The Eternal Optimist

by Brian on November 1, 2010

in A Parent in Israel,In the News

Rivka Matitya z'l

My wife Jody recently attended her 30-year high school reunion in California. She remarked on her return to Israel how at the 10-year reunion, everyone was still in high school party mode. At 20 years, her friends were all talking about their families and careers. At her 30th, many of the attendees had gone through loss – divorce, death – and were much more sanguine and accepting about their place in the world.

Through it all, though, there was a sense, Jody said, that everyone was relatively in the same place, going through similar experiences at recurring decade markers.

I had this in mind as Jody and I attended the funeral of RivkA Matitya (yes, that’s how she spelled her name, to emphasize the accent on the last syllable). RivkA had battled breast cancer since 2005. Her blog – Coffee and Chemo – chronicled her trials and was widely read in the Jerusalem Anglo community and beyond.

RivkA was an eternal optimist, her husband Moshe told the more than 1,000 people who came out at 10:00 PM on a chilly Saturday night to the Har Hamenuhot funeral home. To her dying day, RivkA was still more concerned with taking care of others than dwelling on her own deteriorating situation. Her blog reflects that attitude, punctuating detailed medical information about her latest treatments with loving descriptions of camping with her family or what classes her kids would be taking in the coming year.

What made RivkA’s death so heart wrenching to many of her friends was how her life paralleled theirs, although on an alternate, devastating trajectory. She was in her forties with three teenage children – like us. She had made aliyah to Israel from the U.S. with passion and idealism – like us. She was committed to Jerusalem and tradition, and always strove in some small way to make the world a better place – (hopefully) like us.

And when she left us last Friday, we were all forced to imagine, at least for an unbearable moment, what our lives would be like if we lost a spouse; if our children had to grow up without their mother.

In his eulogy, Moshe shared how a friend told RivkA how angry she was at God for giving RivkA such pain. RivkA responded that she was not angry at God at all. How could I be, she asked. “Look at all the blessings I have around me.”

And that’s what I think RivkA would want from us – to recognize what we have, the good in our lives, the joy of being present, rather than fearing what could happen at any moment to any of us.

If we can internalize this sense of mindfulness – no, to act on it – then the world will indeed have been made a better place because RivkA Matitya has been a part of it, however briefly.


Rivka gave a series of lectures on living with cancer and overcoming adversity. They’re on YouTube; here’s the link.

This post appeared yesterday on Israelity.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Rachel November 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Thank you for such a wonderful post and also for sharing a beautiful picture of RivkA. I visited her blog a great deal, have her on my blogroll, but never knew what she looked like.

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