“I’m from the Woodstock generation, and I always had a passion for art that gets into your soul.”
Starr Zarin is an artist living in Olney, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Five years ago, she was selling handcrafted pieces of art at the local Farmer’s Market when Rabbi Bentzy Stolik walked by with his three little kids. “Hey Rabbi, how are you?” she recalls saying. “Is it that obvious?” he replied, half-joking.
“It was the first time I had experienced such joy in being Jewish. It set my soul on fire and I just couldn’t stop,” she says. “Not only did the class give me this deep spiritual connection, but the people in the class also created a real sense of community.” Starr started coming for services each Shabbat and soon became a mainstay of the Chabad community.
When Rabbi Stolik asked her if she would be willing to take initiative for a project that would help people in the community mark the yahrzeit (death anniversary) of their loved ones, Starr was on board. “I called up my Mom, and she told me, ‘Look, if you only have twenty-five people on the yahrzeit list, you need to make a connection. You’re not mailing anything. You are going to deliver it in person.’”
And so it was. For that first year, Starr made a custom handcrafted bag for each family in the community who had lost a loved one, and on the day of the yahrzeit she came knocking at their door to deliver it personally. Through Rabbi Stolik’s outreach efforts, the yahrzeit list has grown to 130 families. Starr continues to personally deliver a thoughtful package to each of them. The special bag now contains a customary yahrzeit candle, a unique refrigerator magnet, and a card with an inspirational message. “I try to make it a beautiful occasion,” she says. “I found this wonderful booklet, Advice for Life by the Rebbe, which I included in the bag. If it’s the first time someone is marking a yahrzeit I give them an orchid to plant.”
Less than a year into the project, Starr lost her mother, and she dedicated her work to her mother’s memory. “For me, this is a very personal project,” she says, her voice cracking with emotion. “When I deliver a bag to someone who lost his mother, we talk about what a wonderful person she was, and how much he misses her. Whether they’re marking the yahrzeit of a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or G-d forbid a child, there are a lot of tears.” Says Rabbi Stolik, “It’s so personal, it touches people profoundly. And it creates a deep sense of community.”