The Rabbi stood behind his pulpit and surveyed the crowd. He had the eyes of a man of wisdom – a man of age. But his face, framed by a full beard and healthy masses of dark hair, appeared youthful. His body, sheathed in a tight layer of white skin, was strong and healthy.
But his eyes, his eyes were old.
As he looked around the assembled crowd, he remembered days of old. He remembered days when his synagogue routinely drew such crowds. Where the singing would seem to push against the seams of the synagogue’s roof, threatening to burst out and carry the world upward with it. There was still a small group that came, but they met in a smaller room. The room still burst with song, but it was not the same. The days of the great chapel, with seating for 500, were passed.
The room was a model of past glory. The structure was decaying, paint was flaking, water damage threatened the Aron Hakodesh (the Holy Ark), and seats neared collapse. A smell of mildew and rot filled the air.
But despite it all, today the place was full. There was standing room only. Faces long slumbering seemed awake, aware and engaged.
Sadly, the Rabbi noted that there were few children.
“It has been a long time since I’ve conducted something like this.”
He paused, letting the significance of the moment sink in.
“The passing of a life offers an opportunity for reflection. It is an opportunity for reflection upon the life that has passed. And in the case of a woman like Miriam Leibowitz, it is also an opportunity for reflection on our own lives. Miriam impacted our world as few have done. She was far from the only architect of our age, and she was far from the most prominent, but she played a role in every aspect of what we experience. Her life is a metaphor for our own.
“For me, Miriam was more than a great achiever. She was a dear friend, and a deeply troubled one.
“Miriam was born on January 5th, 2010 – in New York City. The world then was a world of chaos. A world of change. It was a world of fear, and a world of opportunity and excitement. And it was a world, although few seemed to notice it, of war. Miriam started life in Queens, but – overwhelmed by the catastrophic American economy of the day – her parents decided to emigrate. It was 2015 when they moved to Israel. In 2017, they were killed in what was called a Peguah – a suicide bombing. They were eating at a cafeteria, enjoying a night out without their daughter – when the bomber struck. And at the age of 7, Miriam became an orphan.”
The Rabbi took a drink from his water.
“Miriam came back to New York to live in the care of her father’s parents. She was relatively privileged. Her grandfather and grandmother had government jobs and were secure but not wealthy. But, perhaps because she was an orphan, she was rebellious and aggressive. She was a poor student. She moved from school to school. Nothing was going well.
“And then, at the age of 15, she began to experiment. In those days, people were just beginning to put physical devices in their bodies. There were pills that would photograph the digestive tract. There were implants to restore hearing and provide a direct link to phones. There were mechanical hearts. There were tiny devices that monitored and provided insulin on a continual basis. These were approved, legal, devices.
“During those terrible economic times, a growing number of people had taught themselves to build their own robots and machines. For the productive, it was an antidote to enforced boredom. For many, it was an avenue of hope. These were tinkerers extraordinaire. And among them was a tiny, illegal, minority called ‘body punks.’ These were tinkerers who would create devices to place in their bodies.
“At the age of 15, Miriam joined them.
“Her first experiment was, in concept, nothing special. It was a lens for her eye that would enable her to zoom in on far-away objects. But the design was elegant, the execution flawless and the results reliable, effective and safe.
“Miriam had found her calling.
“Before long, she dropped out of school entirely. She realized she could have a future in her trade, but not in the US. What she was doing was illegal. So she followed in the footsteps of her parents and returned to Israel. I met her then, a rambunctious and hopeful teen. I helped her with her first steps here in Israel. It wasn’t long before joining a start-up specializing in implantable devices. They were focusing on the healthcare market. It was called Yamim Medical Devices. The founders are now world famous. They have joined that elite cast that requires no last names. They included Miriam, who was a natural engineer, Yoram who specialized in nano-technology and Avital who was a medical doctor.
“Their first device was a failure. It hit the market with a thud. It was too similar to products being developed by larger and wealthier companies. I can tell you, Miriam was crushed. But there was really nothing else she wanted to do. There was nothing else she could. So as a group, they decided to have another go. In 2021, they conceived of, created and launched the VRS, the Vessel Repair System.
“The concept was beautifully simple. Powered by the flow of blood through veins and arteries, the tiny VRS units would crawl through the bloodstream, examining and repairing damaged veins and arteries on a continual basis. When their supplies were used up or their life expired, they would dissolve themselves and let their waste be captured by the liver.
“You know what happened. This device was not a failure. It greatly reduced the risks of high cholesterol, aneurysms, and strokes. And it was the first step in what we have today – a fleet of tiny units crawling through our bodies repairing what they see as they move. It was as if the body suddenly learned to maintain itself.
“At the same time that Miriam was helping to launch the VRS, another group in India was working on solving the degradation of cells due to age. Their products launched together. While there have been many additional innovations, 2031 was the pivot of human history. Since that time, anybody with a little money was suddenly able to buy immortality.
“And a lot of people discovered they had a little money.”
A nervous laugh rippled through the crowd.
The Rabbi continued.
“The impacts were not immediately obvious. I remember the years that followed. There wasn’t a sudden thunderclap of change. But there was a rolling, unstoppable, tide of change. It was as if day-by-day, more and more people realized that they really weren’t going to die. And so they started to live differently. Blessed with long life and wealth, those in the West were already extremely risk averse. But soon, everybody was. The equation of life had been changed.
“With immortality granted, the fear of death grew in all of our minds. A mistake would sacrifice forever. The West sent robots to fight their wars – unwilling to risk any of their own. The terrorists were forced to lay down their arms by their neighbors, who wanted a paradise in this world. Trains and cars ran slower – nobody was in a rush anymore and the risks of speed were too high. Fearing a never-ending stream of new people and a lack of resources, women stopped having children. Fearing unending economic ruin, they stopped taking gambles. Business died. Innovation died. Hunger became endemic. People only worked enough to feed themselves and to buy more VRS, not to create anything new.”
Motioning around the decaying synagogue the Rabbi continued,
“This all remains true. Miriam, however, seemed to exist in a different world. Miriam was drawn to G-d not because of the fear of death, but because of the opportunities of life. With the change, her faith grew stronger, her desi
re to do grew greater. She spoke often of a debt to her parents – an obligation to keep moving and creating where they had been stopped.
“So Miriam had children. Despite tickets, suspended licenses and even jail time, Miriam’s car never slowed down. She grew wealthy and she spent her money building, creating and pushing humanity’s boundaries forward. She believed space exploration would open new worlds for ourselves and our children. But she could find few to join her. Few were motivated enough to help make her dreams reality and, in the end, none were motivated enough to risk flight in the pursuit of new frontiers.
“In many ways, Miriam mourned what she had helped create. She prayed that we would rediscover life. I pray that we rediscover life. But I know that the prospects are dim. Even her children did not follow in her path. She was a mother with almost no prospects for her line continuing. But because of what she created, she could be her own continuation.
“And then, just yesterday, that possibility came to an end. We’ll never know if Miriam was pushed from that balcony or if, G-d forbid, she chose to end her own life. But it ended. Miriam was 83, brimming with youth, but overwhelmed by age. She was a bundle of contradictions. I, for one, will miss her.
“She was a rare spark of life in a world gone dead.
“And she has passed.”
The Rabbi placed his hands on the pulpit and closed his eyes.
And in a mournful voice he chanted, “Yitgadal, v’Yitkadash, Shmai Rabba….”
The world was still.