On June 2, 2012, NCJW lost a great leader, matriarch and mentor, Myra Farr (97). Born April 25, 1915 in Maine, Myra moved to South Florida with her family at the age of 16, and in 1938 married her beloved Aaron Farr (deceased 2003). As did all new brides, Myra was gifted a membership in the Greater Miami Section of NCJW. She became, and remained for seven decades, a powerful, inspirational and valued leader in NCJW, serving as Section president (1949-51), National Vice President (1967-75), and then National Honorary Vice President (1975-2012). While NCJW was her treasured “home” for social justice, she was also a strong, wise leader and legendary fundraiser for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Jewish Museum of Florida, Temple Beth Sholom of Miami Beach and the Miami Jewish Home for the Aged.
Myra was pivotal in creating NCJW’s life membership program, as well as many of our programs and commitments in Israel, and for encouraging visionary, strategic advancement of NCJW locally and nationally. But most significantly, Myra, like NCJW, developed people. Over the more than 70 years of continuous and dedicated leadership in NCJW, Myra mentored many dozens of women, two of whom became national NCJW presidents: Nan Rich (1996-99) and I, Nancy Ratzan (2008-11). Myra’s mentorship was so intimate and impactful, that her mentees came to be known as “Myra’s daughters.” At her funeral, more than 25 of “Myra’s daughters,” spanning three generation, accompanied her casket. As one of her “daughters,” I delivered the following eulogy:
“Myra taught us how to live long, meaningful lives that truly matter. Indeed, she lived so well that her life now continues through each of us who are privileged to be the living legacy of this most extraordinary woman.
We all have amazing, personal stories about how Myra inspired, nurtured, advised, lifted, taught, and loved us to be who we are today. We need to keep telling those stories so that the precious wisdom and influence that was quintessentially Myra, will live on in us.
For Myra had an exquisite covenant with herself, and with this world, to strive to live each day with purpose, joy and devotion to others, to be fully used up in the end, leaving nothing unspent or withheld, and then finally to pass the torch on to us. She embodied the words of George Bernard Shaw, which she referenced often,
“[M]y life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. …
Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
A splendid torch she was, and is.
She is the shamash of our community, the light on our hannukiah that ignites all the others. She is the candle, the torch, that leads the way, and makes it possible for the others to give light as we to try to follow her luminous lead.
I knew her first as the matriarch of the Greater Miami Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. Twenty-two years ago she took me, as she has taken so many, under her gentle and powerful wings. She welcomed me into her world, into the home of NCJW, where I found the most meaningful and powerful way to be whole, to be like Myra, in a life-long pursuit of social justice with like-souled women.
Oh, how I loved her soul, her way of being. Not only did she leave nothing unspent, she left nothing unsaid. She told us all, in words, in notes and in acts, again and again, that she loved us, that she saw in us holiness and greatness; and so we were great and we strive to by holy.
She taught us through the pureness and the constancy of her deeds:
The way she sought to pursue each day with the optimism of a new bride;
How she treated everyone with kindness and deep respect;
The way she would giggle like a young girl in love with life;
How she had impact every time she entered a room, sat at a board table, or made an ask, to which, the only answer could be “yes, of course I will, Myra;”
And we cherished how she loved with complete abandon and absolute loyalty. That is how she loved Aaron, til her last breath, and Harvey, and us. And that is how so many of us came to be “Myra’s daughters.”
The daughters of Myra, we span three generations and every part of the Jewish community that defined Myra — National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Jewish Museum of Florida, Temple Beth Sholom of Miami Beach and the Miami Jewish Home for the Aged. She embraced and loved each of us with great devotion and fierce pride.
She showed us how to lead, how to work hard to live more, and how to love and strengthen our community. She remembered, celebrated and kvelled at every one of our milestones, and we daughters gathered to celebrate hers. Indeed, as soon as I fell in love with Kenny, I brought him to Myra, for her approval and so that she could love him too. And she did.
She pinned pictures of us and our children on her refrigerator, and we adorned her piano and dresser with our lives and achievements. Myra worked seemingly tirelessly to ensure that we were ready to receive her splendid, precious torch, and that we would know how and why to pass it on to future generations.
As Myra was often among the first we would call with news of our own triumphs and trials, she also became our central exchange, keeping the rest of “her daughters” updated about the adventures of the others. She was endlessly loyal to us and we, in turn, became faithful friends to each other. Indeed, I am not sure how we would have managed these last years as Myra waned, had we not had each other, as we, along with a few other angels in our community, each did our best to return to Myra the love and care she had bestowed on us and ensure that she could live her last years with dignity, security and comfort.
Myra called us her “rosebuds.” She gathered us up and made sure we would bloom. Now it is our time to thank her for the honor of being loved by and loving her and to affirm our covenant to her and each other to carry her splendid torch, and pass it on, so that her light will endure l’olam, va’ed, forever and ever.
Thank you Myra, for showing us how to live.
Click here for a video tribute to Myra Farr.