Cantor's Death Devastates Jewish Community | NBC New York

Cantor's Death Devastates Jewish Community

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    Mourners of the Continental Flight 3407 crash hug after a vigil at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence, New York.

    If you were sad, she'd cheer you up.
     
    If you were getting ready for bar or bat mitzvah, she'd help train you. And when she found out about dying friends, Susan Wehle would go to their home or hospital bed and sing “The Angel Song.''

         The idea, said friend Sharon Jacobs, was to surround people with angels as they passed from life to death.
        
    When Wehle's time came, there was no angel.
        
    Headed home after a vacation in Costa Rica, the 55-year-old Williamsville woman died with 49 others when the commuter plane she was riding in Thursday plunged into a house in suburban Clarence.
        
    And like the other survivors, Wehle's friends and relatives were left mourning an exuberant life so quickly snuffed out.
        
    Less than 24 hours after the crash, about 600 people crowded into Temple Beth Am synagogue to remember the vibrant woman with curly hair and an irrepressible smile, the loss so fresh that friends were still speaking of her in the present tense.
        
    “One can't help notice the heaviness of the hearts in our sanctuary this evening,'' said Rabbi Steven Mills, of Cleveland, regional director of the Union of Reformed Jewish Congregations
        
    In a two-hour service punctuated by prayers, sermons and quiet sobs, Wehle was remembered as a ball of energy whose singing and theatrics lifted hearts.
        
    Mourners of the Continental Flight 3407 crash hug after a vigil at the Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence, New York.

    “Susan taught us that a life lived in fear is not a life lived at all,'' said Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld, of Temple Beth Zion.
        
    The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Wehle grew up in Brooklyn before attending the University of Buffalo, where she earned a degree in Judaic studies and later a drama degree. She went on to study acting, perform with theater companies in Buffalo, Chicago and New York, and work as a mime.
        
    Divorced with two sons, it was her work with children -- in musical and spiritual workshops, youth and adult choirs -- that excited her the most, friends said.
        
    “Susan's reach was enormous,'' said Jessica Kent, 21, of Williamsville. “She was involved in every single person who is here tonight. She was in the kids' lives, she was in the elders' lives. She sang. With her not being here, we're going to have to find a way to reinvest in ourselves.
        
    “For a lot of people, her absence is going to be devastating,'' she said.
        
    She put on an annual children's play at Temple Beth Am to mark Purim, a Jewish holiday marking the deliverance of Jews from a plot to annihilate them during the Persian Empire, organizing the children of the congregation and putting together the musical theme for the show.
        
    “She's an entertainer with a purpose,'' said Ed Coonly, 53, of Getzville. “She felt that by mixing faith and entertainment, it allowed her to promote her faith.''
        
    Jacobs, a longtime friend, said Wehle couldn't help but come to the aid of those in need.
        
    “When someone was sick, she was there immediately,'' Jacobs said.
        
    “When she knew someone was about to pass, or at the ending stages of their life, she would go and sing them out, sing them out of life. She used to sing this song about angels. I always said to her, 'Susan, when I die, that's what I want you to sing.'''
        
    Richard Ellis, a close friend who is administrator of the synagogue, drove her to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport on Jan. 31 for the start of her vacation to Costa Rica. The plan was for him to pick her up when she returned.
        
    “She said the plane was going to be 40 minutes late and that I should stay home, she'd get a cab. I said no. She'd go out of her way in the same situation for me,'' Ellis said.
        
    When he heard there'd been a crash, he feared the worst.
        
    “Sometimes, you just know,'' he said.
        
    In addition to her sons, Jacob and Jonah, Wehle's survivors include two sisters, Eva Friedner and Dana Wehle, and a brother, John Wehle.