A few days ago I received an unusual email. It came from someone I had never met, but whom I knew was the person who was looking after an old friend from long ago. In the mail I was informed that Inge was bedridden, near to death, unable to speak but still able to hear, and would appreciate it if I phoned her to say a few words of farewell, encouragement and appreciation. She had no relatives and she had expressed the wish not to leave this world attended only by paid companions.
I first met Inge in 1983. Yigal was doing post-doctoral work in experimental physics at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The physics professor who was considered a leader in the field had moved to that mid-western city because of his asthma and other allergies. And so, while other Israeli post-doctoral candidates were going to exciting places like California or Washington D.C., the Shefer family found itself in the geographical centre of America, in a place where the summers are tropical, the winters arctic and the interim seasons awash with tornadoes and thunderstorms.
But there were some consolations, mainly the kind and generous people we encountered there, and Inge was among them. She worked in the administrative office of the university’s Physics Department, and immediately took a shine to the young man from Israel who was trying to find his way through the labyrinthine formalities of the university’s bureaucracy. She immediately established contact with Yigal, and they soon found they had many interests in common.
Inge was born in the international city of Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) in 1922 and managed to leave Europe with her mother before WWII to reach the USA. She lived and worked in New York for several years, but later moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she met and married Peter Worth, who was Professor of Art and Art History at the university. She continued to return to New York several times a year in order to care for her mother, who refused to leave the city.
Working as a secretary in the Physics Department, Inge was able to exercise her mastery of several European languages, as well as her excellent command of English, which she spoke almost without any trace of an accent. She was a true intellectual, a voracious reader, a devotee of classical music as well as a connoisseur of art (hardly surprising considering her husband’s occupation). She was on the committee that was instrumental in establishing a series of chamber music concerts in Lincoln. We attended as many of these as possible, and I remember one extraordinary event, when Alicia de Larrocha played Albéniz’s “Iberia,” Granados’s “Goyescas” and de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.” Luckily for us, Lincoln was a convenient overnight stop for many world-class artists who were booked to play on both the West and East coasts.
After we returned to Israel we corresponded with Inge on a regular basis. She was a conscientious letter-writer, and her neatly-typed letters recounting events in Lincoln and describing her travels, were always a welcome sight in our mailbox. Many of them also contained newspaper cuttings that she felt would be of interest or relevance to us. In later years, with declining health, she could no longer type her letters but wrote them in her small, but very neat, clear handwriting.
Together with Peter, who died in 2010, Inge travelled extensively, both in the USA and abroad, acquiring friends all over the world. She visited us in Israel in 1988 and took as many tours as she could crowd into her short stay, not allowing her age or her failing health to hold her back. Eventually, the frequency with which her letters arrived became slower, and eventually she wrote to tell us that she had sold her home and moved into sheltered accommodation. Then there was silence for a few years, until a few days ago, when I received the mail from her carer, Mary George-Pruitt.
Almost immediately after receiving that request, I picked up the phone and called the number I’d been given, spoke into the receiver for about five minutes, reminiscing about our time in Lincoln, our subsequent meetings and our mutual love of books, art and music.
From Mary, the carer who had written to me, I received the following mail:
“She received your call from Israel, a call from Heidi in Guatemala, a call from her friends in Germany, a call from her friends in Brazil. And at least half of the states had someone calling reflecting a story, sharing a memory and letting her know she was loved. There was some love, laughter, reminiscing. You connected with her soul…”
And then the next day:
“Peace came, The day all of her friends spoke with her allowed her to pass from this life knowing she was well loved and thought of. She was very peaceful when she took her last breath at 5:05 on Sunday January 24, 2015.”