I remember Abby’s very first post, some 82 posts ago, describing the name on our blog. The time when Rafi had to explain, “Hebrew is for Israel, Mommy.” We told this story many times, and it usually brought laughs. The story also made our dear friend Nili Adler laugh, who never went a day without speaking Hebrew in America. Even before we left for Israel, Rafi could never tell Nili, “Hebrew is for Israel.” Nili would speak to Rafi, and Rafi, before we went to Israel, just looked confused. When we returned in November, Nili got to speak with Rafi in Hebrew, and they even sang Hebrew children’s songs together, which brought Nili great joy.
I took Hebrew in the year leading up to my Fulbright adventure. I knew that this language would be essential in my daily activities, even though I often got frustrated, I never stopped trying to speak Hebrew with Nili outside of class. Recently, a year after starting my Fulbright,I was able to visit Nili during Hospice care. I was sharing some funny and interesting stories with her. One was how we chose our current synagogue. But, typical of Nili, I was required to tell the story in broken Hebrew instead of fluent English. She was constantly the patient teacher, still correcting and providing vocabulary, engaged and laughing at the story. Her favorite part were the names of the minyanim in the building, Tzadikim (our shul’s nickname) and Minyan Hanoar (one floor above). (If you do not know the translation, look it up). And that Rafi was the one to choose our synagogue. After my story she asked questions (in Hebrew) where I was only allowed to give the Hebrew answer.
You could not learn Hebrew in Cleveland without knowing Nili Adler. And you couldn’t know Nili Adler without knowing a little bit of Hebrew. Her Hebrew teaching is a constant theme in the online tributes dedicated to Nili. (The online tributes can be found here and here).
We are very happy we got to know Nili outside of the context of both her profession and language. We sat behind her in synagogue, where she would always bring great joy. She wore a shawl of happiness, sunshine, and joy, and brought it with her every day. She always brought a smile to those around her. There was no sadness in her presence. I will miss that joy. We all will miss the tzadeket Nili Adler.
I encourage anybody reading this who knew Nili to share their stories here or at the other tribute sites above. May Nili Adler’s memory, Hebrew, and joy live on.