Today, Brenda Bentz died. I discovered this via an e-mail sent to me, which I read during the intermission of my children’s school play. I can’t think of more cognitive dissonance than that. How do you contemplate death, even of such a beloved person, in the midst of a school musical? But somehow, I imagine Brenda smiling at me and saying: “That’s OK, there’s always time to think of me. You think of your kids first and enjoy the play.”
Brenda was a powerhouse of the Seattle Christian peace community. She was a force of nature, but not through a dominating personality or overwhelming energy. She soothed. She massaged. But then she carried on to her goal and invariably achieved it.
She had an ego, but nevertheless she was modest. She was content to work in the background and never needed a megaphone or to shine in the spotlight. You can see precisely that in the accompanying photo of Imam Rauf at the Islamophobia conference. She sits in the background typically smiling her beatific smile enjoying what she had wrought.
She knew everyone. Everyone respected her. When she said something was important everyone knew it was and acted accordingly to make it happen. She also possessed the massive optimism characteristic of the best of the Christian community. She worked for justice with the conviction that it would come.
Brenda and I were a good pair because where I was provocative she would be tempered. Where I chafed, she smiled. Where I complained, she, to use a Yiddish word, kvelled. I don’t mean to make her sound like a Pollyanna. She wasn’t. She simply had the power to get things done and that is a massively important quality when you’ve devoted your life to social justice as she and I have.
We would enjoy lunch together at our favorite spot, Vios at Third Place Books in Ravenna. There, I would hold forth on whatever big issues I was writing about in my blog and we would inspire each other to take on the projects on which we partnered.
I once joked with her that through her I was welcomed to speak in the august St. Mark’s Cathedral, when I would never have been offered such an opportunity in my own synagogue. For such gifts, I was profoundly grateful to her.
Until I met Brenda, my blog had an international presence but hardly any in Seattle. It was only through her that I was offered an opportunity to make myself and my views known to local audiences. It was through Brenda I was able to reach out from my Jewish background and make common cause with her Christian peace activist community. It was through Brenda that I met so many local Muslims like Jeff Siddiqui and others. This was again another profound gift she offered.
We worked together on at least three community programs: one after the Mavi Marmara massacre, an Islamophobia conference, and one about the Arab Spring. As a blogger and activist, I’m used to people ignoring my pleas for action. That never happened when Brenda was involved. It never ceased to amaze me that these events drew audiences in the hundreds. She had some sort of magic that lent gravitas to everything she touched.
Brenda touched all of us. I hope we can carry on her legacy. It will be a huge task.
I close with some reflections by my friend, Jeff Siddiqui:
Brenda had a keen sense of justice and definite opinions, once she would arrive at them. She was never shy about voicing her thoughts if she felt a wrong was being done.
She was a good friend and a doting mother and grandmother. We would go for coffee or lunch every once in a while and she never failed to give me the latest news about her children and her grandchildren, leaving me with the impression that every one of them was a wonderful person; I have no doubt that they are.
I pray that God is merciful towards her and allows her a place in Heaven.
Goodbye Brenda, I will miss you.