Words cannot heal the pain or compensate for the loss we all feel today. Steven, Stuart - your loss is our loss. Joyce meant so much to so many. To me she was a friend, a mentor, a confidant and a leader. She took me, as she did so many of us, under her wing, and always found the time and energy to share, with motherly love and care, her infinite knowledge, experience and insight. Her love, passion, energy and devotion were second to none.
Shortly before I assumed my position, I was briefed by my predecessor on the region covered by the consulate. When he got to the state of Ohio he made it short and to the point “Joyce" he said "will be there for everything you need to know". How absolutely right he was.
Joyce went out of her way to strengthen ties between Israel and Ohio and further Israel – US relations. On second thought, she didn’t really go out of her way. Endless, unconditional love, dedication and passion for Israel was Joyce’s way, always.
"For the sake of Zion I will not be silent. For the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest.” - with that passage Joyce concluded every issue of her weekly leadership report.
Joyce chose the word "Victory” as the subject of an email she sent me on March of 2014, upon receiving news that Governor Kasich authorized the signing of an agreement between Israel and Ohio that Joyce had been diligently working on for over six years to get accomplished.
Victory… - think of the excitement, the passion, the determination and perseverance folded in that single word. That was Joyce. That was Joyce with her family; That was Joyce with the community, and that was certainly Joyce whenever it came to Israel.
The state of Israel owes a great deal of gratitude to Joyce Garver Keller. Her achievements on behalf of Israel are many, too numerous to mention. They were acknowledged most recently in a letter that Prime Minister Netanyahu had written Joyce on the occasion of her retirement event, which took place not even a year ago, in June of last year. I would like to read to you parts of that letter, if I may:
June 25, 2015
Dear Ms. Garver Keller,
Congratulations on your retirement from Ohio Jewish Communities this month after 25 years of distinguished communal service.
It is my privilege to extend greetings from Jerusalem and words of honor on this celebration of your career. Your contributions have been a tremendous asset to the eight Jewish federations throughout Ohio... Furthermore, your service in the past 25 years has helped strengthen the relationship between the state of Israel and the state of Ohio.
Your illustrious career accomplishments are a positive reflection on yourself and Ohio Jewish Communities....you have made many remarkable contributions over the course of your service...I thank you again for your extraordinary service to the community.
Prime Minister of Israel
As we mourn her sudden and unexpected Passing, I also know that each of us will consider himself or herself extremely fortunate to lead a life filled with as much love, passion, sense of purpose and sense of fulfillment, as was the life led by Joyce Garver Keller.
יהי זכרה ברוך
May her memory be blessed
I am proud to have called Joyce Garver Keller a friend and mentor. We had long conversations about the dynamics of the Jewish community and its component parts. Joyce was exceptionally insightful, and I’m confident that I will continue to benefit from her insights and wisdom for as long as I serve as a rabbi and fellow Jewish community professional. Most recently, upon her return from Florida, we spoke about how she might become more involved in leadership at Agudas Achim in view of her recent retirement. I was contemplating how I might best take advantage of her thoughtful and expert coaching. We spoke about the logistics of how this might work, given her planned increased time out of state, in Florida. Joyce ended that conversation by emphasizing to me that I shouldn’t feel an obligation to create a role for her, but that if truly needed, she would of course help out. Naturally, of course, I hadn’t put away my phone before already scheming and devising all sorts of roles for her about which I could say, “Joyce, we truly need you for x.”
Joyce’s passion was advocating for Israel and the Jewish people. Her vocation was doing so through the hard work and investment of developing effective, strategic relationships with leaders representing diverse constituencies and of various backgrounds and priorities. I imagine careful, sometimes painstaking negotiation and deal making was called for. In her skillful hands making the match between the perceived needs of our community and those individuals best positioned to make a crucial difference was rewarding, if also fluid and complex.
In our times, we have largely lost sight of what was once an exceedingly important position in the Jewish community. We have an ancient and distinguished tradition of individuals taking on the task of advocating before the governing authorities on the behalf of the Jewish community. Sometimes referred to as the “Court Jew,” our spokesperson had to be intellectually agile, politically savvy, well-connected, and deeply respected as a leader both inside and outside the Jewish community. Our people survived centuries, often in tumultuous times, by dint of the courage and persistence of these dedicated, talented individuals. Joyce Garver Keller rightfully takes her place among them as an adroit modern version of the original type.
We tend to see advocating on the behalf of the community in a professional capacity as a secular endeavor; Jewish, but not Judaic. I want to challenge this assumption. I believe that what Joyce did, and what she stood for, is a mitzvah. It is a pity that this term, “mitzvah,” has had its meaning diluted somewhat by being translated as “good deed.” Indeed, a mitzvah is, or should be, a good deed. But the term actually means something more than that. By “mitzvah” I mean a sacred act; a way of fulfilling our duty to God. For some, most perhaps, being religious and serving God involves piety and prayers. Joyce did a lot of praying, and lovingly insisted that her grandsons put in time praying in synagogue right alongside her. But Joyce also exemplified another, equally valid way of being religious. Joyce took responsibility for representing the Jewish community to our political leaders; and, in occupying herself with the needs of the community in this manner, performed a mitzvah as genuine and as sacred as the more conventional mitzvot of any rabbi or minyan stalwart.
Our earliest rabbis prioritized relations with the governments of Rome and Persia. They took the time, expense, and often great risk, to make arduous journeys to plead before emperors; to secure relief for beleaguered Jewish communities, and to make commitments on the behalf of the Jews of Israel and the diaspora. They equated tireless efforts on the behalf of the community to the sacred duty to study the scriptures, and even ruled that obligatory prayers be suspended when the timing conflicts with an urgent public matter.
In the tractate Pirke Avot, the Sayings of our Fathers, we find:
Let all who work for the community work for them for the sake of Heaven, for the merit of the community's forefathers will help them, and their righteousness endures forever. And as for you, the community leader, God will reward you greatly and all which the community has accomplished shall be credited to you as your own.
Joyce Garver Keller worked for our community; indeed her work benefited all citizens of the State of Ohio, and undeniably her work was for the sake of Heaven. May her grit and righteousness be a lasting lesson for us all, and may her legacy endure forever. May God reward her greatly; because all that we accomplish, we fondly and respectfully acknowledge - it must be credited to her.