On December 6, a remarkable woman died—Ireney Jacob. Born in Germany, she and her family were able to leave, just in time, in 1938. 20 years later she married Rabbi Walter Jacob, now Rabbi emeritus of Rodef Shalom synagogue in Pittsburgh. I reney was the kind of person who had an idea and worked full-force to bring it to fruition. She loved plants and visited 1400 gardens in North America and co-wrote a book about them. She did the same thing in Japan and in all the places that constituted the setting of her seven books with her husband. She started a Biblical garden at Rodef Shalom, which has exhibits, docents, and enjoyment for everyone. And Ireney was warm, down-to-earth, outspoken, and funny. Her life was far from easy; all three of her children preceded her in death, which most of us consider the greatest blow to manage. Still, Ireney moved forward, taking advantage of the life she never took for granted. As Walter said in his eulogy, “She knew that we were lucky to escape, lucky that a country wanted us. We could have been like so many; we could have gone up in smoke.”
In May, Ireney was diagnosed with lung cancer. At 84, she chose to do nothing, simply to prolong her life for a few additional months. She also chose to tell no one, except for Walter, of course. Instead, she lived as normally as possible, and that included a trip to Germany, just six weeks before she died.
My husband and I had had tea with Walter and Ireney in their home in August. We walked through their astonishing home garden and sensed nothing different in Ireney or in Walter. We simply enjoyed our visit.
But I can’t sop thinking of Ireney, of her spirit, her force. Recently, someone spoke of another woman who had died, saying, “It’s the end of a chapter, but what a book!” Ireney Jacob represents one of those very inspirational books.