Rhonda Abrams never made a friend she didn't keep. She was a devoted wife, mother, community advocate and confidante who served as a bridge to bring people together from various facets of her life. More than 400 of these friends and family members turned out to honor her at a memorial service at Hillside Memorial Park on Aug. 26.
Killed in an automobile accident on Interstate 5 in west Fresno County on Aug. 21, Abrams, 56, would not want to be remembered for the tragedy, her husband, Greg, 53, told the overflow crowd, but rather for the large and small joys she brought to people.
Family was the center of Abrams' life, including sons Zachary, 22, and Jeffrey, 18. So was the Jewish community. A Woodland Hills resident, Abrams had been an active member of Jewish Federation's Valley Alliance since 1985 and was slated to serve on the Women's Department Campaign Board for 2009. She was also a Lion of Judah member since 2002.
"She was a great presence and will be sorely missed," said Rhonda Seaton, Valley Alliance spokesperson.
Abrams' commitment to the Jewish community can be traced back to the late 1970s, when, as a young woman living in Buffalo, N.Y., an early first marriage began unraveling. Feeling isolated, and having little money, she reached out to Jewish Family Service for professional help.
"The Jewish community was there for her," her husband said. "It helped her regain her sense of self and sense of adventure."
That sense of adventure led to California, which she had once visited and which remained a childhood dream. Without telling her parents, she drove across the country on her own in 1980. When she reached Los Angeles, she headed straight for the beach where she picked up a handful of sand and shouted in celebration.
Rhonda and Greg met in September 1981, at a social hosted by Beverly Hills residents Janet and Max Salter, providing opportunities for young Jewish professionals to meet and marry. The couple, who wed on April 28, 1983, were their first successful match. The Salters subsequently became godparents of the Abrams' sons.
Rhonda Abrams grew up in Milton, Mass., and trained as a dental assistant. She later moved into marketing, working at Hospital Satellite Network in Los Angeles, but she always regretted not receiving a formal education. Believing that she would make an effective therapist, she participated in the Wagner Program at American Jewish University, a two-year course to train people to work as volunteers in social service capacities. She later studied hynotherapy at the Hypnosis Motivational Institute.
In addition to Valley Alliance, she was active at Temple Judea in Tarzana and Heschel Day School in Northridge.
"She touched the community," Rabbi Don Goor said. "I never saw Rhonda when she wasn't smiling."
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions in Rhonda Abrams' memory be sent to the Howard Rubenstein Memorial Trust of the Julia Ann Singer Center, an outpatient service of Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, or to the Alzheimer's Association, in honor of Rhonda's mother.
-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Editor
Rhonda Abrams died Aug. 21 at 56. She is survived by her husband, Gregory; sons, Zachary and Jeffrey; brother, Steve Karoul; aunt, Marilyn Mohr; and cousin, Jeffrey Mohr. Hillside
Sara Aryeh died Aug. 18 at 87. She is survived by her son, Jamshid; daughters, Sima and Roza; and seven grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
Nancy Brodsky died Aug. 20 at 54.She is survived by her husband, Robert; and sons, Mickey and Jake. Mount Sinai
Donald Dubin died Aug. 18 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Judith; daughter Deidre (Alan) Waxman; son, James (Rose); stepsons, Henry (Jessica) and Randy Steingieser; and three grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Judith Shirley Feld died Aug. 21 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Dale Sills, Robin Feld, Georgiana Nygaard and Blythe Smiley. Hillside
Nelly Fiss died Aug. 19 at 79. She is survived by her husband, Maurice; sons, Andre (Wilhemina) and Sylvan; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Dora Franen died Aug. 15 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Samuel; son, Henry (Valerie) Poltorak; daughter, Rachel (Barry) Steingard; four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and sister, Regina Bendler. Mount Sinai
Florence Freedman died Aug. 21 at 92. She is survived by her husband, Raymond; daughters, Kate Levy, Marcia Weinberger, Judith (Allan) Whitman, and Randi; seven grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and sister, Zelda Vogel Silver . Groman
Leon Goldberg died Aug. 20 at 83.He is survived by his wife, Bertha; sons, Mark (Molly) and Bruce (Joy); daughters, Ronnie (Craig) Robbins and Vicki (Richard) Moorigian; eight grandchildren; brother, Martin (Harlee); and niece, Laurie. Mount Sinai
Marion Alexandra Golenternek died Aug. 22 at 92. She is survived by her sons, Martin (Rebecca) and Richard (Susan) Cohn. Hillside
Howard Green died Aug. 21 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Georgette; and sons, Marc and Lawrence. Groman
Lillian Isaacson died Aug. 22 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Natalie (Paul) Reich; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Annalee Rose Kaplan died Aug. 15 at 73. She is survived by her husband, Jack ; son, Mark (Lorelie Beth); granddaughter, Jennifer; and sister, Miriam (Elias) Liberman. Mount Sinai
Dorothy Heller Kory died Aug. 13 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Maureen and Patricia. Home of Peace
Alice Leonstini died Aug. 21 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Marcella Mitilneos and Stella. Hillside
Gerald Lushing died Aug. 17 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Gloria; daughters, Nancy (Robert) Dean and Linda (Howie) Greller; sons, Glenn (Carin) Freeman and Michael; and 12 grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Alex Marcus died Aug. 19 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Ida; son, Paul (Joy); three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Eleanor Mendel died Aug. 19 at 93. She is survived by her son, Jerry; daughter, Elaine; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman
Ed Meripol died Aug. 20 at 94. He is survived by his sons, Anthony (Stephanie) and Ronald (Martha); brother, Robert; and sister, Ethel Rothstein. Hillside
Diane Mintz died Aug. 20 at 93. She is survived by her sons, Melvyn and Sidney; four grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and sisters, Betty and Mildred.
Harry Naiman died Aug. 21 at the age of 94. He is survived by his daughters, Joan (Jerry) Browner, Sandra (Kent) Sullivan and Ellen (Robert) Tye; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Amy Roberts Padwa died Aug. 15 at 99. She is survived by her daughters, Sandy (Dr. Robert) Small and Rheda (Robert) Harris; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Philip Saffman died Aug. 17 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; daughters, Louise (Michael Burns) Wannier and Emma (Wayne Sossin); son, Mark (Darya); brother, Simeon (Hilary); and eight grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman
Gertrude Sladnick died Aug. 17 at 95. She is survived by her husband, George; daughters, Terrie and Carolyne; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman
May Rose Taylor died Aug. 18 at 88. She is survived by her husband, Sam; son, Barry; daughter, Cheryl; and grandson, David. Hillside
Albert Valensi died Aug. 18 at 72. He is survived by his wife, Penina; and sons, Joshua and Adam. Hillside
Doris Wecker died Aug. 16 at 74. She is survived by her son, Mark (Lauren); and brother, Saul Yellin. Eden Memorial
Martha Zins died Aug. 15 at 87. She is survived by her daughters, Helene (Michael) Miller and Shelley Middleton; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai