Today we buried our beloved teacher Yaffah (Gail) Korinow, who died at the too-tender age of 63 after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. As the 1st grade Hebrew and Tanach teacher at JCDS, Yaffah taught both my sons to read and write Hebrew and to love Torah. But really, Yaffah taught everyone. When Akiva was in her class, Gideon had yet to enter preschool. Everything social about my day happened at JCDS, early in the morning and later in the afternoon. When I came to get Akiva from school, I was hungry for Hebrew learning, and Yaffah would teach me. At the time I still labored under the naive assumption that I could learn alongside my children and keep up. Yaffah would give me elementary Hebrew books and answer all my questions, despite having an hour-long commute ahead of her. She acted as though she had all the time in the world.
How dearly I wish she had.
During Gideon’s 1st grade year, we learned that Yaffah had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A person could be forgiven for slowing down after such a discouraging diagnosis, but Yaffah was irrepressible. She scheduled her chemotherapy appointments for Fridays (the shortest school day) and the children knew only that every other Friday, Yaffah would not be in school. The rest of the time, though, she was there, devoting herself utterly to her students with characteristic joy.
I remember one morning when I came to drop Gideon off for school, we arrived uncharacteristically early and the classroom wasn’t yet open. The lights were low, and as I looked in the window, I saw Yaffah curled up on the floor in the corner. It was the first time I realized how sick she was. When the children were around, it was an entirely different picture. As soon as the classroom opened, she was lively and joyful, greeting the children and engaging with them as she always did.
Today’s funeral was long, but nobody wanted it to end. Like Yaffah’s beautiful, rich, soulful life, it felt too short. The tears were flowing before the service even began, and when the first shovelful of dirt fell, our hearts broke again. Yet it was good — essential, even — to be together. Hearing Yaffah’s sons, daughters-in-law, and friends speak of her with such love and admiration softened the blow. There was plenty of sadness and regret, but also much laughter and love. It felt good to be with others (so many others!) who knew Yaffah and loved her.
May her memory be a blessing. It already is.