As you know, I love visiting cemeteries. They are peaceful, historic, and give me a sense of perspective. The other day, Auntie Katie and I visited the Home of Peace Cemetery in Tacoma, Washington, a few hours north of Portland. We weren’t there for perspective or history, but to say goodbye to our dear friend Barbara Binder Kadden.
Barbara died last week, the day after her 64th birthday. The Home of Peace, besides being beautiful and historic, was filled with love and a sad awareness that Matan and Liav, Barbara’s grandchildren, will grow up without her joy and generosity and her gift for bringing organization and beauty to the world.
In her talk about Barbara at the graveside service, her friend Debbie spoke of Barbara’s dedication to Jewish education and her talent for feeding other Jewish students good meals. She told of Barbara’s last words to her husband, Rabbi Bruce Kadden, as he left her hospital room to go to work at Temple Beth El. “You teach them Jews,” she said, as she usually did when they parted. Barbara’s list of teaching posts, published works and leadership positions is long and impressive, but that’s not why she was my friend.
We met in 1984 in Salinas, California. Bruce had been hired as the Rabbi for our tiny congregation in a predominantly Catholic farm town. I had just converted to Judaism and was trying to raise my two kids in this new tradition, finding my way through Sabbath, Hebrew and graduate school all at once. Barbara was a different sort of woman than I had ever met. She didn’t couch her comments in the niceties I had grown up with, and for many years, she intimidated the heck out of me.
But she was early for every celebration to help set up, bringing food and much needed advice. She made me smarter and stronger than I thought I could be. She taught me how to organize a Kosher Luncheon for 3,000 people and Rummage Sale that filled the social hall. Her confidence and willingness to work was contagious.
For a few brief months in 1989, I knew something she didn’t, when the two of us started making a quilt to memorialize the Refusenik Jews the Kaddens had visited in the Soviet Union. It was Barbara’s first quilt and I was more experienced, but her drive for excellence took the project to a whole new level for me. That quilt was just the beginning of scores of incredibly beautiful quilts she made, finishing up some just months before she passed away.
Our daughters, my Katie and her Alana, were within a few weeks of the same age, and grew up together. They remained friends and have run a business together. I regret that Barbara and I didn’t stay as close. The Kaddens moved to Tacoma and we lost touch.
Only after I moved up to Portland last year did we get back together, and by that time she had her diagnosis of glioblastoma. We met up at Kenny and Zuke’s Deli last year when she and Bruce were in Portland for their wedding anniversary. Barbara was using a walker but she was opinionated as ever, and surprisingly cheerful, stating that every time she stood up it was another victory over gravity.
At her funeral luncheon, the walls of the social hall were decorated with just a few of her quilts, including the first Refusenik quilt we made together and her last one, a fabric and photo collage of Barbara and her grandson Matan walking on the beach. Standing in the bright room with a plate of bagel, lox and kugel, I had to shake myself when I realized I was scanning the room for Barbara, as I had at hundreds of Onegs, High Holidays, and B’nai Mitzvot. What was there of her were her family, friends, quilts and books, which will carry her intelligence and love forward.
I know that someday I will have perspective about this. For now, all I know is that the world will miss Barbara Binder Kadden. And selfishly speaking, so will I.