Trish Vradenburg, my only sibling, was co-publisher of Tikkun magazine from 2001-2010 with her husband George Vradenburg.
Growing up in our house in Newark, N.J., Trish was already by age six a bright star, a light of joy in our family that was still mourning relatives murdered in the Holocaust. As she recalled, it was hard to get herself noticed in the heavy political discussions that our mother, father and I jumped into every night at dinner, so she turned to humor to get her voice heard.
That humor eventually led her to become a writer for two television shows, Designing Women and Kate and Allie.
Yet it was a special kind of humor that she developed—incisive yet gentle, blending insight with kindness, never the nasty kind of humor that makes people famous. As a result, she could make important points but never really hurt anyone.
Trish was an atheist with a deep belief in what I describe in my book Jewish Renewal as the God of the universe: namely, the Force in the Universe that makes possible the transformation from that which is to that which ought to be—not a big man in heaven. She embraced our notion that being “realistic” is idolatry, and instead believed the possibility of possibilities.
It was that, along with her deep love and support for me, which made her understand and want to support Tikkun—the voice of liberal and progressive Jews and our interfaith allies. And it was this belief that inspired her to take on the seemingly unrealistic task of seeking a cure for Alzheimer’s.
Trish’s political involvement was not motivated by personal advancement or financial reward, but rather by a burning commitment in the last two decades of her life to enhance awareness of the growing scourge of Alzheimer’s disease that took the lives of both my mother and grandmother. She wrote a Broadway play “Surviving Grace,” that focused on the decline of my mother, mixing the deep sadness we both experienced with a light humor that made the play both tolerable and even hopeful. The play portrayed a romance between the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient and a doctor who was on the path of finding a medical advance that would both reverse the disease and prevent it. In the Trump years, and particularly since he has said that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Paris environmental accords, we need her hopefulness even more.
Together with George, Trish formed USAgainst Alzheimer’s and organized thousands of people to actively pressure Congress to increase the pathetically small amount of research money directed to the cure and prevention of Alzheimer’s. They succeeded in doubling the funding this past year, but that was starting from such a small amount that she then formed a “Women Against Alzheimers” focus within USAgainst Alzeheimer’s, in recognition that women not only get that disease more than men, but that they also are far more likely to end up at the primary caretaker of those suffering from this disease. She feared succumbing to the disease, though as is typical of Trish, she turned her fear into humor by saying in public talks, in which she would point out that 50% of the children of parents with Alzheimer’s also contract the disease, “poor Michael.” The one blessing of this early death at age 70 was that it came with a heart attack rather than the painful decline we witnessed in my mother and grandmother.
A great light has gone out. I am in deep grief at the loss of my amazing and wonderful sister.
And her relatively young age should remind us that all of us are going to die, and not necessarily at the moment of our own choosing.
The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article, or click here to read a PDF version of the full article.
Tikkun 2017 Volume 32, Number 3:8