This week, so many of us were heartbroken at the tragic, sudden death of Neely Snyder, a former member of our community, in a traffic accident in Baltimore at the age of 37. Neely and her husband Josh were active members of our community from 2001 to 2008, and they made deep connections here, hosting Shabbat meals at their home, singing at services, learning and teaching Torah, and engaging people in the hallways. Josh studied at RRC and Neely worked as an educator at Akiba (now Barrack) Hebrew Academy, and they built close ties in both of those places as well, as they did wherever they went. Neely was instrumental in creating a “Shabbat Cafe” at GJC, a time after services on Friday night for people to socialize, play games, and enjoy each other’s company in the warmth of Shabbat. With her brilliant, warm smile and her open heart, Neely was always reaching out and bringing people into her world with joy and curiosity. She was a bright and vital presence in our community, and it is so hard to believe that she is gone from this world. Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh, with their three young daughters, and with their family as they mourn. We will have a memorial gathering on Sunday, August 23 at 10:00 AM in the Charry Sanctuary to share our memories of Neely and to record them to give to her family.
The ancient rabbis wrote about the love that God has for humanity as “ahavah y’teirah” – “unmotivated love.” God has no illusions about human beings; God knows our faults and our sins better than anyone. God does not love us because God thinks we are perfect. Rather, through and beyond humanity’s flaws, God sees our potential. God sees the human capacity for goodness, the ability that humans have to bring light and love and justice and hope into the universe, even if those beautiful ideals have not yet been put into action. So God’s love for us is not motivated by our deeds but by the unrealized potential that God sees within us.
The deep and abiding love that Neely had for people – the love that you could see shining in her face when she saw an old friend or met someone new – was ahavah y’teirah, unmotivated love. She had the rare ability to see beyond and through the faults of the world, faults she knew very well and worked hard to repair, to see the potential in the people around her to be good and to do good. She poured her love into them like water, and they surrounded her with love in return. May we learn from her memory to face the world and to encounter the people in it with that kind of love, with ahavah y’teirah. May the light of her smile light up our faces when we meet each other. And may her memory be everlasting blessing to us all.