by Rabbi Shana Margolin
Since August 7 and the several days that have followed, here locally and across Vermont — many people have been shaken by a spate of slayings that have claimed the lives of four women.
On Friday afternoon, August 7 — Lara Sobel, a longtime social worker with the Vermont Department of Children and Families, was fatally shot in downtown Barre as she left her office for the weekend.
Charged in the case was Jody Herring from nearby Berlin. Police have said that Herring was angry at the Department of Children and Families about losing custody of her 9-year-old daughter.
On August 8, the bodies of three slaying victims were identified — Jody Herring’s cousins, Rhonda and Regina Herring and their mother, Julie Ann Falzarano.
Here at The Bridge we express our condolences and sympathy to all those who mourn those whose lives were lost.
We are also grateful to Rabbi Shana Margolis from the Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier for her willingness to share below her eulogy of Lara Sobel. Margolis delivered this eulogy of Lara Sobel to an audience of family, friends, fellow workers and mourners at the Capitol Plaza Hotel on Wednesday, August 12.
Lara Sobel was a cherished mother and wife, a woman of deep warmth. She had an inspiring sense of justice, an abiding commitment to making the world better. She brought kindness to people who hardly ever experienced anyone being so kind to them. She treated everyone with dignity and respect. She brought light into a world that was often too dark
Lara grew up in Oceanside, New York, on Long Island. She spent summers in High School at Camp Tel Yehudah, a Jewish camp in upstate New York. There is a wonderful message from the director of Tel Yehudah, David Weinstein, on Lara’s Facebook page. Lara spent a gap year in Israel between high school and college. She graduated from the University of Vermont, and went on to get two master’s degrees, one in education from Boston University and one in social work from UVM.
Tim Faryniarz and Lara knew each other casually as undergraduates, but when they ran into each other years later, they built the deep connection that brought them to spend their lives together.
Tim fell in love with Lara for her deep warmth, her sense of justice, her heart. He fell in love with her beliefs in a world without war, a world of social justice, a world of caring. Lara built a life with that faith in a better world at the center. In her family, in her profession, in her community involvement, everything about her reflected the spark inside her that worked to make things better for everyone.
A lot has been said about Lara as a social worker, a professional who graced her work with kindness and compassion. She was a mentor to the families she served and to less experienced workers. She wanted to help, never to judge. One of her clients told a newspaper reporter, “(Lara Sobel) said, ‘we’re not here to make your life hard. We’re here to help you.’ The client, quoted in an article in (a newspaper), continued, ‘she just was so kind and amazingly supportive.”
But today we honor Lara as a community member, a wife, a mother, a daughter; a sister. So many memories:
Sitting in the opening circle in religious school, entwined with her daughters, as Elahna, her younger child, played with her mom’s hair. Elahna has been playing with her mother’s long, curly hair, Tim said, since she was a baby.
Cutting up bagels for the parents of students on Sunday mornings, hanging out with other parents in the religious school, animated in conversation.
Walking around Montpelier doing errands, with her two beautiful girls, and the wonderful smile Lara so often had.
Singing with Julia at Julia’s Bat Mitzvah, and talking to her with such pride. They looked at each other with such great love.
Elahna and Julia wrote down some things that they wanted everyone to know about their mother. I’d like to read them now.
Everything about Mom was great.
- She had the best hugs.
- She had the best smile.
- Her laughter and happiness were contagious.
- Her compassion and how she always cared for others.
- She had an amazing and unique sense of humor.
- She was a fantastic listener and never judged.
- Her heart was filled with so much love and light.
- Her voice and the words she sang were so beautiful.
- Her stories she told were incredible and special to us and to everybody she told.
- Mom is perfect to everybody who meets her and loves her.
Tim said last night that there was no gift for either of them that was greater than their two daughters. Both Lara and Tim cherished their girls: the two most beautiful, caring, wonderful people, Julia and Elahna, and they cherished each other. Tim loved Lara’s warm brown eyes and her freckles. She was his Frecklebear.
Long ago, Lara taught Israeli dancing to kids in the religious school. One parent who was there wondered why someone who didn’t have kids in the school would volunteer to teach there.
Why did she teach kids to dance? She did it because she loved children, and she loved dancing and she loved Israeli culture. And she was deeply generous. She wanted to share what she loved.
She shared what she loved. One of her abiding loves was her Judaism. In a place where Jews were a tiny minority, she created a Jewish home with Tim. She made sure her children learned about their heritage, celebrated Jewish holidays, went to Jewish summer camp. Las fall, her daughter, Julia, had a beautiful Bat Mitzvah.
Lara embodied the quality that in Hebrew is called chesed, compassion. She showed respect for everyone; from those with great prestige to those with very little, she treated everyone equally. Lara showed us what it means to treat everyone as created in the image of God. She inspired us with her commitment to keep children safe, with her dedication to giving children a chance to thrive. Her legacy is now in our hands.
A traditional Jewish teaching from a work called “The Ethics of the Sages” tells us, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you free to give up on it.” It is up to us to continue what Lara could not. It is up to us to work, as she no longer can, for a world of compassion, caring, and respect for others.
To those of you in government, we pray that you can have a clear vision of the world as it is, while holding fast to a vision of what our world could be, and working with us all to move toward it.
To those of you who do the work that Lara did, helping families in crisis and keeping children safe, we are in awe of you. We honor you for the caring you give, for the risks you take, for the love you show the families you serve. In Hebrew we say cazak v’amatz, may you be strong and courageous as you do what really is holy work.
To Lara’s friends and community, may we support each other as we remember her. May we be inspired by her example to bring gentleness, to show interest in everyone, to those whose lives we touch.
To Alex, Bobbi and Lauren, Lara’s first family: Our hearts and prayers go out to you. We pray that you find comfort in the support of this community and of your own.
And to Tim, Julia and Elahna: You are all much too young to suffer this loss. Please know there are so many people in this room who want to be there for you. So many.
No species loves better than humans. The evil in the world is tragic to us because we are able to love, so it makes us sad to see hatred and pain. But we can focus on all the good things that God teaches us in the sign of the rainbow, like happiness, life, and love.