January 6, 2023 - 14 Tevet 5783 - Parashat Vayechi 5783 / פָּרָשַׁת וַיְחִי
Dear Beit Rabban Community,
Today’s Shabbat B’Yachad (whole school assembly) was particularly spirited and joyful. This felt particularly appropriate as it was dedicated to one of the most joyful people I’ve ever known, Stacey Greene Koppell z’l, Chaya Bayla Rachel bat Gitel.
Stacey, our beloved former middle school teacher and colleague died suddenly a week ago. She is survived by her adoring husband Steve, and her epically adorable daughter Hannah who took her first steps just the day before Stacey passed away. Needless to say, Stacey’s death is an incomprehensible tragedy. The grief that her family and many, many friends feel is intense.
We gathered in multiple forums this week to honor Stacey, grieve, and take comfort in community. Therapists and social workers from within our community stepped up to support our faculty and students. Teachers organized a special ceremony in the middle school, facilitated small group support sessions, and taught students about shiva. Our middle school students attended shiva together yesterday and spent time with Steve, Hannah, and Cookie- Stacey’s dog whom she referred to as her firstborn child. Members of the community helped run shiva. We did all the things you do when someone you love passes away- we cried, hugged, and remembered. In this case, we also celebrated, and I want to share why.
It is common to hear people speak of a deceased person as someone who “would have wanted us to go on, to be happy.” It often doesn’t sit well with me when I hear this. How would you know what the person would want in the event of their death? In the case of Stacey Koppell, it was clear to everyone what she would want. She made it loud and clear every moment of her life living so joyfully and sharing that joy with as many people as she could touch, whether literally or digitally. Over the course of this week, I heard this trope over and over from her family members, her colleagues, her students, and her friends. She was clear about who she was, and she made that clear to all others. In turn, she made everyone around her happier.
Stacey sparkled. She radiated joy, her smile was constant, and could turn around any environment. She also literally sparkled- she wore a glitter children’s backpack to school every day and had an assortment of sequined masks. Stacey had a song and an accompanying dance for all her math and science lessons, and she would threaten her students that if they didn’t participate in the dance with the group she would require them to perform a solo performance. Stacey had a youtube channel where many of these were memorialized Because Stacey had some underlying health conditions, she spent the first 6 months of the 2020-2021 school year teaching outside on the roof, even in the freezing cold. She would bundle up, put on her microphone, and go right into character- pretending to be a tour guide with a mic as she taught. Stacey had clothing for every holiday- Chanukah leggings were just the begging of it. And, Stacey also made sure that Cookie and Hannah were appropriately dressed for each holiday or event, which she lovingly shared with all of us on her various Instagram accounts. Speaking of Hannah, Stacey's students and colleagues at Beit Rabban had the honor of sharing all the excitement that led to Hannah’s birth. We saw pictures of as her surrogate's pregnancy advance, and once Hannah arrived, the halls were decorated with her photos. Hannah has the same gigantic blue eyes as Stacey, and it seemed clear from the first pictures that she too would radiating.
Stacey was an incredibly talented and committed educator. She was the most grateful parent, full of delight. And, she was a force of confidence, optimism, and joy. She savored every moment and she shared almost all of them with all of us.
We remembered Stacey yesterday as we celebrated a bat mitzvah in middle school before everyone headed out to shiva. We also dedicated our raucous Shabbat B’Yachad boogieing to Stacey this afternoon. She would have loved both of these gatherings, and we missed her at them.
We know that continuing routine, even the joyful parts of life, is important to mental health after a loved one dies. In the case of Stacey, I am also confident that this is exactly what she would have wanted because it is following her example.
This Shabbat during Stacey’s shiva, I hope we can all savor each moment, laugh loudly at ourselves, add a little more sparkle to our clothing or our Shabbat tables, and delight in the people we love. Please think of Stacey when you do so and help us carry forward her incredible legacy in this way.
Wishing all a healthy and rejuvenating Shabbat,
BARUCH DAYAN HA'EMET
Stacey Koppel, Chaya Bayla Rachel bat Gitel
former Beit Rabban middle school teacher, beloved educator, colleague, and friend. Stacey is survived by her loving husband Steven and incredible toddler Hannah, as well as many loving family members.