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For Whom the Yarzheit the Glows June 8, 2018

Posted by voolavex in Jesus, Jews, Jews, Social Issues, Tributes, Yarhzeits.
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Yesterday a friend posted this moving tribute and memory of his late sister Jill who died one year ago June 7th. breast cancer.  

Our tribe lights candles called yarzheits every year to remember, with love, those who have passed on. He told me I could share it and so I have done here.  This stopped my heart for its shining light and the love he felt for his sister.  Here is his memory of  Jill Kogen Arons, from the heart of her brother Jay Kogen. 

‘It’s been a year since, my sister, Jill Arons died of breast cancer. And, now, with 12 months to reflect on what she meant to our lives, it can be boiled down to one thing: Jill was weird.

Growing up in an upper-middle-class Jewish house our parents exposed us to what you’d expect — sophisticated movies, literature, TV shows, the great American songbook, and the higher end of culture. Occasionally they liked to dress up and go to fancy restaurants in Beverly Hills and socialize with funny comedy friends. They liked trips to New York and Europe. As a kid, Jill liked none of those things. She liked Chocolate Frosted Pop-Tarts, Monopoly, KROQ, needlepoint, symmetrical rainbow art, and boys with long hair. She liked bowling and bingo and the Saugus Speedway to see stock car races and the Demolition Derby. My parents were shocked and baffled. Instead of a Jewish American Princess, they were raising a Hillbilly and I hated having her for my big sister.

How could someone so different and be a Kogen?  Jill preferred Disneyland to New York. McDonald’s to Chasens. Las Vegas to, well, anywhere. When the rest of the family was into “A Chorus Line,” Jill loved “Jesus Christ Superstar” about the death and resurrection of Jesus. My parents were concerned that she wasn’t getting the Jewish cultural indoctrination they hoped. But it wasn’t Christianity she loved. I think she thought Ted Nealy was hot. Still, she wasn’t that into being Jewish either. That was clear the year she begged for and got my parents to put up a Christmas Tree.  Jews didn’t have Christmas Trees but we did. Jill insisted. We put an odd spiral cone at the top instead of a star but everyone knew it was not a Hanukah Bush. People don’t put presents under the “bush” and open them on Christmas morning.

Jill was big on presents. Giving and getting. She liked them wrapped and plentiful. This may have stemmed from her birthday is three days before Christmas and she often got one gift for both days from people. She wanted two like everyone else. She didn’t care about big-ticket items. She just wanted the present to reflect her. The best thing I ever got her was a case of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when she was 13 because that is all she ever ate for years. She LOVED that gift because that’s who she was. Her all-pasta and fake cheese diet was a deficit to others, but she wore the badge of picky eater proudly. If she got Jewelry or a fancy sweater she’d smile politely but we all knew that wasn’t really for Jill. That was for another imaginary Kogen daughter who didn’t exist. Jill didn’t like shopping or designer clothes. She liked the LA Kings and Magic Mountain and dating a guy who was almost 30 when she was 16. Some people march to the beat of their own drum.  Jill River-danced to the whine of her own bagpipe.

Jill was fearless, and unstoppably her own person. She dropped out of Cal-Arts, got married and had a kid at a ridiculously young age, ran a typesetting business and eventually went to work at the Bingo Bugle. That was a life path attempted by no one else from Encino, ever. I, of course, took the safe and pre-approved path of going to UCLA and then getting a job in show business. While I was bending to the mold my parents unconsciously created for me, my sister was breaking the mold. She was a pioneer. And if you knew Jill, you’d know she didn’t make a big deal about doing her thing. She just did it, stubbornly moving forward. Jill’s dreams just happened like they were inevitable. And on the few occasions when they didn’t work out, like her first marriage, she dusted herself off and moved forward.

Jill was goofy. Little things made her happy. Literally. She collected tiny bottles of ketchup and other miniature stuff. She also loved items that had “AS SEEN ON TV!” on the box. Snuggies and Hallmark Collector Sets and knickknacks were her jam. I think she also collected small bottles of jam. Admittedly she wasn’t the most motherly of mothers but somehow she managed to raise one of the best people of all time, her daughter Samantha. This may have to do with one of her greatest super powers. Jill was honest… very very honest. If I gained weight she’d asked why I gained so much weight. If I lost out on a Job she’d never beat around the bush. She’d asked if I was sad I didn’t get the job. Good or bad, Jill called it like it was. It was never said with malice or jealousy, always with love in her eyes, but she wasn’t putting up with anyone’s bullshit. If you had a zit or a divorce it was going to get talked about. If you had a victory, that was going to get some airtime too. And in her honesty, she was one of the funniest people I ever met.

Comedy in my family is highly prized. It’s a big deal. It was so big I went into the business and my style was formal and calculated. Jill was naturally funny because she saw the truth and talked about it. She knew it was a little crazy so she laughed and that made the rest of us laugh. She had hope and joy.

She moved to Canyon Country because that deep suburban world was the good life to her. She met and married her amazing husband Rich on J-Date, (maybe the only time she identified as Jewish) and it was a great match. How could it not be? Rich knew exactly who he was getting from the first date. Maybe this is why he fell in love. Jill was always Jill. She had the clear-eyed authenticity I was never brave enough to employ.

Our relationship had twists and turns. When I was a baby, Jill adored me. She loved my little fingers and toes. She liked to dress me up in weird outfits. She liked to play games with me. She thought I was a cute toy. I was kind of shy and didn’t speak much. I was kind of like a cute toy to her. But then, at some point, maybe around 5, I started talking. And from that point on we started fighting and didn’t stop until she moved out when she was around 18. I know why we were at odds. I was the goody-goody to my parents, which made her seem more out of step. I made it harder for Jill to be Jill and part of me knew what I was doing. She liked to claim I was secretly bad. She said I pushed her out of a moving car on the way to Camp Fun Time. She did fall out of the car but I didn’t push. My bad was more covert. I might tell on her or act out in ways that were just short of the line where I could get in trouble. She always compared me to Tad Martin on “All My Children.” If you know the show, he wasn’t a nice guy. One day when I was 16 she chased me out of the house with a steak knife in her hand, which I’m sure was a fight I started. I thought we’d always be like prisoners in a family chain gang, uncomfortably forced together for our entire lives. But then once she moved out we suddenly became friends. I’m not sure how it happened. Our differences seemed to melt away. I finally saw Jill for the fearless warrior she was and she liked me because I still had stubby fingers.

She finally took an interest in show business when I went into it. We took a few excursions together. Went to concerts. We watched our hometown hockey team, the Kings, finally win the Stanley Cup. (Jill was a fan since she was 10. And one year, my parents arranged to have some of the Kings including Butch Goring sing her happy birthday and bring out a cake at the Forum Club.) We rented a boat on July 4th a few times to watch fireworks. We talked about taking other trips together in recent years but it never happened because I couldn’t find the time and part of me didn’t want to spend a week at “The Biggest Loser” camp.

In the last half of her life, this rebel was the rock of our family. Jill took care of all of us, especially my mom and dad. She would find tricks and coupons and the best life hacks for all situations. If you were going to Istanbul she’d tell you where to go even though she’d never have been there. She’d find a website or forum and get you the coolest tour for the Hagia Sophia that includes snacks. There was nothing she couldn’t become an expert on fairly quickly. She became the keeper of technology and finance for my parents. She knew all the passwords and had trackers on everyone’s phones. When she wanted to learn something new, she took charge and did it. One year, she decided she hated paying someone to do her taxes so she took classes on doing taxes and did it herself. (I think she was even a notary.) And she took pleasure in the things she loved: her family, husband, Samantha’s dog, and online coupons. And she did all this with clear-eyed Joy. One of her greatest qualities was being able to see the good in the simple fun things in life. She didn’t need to exaggerate what was happening to make anything seems cooler or more impactful to make it worth doing. No drama. Just reality. Real sorrow when things sucked and real joy when things were good. Mostly there was joy.

Even when the breast cancer came, she kept her spirits up. She did what the doctors said and waited for good news, which ultimately never arrived, but she plowed ahead anyway. Through painful surgeries and chemo and radiation that ravaged her body she somehow got through it hoping for new treatments to save her but the disease beat the cure. The day she decided to start hospice she met it with the usual combination of complete honesty, humor, and a determination to get on with the journey. She talked about hoping there was a heaven and joked about how embarrassing it will be to see some of the relatives we didn’t like but how great it would be to see the people we loved and missed. In those last days, we watched movies and game shows when she wasn’t sleeping or trying to move to a position that wasn’t painful. She didn’t go out of her way to be anything more than what she was, a person who loved us who was dying. She was honest about that too.

So it’s been exactly a year since Jill left us. The hole in my heart is as big as ever. We all miss her. But her legacy remains. She’s a beacon of truth and joy and beauty that I will forever hold up as a role model for how to live — free and daring and authentic. She became one of my best friends. I could never ask for a better big sister.

This is a week of yahrzeits for me too.  I wish I had the eloquence of Jay Kogen to say how I feel about those I have lost  But he allowed me to share this and it is exquisite.  As the Boston Irish say – “Gawd love ya”.

And I must add – Jill,  your brother is one of my favorite people.  Rest in peace, look down from the cosmos and know he is still being loved as he loved you and Gawd, this is starting to sound Jesusy.  Thank you, Jay.

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