These eulogies were given during the farewell ceremony in Jerusalem, held on March 31, 2019.
Malka Rappaport Hovav
In memory of Edit
I was asked to represent the faculty this evening and it is with a sense of trepidation that I approach this task. Edit was active in the university considerably longer than me, and the sheer scope of her activities was amazing. She left a mark in whatever she did, and developed strong personal relationships with so many. In the Israeli and international academic community Edit was a central and esteemed figure. I hope I manage to capture something of her inspirational character. She was a force of nature, larger than life, and remained so, even as her life slowly ebbed away.
Edit was also a close friend – I have been dreading this moment for years now – and now that the dreaded moment has come, I am left dumb-struck, with a rended heart. For me, Edit was an anchor in the university. I knew that I could turn to her about anything – research, administration or personal issues – to ask for advice, to deliberate, quite often to disagree; but always knowing that whether or not we agreed, we would have a frank, substantive discussion, with no petty hidden agendas, where our goals were first and foremost to promote knowledge and understanding, to formulate and realize vision, to help colleagues and students develop and advance, to make the world a better place.
In the past few days I have been thinking about what made Edit so special in the personal and academic landscape – for she was truly a unique individual. I will do my best to convey this. I do not know many people whose academic trajectory reflects their personality so precisely. Edit was courageous, brilliant, colorful and daring – in everything she did. She was individualist, opinionated, true to her inner voice; she had a tremendous passion for life, an infectious joie de vivre; and yes, she was also very optimistic. Her intellectual-analytical capacities were amazing. Edit’s research was for her a personal and riveting intellectual journey. She was driven by passion to understand life with its many wonders and puzzles, especially those phenomena in which she found the interest and for which she had the tools to explore. The range topics and disciplines she was competent in was immense and kept expanding all the time. She harnessed her skills and abilities to solve puzzle after puzzle. And she was optimistic – excited by newly developing theories, new collaborations which bring us closer towards solving mysteries and providing deep insights into different aspects of language.
I was told not to focus on Edit’s academic profile and achievements tonight and to focus rather on her personality and how it found expression in her interaction with colleagues at the university. But her academic profile is as extraordinary as her personality and indeed the former merely reflects the latter. Let me explain. Most researchers in linguistics – as in any other discipline – choose an area of specialization and focus on it. That area becomes their comfort zone, some even lay personal claim to a particular corner of their discipline and become identified with it. Edit was known as a formal semanticist, and she contributed to many, many, aspects of formal semantics, but she made important contributions in syntax, morphology, phonology and lately also in historical Linguistics; that is, her disciplinary spread was really wide. But she never used her achievements for self-promotion and she was never satisfied with staying in her comfort zones. As soon as she felt she solved a particular linguistic puzzle to her satisfaction, she was ready to take on the next intellectual challenge. And if that meant that she had to specialize in another subfield (within linguistics – or in a neighboring discipline) then specialize she did. She was forever looking for the next challenge, directing her endless energy to the next puzzle she wanted to solve.
The number and range of people she collaborated with over the years is extraordinary. She collaborated with people of all academic ranks, fields and theoretical persuasions. She was open, had a deep respect for and belief in people, and she was ready – even eager – to learn from any person from any field and any approach. Her discussions and deliberations with colleagues led to many collaborations. And like anything else she did – what motivated her and provided her with satisfaction, was the promotion of knowledge, the solving of puzzles. Edit’s generosity – a hallmark of her personality – was evident in these collaborations. Calculating and making known the relative contribution of each author was beyond her. What does it matter. What is important is to deepen our understanding, to promote and share knowledge. There are countless studies which have been published over the years that without her interest, time and attention, would never has seen the light of day, despite the fact that her name didn’t appear as author.
If I had to characterize the value most central in Edit’s life, I would say that it is ‘dignity.’ She lived with dignity and wanted, no, demanded – an attitude of dignity to people and research. Edit never sought honor. She was very proud to receive the Israel-Prize – but she was proud mostly because she took this to mean that the research community she represented received recognition, and that this recognition of her scientific achievements may bring the results and insights of this research to a larger audience.
Edit was a woman of vision. There is no time to elaborate here on all the initiatives she promoted over the years, enriching the academic communities in Israel and abroad. I mentioned that the course of her research was an intellectual and personal odyssey; her greatest passion was for Hebrew, and the puzzle she wanted to solve more than any other, was that of the wonder of Hebrew being transformed into a spoken language at the turn of the last century. And if Edit was a woman who built bridges between worlds, her greatest and most cherished vision was to build a bridge between the academic communities working on Hebrew in Hebrew departments here in Israel, and those working on all aspects of the study of language in the great centers of linguistics abroad. I accompanied the realization of this vision for years, from the time it began to take shape in our research group in the Scholion Center at the Hebrew University, and when it took a great leap forward when Edit was awarded the ERC grant on the Emergence of Modern Hebrew. In this project many strands of Edit’s research merged and found expression.
Destiny had it that just at that time Edit had to struggle with her illness. And then Edit was revealed to the fullest of her nobility. She carried on with the same dignity I just mentioned. She tried to minimize the presence of her illness in her daily life and coped with it discreetly. In this last period, she dedicated all her strength towards the promotion of her project and people in her academic environment. Two days before she passed away, Edit led the discussion in her research group. She came to the meeting mustering up her last ounces of strength. But as soon as the discussion began, her face beamed with satisfaction. She was sharp as a razor; the discussion led to new insights which brought her joy. That same night she continued corresponding with students and colleagues.
Edit was a colleague and a good friend. I loved her very much. As I was trying to do my best to offer her support and sustenance in the last week of her life, it was she who insisted on instilling in me optimism about the future. And her sense of humor did not leave her until the last moment. From one of our last WhatsApp exchanges:
Me: How are you feeling?
Edit: The usual, meaning the usual crap.
Me: [A more or less appropriate emoji]
Edit: It’ll be alright.
Me: With God’s help, I’m recruiting him.
Edit: He doesn’t really know me, and it’s mutual.
Me: I’ve already made a one-sided introduction.
Edit: Thanks! If it doesn’t help, it certainly won’t harm.
Relatedly or not, in the past few years Edit read a lot in the Hebrew Bible – she loved Biblical Hebrew and studied it with great pleasure. And so, I will conclude this tribute to Edit with a biblical expression. Edit– Great in counsel, mighty of deed (Jeremiah 32: 19), you will be sorely missed by me and every one of us.
Miri Bar-Ziv Levy
I invested a lot in mentally preparing myself for your death. I have dreaded this moment for a long time. But even so you managed to fool me into thinking you are invincible. And now the moment has come and I am shocked with pain. The void you have left is huge; just as your presence in my world and the world at large was huge. In this context I will read a few words from Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Maybe you wouldn’t like the part about God in that quote, but now you can’t make a face at me and I am free to say what I want. You spread your light and enchantment everywhere. You were not afraid to fight or be provocative, ignoring anyone who this didn’t suit; you allowed yourself to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, beloved, avant garde and adored. Thank you for granting this to yourself. I myself am grown already but I still have a need to lift my eyes and find out there worthy female role models. You played this role in a big way.
The last few years were accompanied by illness, pain and treatments, but at the same time you scaled heights of professional achievement, and you enjoyed satisfaction, recognition and pride. I witnessed all this from up close. In 2013 the activities of “The Emergence of Modern Heberew” group began at the Scholion Mandel Center. When we began, I had no idea how large scale your aspirations were. But already by the end of the first semester you led us proudly in the publication of a special journal volume on the influence of contact languages on Modern Hebrew. Your greatness was not in vision only. As the editor of the volume you were intensively involved in each of the articles. The group in Scholion was active and productive, and you continued leading the group energetically, even when your illness was diagnosed in 2015. In 2016 we received the news of your being awarded the Israel Prize with great excitement. The closing event for the group’s activity was a grand, much discussed conference, attended by people from all over Israel and the world. The book emerging from that conference is soon to be published.
During the last two years you devoted yourself to the ERC project, which also dealt with the emergence of the Modern Hebrew. It was a great privilege for me to work closely with you, and I learned much. You had a clear idea of what science is and what research is and a clear and generous understanding of your role as a mentor/supervisor. It was not always easy. You were demanding, you set very high standards. Nothing, at any level, escaped your scrutiny, from the space between lines to the coherence of the argument. Your comments where blunt, incisive and quite expressive, whether positive or negative. Your facial expressions conveyed a lot; usually there was a characteristic sound to each expression, sometimes with vocal accompaniment and sometimes without. There was that look of “oh oh”. Interesting statement. And the look of “did you hear THAT? Do you understand how it relates to what we spoke about earlier too?”. And there was that look of “pff what nonsense!!!”. You were amusing, we laughed a lot. You derived a lot of satisfaction from our group. And you cared for all of us deeply. One of the pinnacles of our project was the trip to France last November. We traveled together, six members of the group to present at a conference. You treated us like mother goose sheltering her daughters and proud of them.
Less than three weeks ago you spoke at the linguistics department seminar. Before the lecture you looked weak and sick, and when I asked you how you feel you answered “I am barely alive”. The lecture itself was excellent. When we were left alone in the room, only you Ruta and I, you allowed yourself to sit down and sigh. I asked if you were really able to drive home. You looked at me as if I fell from the moon. “What, do I look that bad??” and when Ruta said you looked exhausted you made your “pff” face and said: “I don’t STAND when I drive, I SIT!!
Your last day at university was last Monday. You arrived uncharacteristically late to our weekly meeting, terrible color in your face, with a weak voice, walking very, very slowly. But as soon as the lights turned and the meeting began, you returned to the full extent of your senses, sharp and filled with joy from the lecture and the discussion. Afterwards you paid attention to each and every none of us, that evening you worked energetically. That night I received four emails from you, three about the construction entries for our website. You considered these construction entries as the realization of the success of our project and nothing cheered you more than the fact that we had finally begun to upload them to our new website. The first was uploaded. And then another. And another. Three already uploaded, and about ten others in advanced stages of preparation. Each entry that arrived excited you. “A construction page has just arrived!!!” burst out from the subject line of your email to us. On Monday evening I wrote you that the fourth entry was uploaded. You replied: “I saw that there are 5 entries, not 4! That makes me so happy”. 5?... I thought. But there are only 4. I stopped myself from writing that to you. If it made you so happy, I’ll make sure a fifth will be uploaded soon. On Wednesday I almost sent you an updated entry for your approval. I knew you were in a serious condition. But a small voice in me still said “who knows, maybe you’ll recover for a bit and the entry will bring you more joy.” I think that was about the time you parted from the world.
Oy, Edit. It is so painful and difficult to part from you. You were and always will be a shining light for me. Rest in peace, my love.
You were the kind of teacher one learned from best by observation and imitation. The deep passion and curiosity that were characteristic of your approach to research and teaching cannot in any event be taught; they are things one can only be infected by, and they are what enabled each and every student who came under your professional scrutiny to find his or her individual path and to discover the fields of interest that spark in him or her that same kind of excitement.
Your legendary course of many years, “Issues in Semantics”, was a significant milestone for all of us and a clear memory of learning with joy. Year after year, you succeeded in showcasing foundational topics in research in linguistics to the students in a fresh, inspiring and yet accessible and thought-provoking way.
You taught us to look Hebrew straight in the eye, with a sober look that takes into account all the historical complexity associated with our language. You were and still are an uncompromising theoretician, who never for a moment neglects to listen to the ambient language that continues to evolve around us. We learned from you the importance of studying the most up-to-date linguistic theories, those that deal with bound variables and wh-movement, but we also learned the importance of being intimately acquainted with Hebrew and the research traditions that developed around it. The ability to synthesize abstract theory and the language itself produced your brilliant research, which dramatically advanced the knowledge of the linguistics community as a whole. We can only fervently wish for ourselves to continue in the steady and sure path your research and supervision paved for us.
You were one person with quantities of knowledge commensurate to that of an entire university. You knew how to give us sharp and precise feedback, never hesitating to say that an idea we presented was completely ridiculous, but always also providing constructive feedback, which would lead eventually to a better product. You were able to insightfully identify professional and personal obstacles students were coping with and to offer practical solutions and tools for edification and improvement. Then you would continue to follow our personal development, encouraging us about choices and the journey we had undertaken.
You gave us the feeling that teacher-student relationships are reciprocal, that you are also here to learn from us. This was Edit’s approach to people in general – an approach of genuine and attentive listening to people, with a flexibility and open mindedness that allowed her to be surprised by and influenced by the thoughts and ideas of even first year undergraduates. There is no underestimating the effect such an approach has on the self-confidence and sense of competency a student has at the beginning of his professional journey. We thank you for this, each and every one of us, from the bottom of our hearts.
We are left with so many questions we haven’t had time to ask, ideas that await approval or a dissatisfied look that will send us back to the drawing board, and a longing for the magnificent presence we can only hope will continue to accompany us further.
The students of the Linguistics Department,
The LLCC, and the HUJI-TAU Program