Remembering Marla Bennett: A Crown of Glory
By Bradley Laye
Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach Counties
When I see a pomegranate (Rimon), I will always think of Marla. The first time I met Marla was at a Shabbat meal in Jerusalem with some mutual friends. It was there that I first heard her sincere laugh, her well thought ideas on life, and saw the grace that imbued her. I remember she had a hint of gray hair which I found to add to her beauty-it gave her a certain distinguished quality, classic beauty.
I had a number of other meals and encounters with Marla over the course of my year in Jerusalem, but one is particularly memorable. We were both enrolled in the JESNA Graduate Education Seminar in Jerusalem. We would meet once a month to learn and discuss trends and issues in Jewish education. One month, we went as a group to Pinat Shorashim, an experiential garden and playground that had Biblical themes and origins. Our assignment was to pair off and develop an educational program around one of the species of plants or objects in the garden. Marla and I were partners. After perusing the garden, seeing the seven species, the four plants of succot, the havdallah garden, and other such things, we were both drawn to the pomegranate. It is truly an unusual and special fruit.
We developed our program far more quickly than the other pairs in the group. This left us almost 45 minutes to sit on the bench swing and talk. Marla and I spoke about life in Israel, future goals, past and current loves, everything.
When we were brought together as a group to walk around and present, we went last. Marla and I asked everyone to pick a stone that represented them-you would be surprised at how seriously people took the selection process-the stone had to be just right! We then collected them from people and put them in our hands, which we then closed. When we opened them up, we explained how the pomegranate is like the Jewish world. We each have a space and role in the Jewish world like a seed in the pomegranate. The outer skin, Torah, and all of her values are what hold us together. Each seed can be a slightly different size, some with more juice than others, with different colors, but we are all Jews. Finally, the pomegranate is crowned - the Keter. The same name for the Keter of the Torah. The crown is glory, the crown is protection, and the crown is strength.
What made this experience so wonderful was not the program we developed, but the energy Marla and I shared. On the bus ride back we spoke at length about a number of other things. It was partly her conversation with me that led me to Hillel work, based on her positive experiences with Hillel in college and her reassurance.
I am a better person for having known her, and I know that her memory will always be a blessing, a crown of glory for all who knew her. When I see a pomegranate, I will always think of Marla.