Jerusalem lost one of its most beloved residents this month. Marcie Alter left us.

Marcie Alter — it’s not a name that rings any bells. Marcie never had a website, a platform, a Twitter feed, but for the past decade she stood — or rather, lay — at the center of a small but highly dedicated community of women who adopted her as one of their own.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Marcie graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and began a career as a graphic artist. When she was in her 30s, she became observant, moving to a kibbutz in the hot and arid Jordan Valley and working as a caregiver for the elderly.

All was well until one day when she woke up feeling weak and numb. The doctors diagnosed bleeding on the brain. Her life was in danger. Marcie underwent numerous operations. At the end of it all, Marcie could no longer walk, speak, or eat.

For the past decade, Marcie’s home has been her bed in French Hospital, a nursing home/hospice operated by French nuns under the aegis of the Israeli health insurance companies. For a long time, she struggled with her disability. Why her? When her afflictions began, she still had a young son and presumably many more years to live. Marcie became severely depressed, but somehow she came to accept her new life. She’d make the best of it, which, to Marcie, meant doing what G-d expected of her.

From her hospital bed she studied. Her hands couldn’t hold a book, so her friends read to her about Jewish spirituality, the wisdom of great rabbis, and the times of the Mashiach. When friends cleaned out her room after her death, they discovered dozens of holy books that she’d owned.

Marcie wasn’t content just to learn; she wanted to do, to give to others, and especially to her family. On one unexpectedly warm day in February, Marcie asked me to take her to the Mamilla mall using her communications board (a bulletin board on which her occupational therapist had glued letters of the alphabet) to deliver her request. What could she possibly want, I wondered. A nice skin cream? A perfume? A lipstick? New clothing? No, she shook her head vigorously. She directed me to wheel her to the cigar store.

Did Marcie have a secret passion for cigars? No. She’d come to collect an empty cigar box for her grandson to use to store his pencils. The proprietor recognized her. She’d done this before.

When I visited her on what would be her last Purim, she was ready for the holiday, wearing a bright yellow hoodie, a clown’s mask, and a grogger in her hand to use during the hospice rabbi's Megillah reading.

Marcie wanted to tell me something.  She spelled out her request using her communications board. As always, communicating with Marcie was tedious and difficult. Her palsied fingers hovered between letters, compounding the difficulty of figuring out what it was she was trying to say.

After numerous false starts her plan became clear. She wanted to give mishloach manos. She pointed to a bag on her bed, which contained a jar of Smuckers jam and a box of American graham crackers. These were items from her stash, foods she craved but due to her medical condition, was unable to enjoy. Now it was time to deliver them. The orderlies transferred Marcie into a wheelchair and off we went to the oncology ward, stopping in front of a gray-haired woman in a nun’s habit. Sister Clare had been born a Jew, but somewhere along the line she’d taken up Catholicism. Even if a Jew leaves the faith, he remains a Jew. With this gift of mishloach manos, Marcie reminded Sister Clare who she really was.

And now Marcie’s gone, rid of her broken body, her spirit in another realm, ready to soar.

Don’t forget us, Marcie. We miss you. 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 592)