With profound sorrow, the Officers, Board of Trustees and staff of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations mark the death of our esteemed friend and colleague, Faye Tillis Lewy. Devoted Regional Educator for the Union’s Great Lakes Council, Faye also undertook many special projects for the Department of Jewish Education.
According to Jewish legend, there are thirty-six people in the world called lamedvavniks because lamed and vov add up to thirty-six. While their identity is unknown to others, they, like Atlas hold up the world, not with physical strength but with moral and spiritual might. If you knew Faye, you may have had the privilege of knowing one of the sacred thirty-six. She was a passionate and compassionate Jew who loved to teach almost as much as she loved to learn. A life long resident of Chicago, Faye’s circle of friends reached around the world for she loved people and made friends wherever her or travels took her.
Faye taught at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, IL and was director of Education at Anshe Emet of Chicago. She was a regional educator before such a position existed, long having served her colleagues in the Chicago area as mentor, partner, and friend. At the Community Foundation for Jewish Education and later the UAHC’s Great Lakes Council, Faye distinguished herself as a teacher of teachers and she was also the embodiment of lifelong learning. In This Is My God, an essay she composed some years ago for a Slichot service, Faye wrote: “I could tell you how my God’s image inspires me in the way I operate in this world. I could tell you how I see God’s image in all people, in their deeds and actions, when they are kind and compassionate, thoughtful and loving, generous and ingenious. Instead, I’ll tell you that for the past years several of my colleagues and I have met regularly to study Psalms…I believe the entire purpose of the Book of Psalms is to teach us to recognize God in every situation we encounter. This is the challenge of life.” Faye met this challenge by embracing it, holding God tightly even when she knew she was dying.
Faye’s love of Judaism may have prolonged her life, but without question it enriched her life. She wrote numerous issues of Family Shabbat Table Talk and one closing comment epitomized her teaching: “This week’s edition was written by Faye Tillis Lewy, who feels God’s presence and is strengthened by going to services, studying with friends and colleagues, and reading Psalms.” Faye made sure that as the Talmud teaches: “the righteous ones are called living even after they die,” for she established a fund that enables educators from under-resourced congregations to attend the annual conferences of the National Association of Temple Educators. In her memory, many of her friends and colleagues have contributed to the Faye Tillis Lewy Scholarship Fund and the congregations she served in life will continue to be served by Faye now that she is gone from our midst.
Chanukah was Faye’s last holiday before her death and she celebrated by lighting the Festival Lights with family and dear friends, one of whom told the story of the 10th candle, not the traditional eight or the shamash but of Faye, the 10th candle who brought life and light to all who knew and loved her.
Faye’s signature was Dayaynoo, the popular refrain from the Passover Haggadah. It was on her license plate and her e-mail address. It will have a new refrain in the future: Eilu natan lanu Tziporah bat Leah, v’lo natan lanu et libah ha-nifla - dayaynoo. Had God given us Faye Tillis Lewy without her extraordinary heart and mind, it would have been enough. But God gave us both. Dayaynoo - May it be enough for us to live and love as Faye did. In her words and in her deeds, in her ultimate act of hesed chel emet, unconditional love, Faye looked at her life and said Dayanoo one last time.
To her husband, Dr. Peter Lewy, her son Matthew, and all her loved ones we convey deepest condolences. Dayaynoo, may it be enough for us to love the memory of Faye Tillis Lewy and may her memory be for a blessing always.