Remembering Mildred “Millie” Irejo

Contributed by Mathew Sgan

Of all the mixed multitude that is Congregation Sof Ma’arav, no member has ever been as unique as our Millie Irejo. Born in poverty, placed in a beloved Jewish foster home (only to be removed to meet other’s needs), self-educated, and faced with health problems throughout her life, Millie was determined to be high-minded, industrious, responsible, and independent no matter what.

I first met her when amidst the singing of Sofers during a Shabbat service, I heard the noise of a motorcycle pulling into the UU Church. It was driven by a very small statured woman. The woman herself was driven by an appetite to learn more about everything and to express her involvement with Judaism and the world in the most explicit terms. She was opinionated, and she was original.

Later Millie lost her leg from the knee down due to a bout with diabetes. That changed nothing except her mode of transportation. Now it was The Bus and her arms on the wheels of her chair that spiraled her hither and yon. Once I asked her about getting a motorized wheel chair. “I am doing quite well moving myself around,” she scoffed.

During the shiva period after Gin Sgan’s death, daughter Laurel and I were sitting on our patio during a quiet moment. Suddenly, Millie appeared at our doorstep with a bottle of homemade jelly in hand. She had wheeled herself uphill for almost a half a mile from the bus stop to express her condolences and to comfort us. Other people then arrived and offered to give her a ride to her next destination. She waved them off and went about her way.

Millie was a regular at Sof on Shabbats and holidays. To this moment, I can recall her at the back of the oneg room during Torah/Talmud study speaking up about the topic under discussion. Always pertinent and always forceful, her opinions were well thought out and well received.

In February 2017, word arrived that Millie was facing a serious health situation. Many Sofers became involved in seeing to her needs. As one would expect, there were many financial, medical, legal, and residential matters involved. Given Millie’s nature and character, there were many more willing to assist her in dealing with those matters. Some creditors put their own interests on hold and devoted friends emerged from, of all places, The Mandala International Folk Dance Group, to offer their assistance. Millie had been a faithful D.J. at their dance sessions and a delightful non-dancing participant in sessions.

Queen’s Hospital and Jewish Community Services social workers brought their programs into action. JCS’s Social worker Melissa Bowen exclaimed how great it was to get to meet this “…very unique and wonderful lady.” It was not easy to assist Millie. As one of the dance group proclaimed.” Millie is admirably hard to help.” Millie’s own words were, “I am not a schnorrer.”

The active Sofers helped Millie significantly during this period. When she died on March 22, 2017 (24 Adar 5777), some of them were at her bedside participating in her final moment with stories, songs, and prayers. Millie expressed great happiness that she was going to be buried in Abraham’s Garden. Her plot was donated by Don Armstrong, sole owner of Abraham’s Garden. Many Sofers and friends paid for the remainder of all her burial expenses.

Upon her death suitable prayers were said by her fellow congregants and she was inscribed in the Sof Book of Memory. Prayer for her took place on the anniversary of her death and on certain religious occasions.

On Shabbat March 25, 2018, Millie’s fellow congregants and other friends gathered to mourn her death and celebrate her life with songs, prayers, laughter, and tears.