Woman of Valour; Proverbs 31:26).
We all know the people in our lives who through their daily actions are testaments to the idea that faith can be a force for good and moreover inspire others. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate, famously said “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference,” If the reverse holds true then my aunt Susie Sokol stands as an incredible woman of faith confronting indifference at every opportunity.
By Danny Richmond