Sherry Carol Modell, a resident of Topanga for 15 years, passed away peacefully from lung cancer at her home on October 25, 2018, surrounded by lots of love and her little dog Sophie.
Sherry’s niece, Lesley Michaels, wrote the following for the memorial service that was held at her Temple when Sherry passed:
“Sherry was born June 19, 1954, in the great city of New York. She was born into a family of survivors and carried on their spirit of perseverance in the face of diversity and challenges. Her maternal grandparents came by themselves to New York from Germany, just three weeks before the Nazis invaded their hometown, wiping out the entire extended family. No one else believed the threat was real.
Her father, Jerry, was an avid sports fan, a lover of food and libation, of gatherings, of celebration. Her hardworking, sharp, strong business savvy mother, Anne, was the rock of the family, a true matriarch.
Sherry had a crazy love for her hometown city, for its raw, tough parts, for its vibrant culture, Broadway, street food, quick-witted, fast-paced tempo, no downtime. For a selected few, very special born-and-bred New Yorkers, life beyond the city beckoned and Sherry answered the call to start a life in the late ‘70s in the glorious wonder that is California.
Sherry’s early years in Los Angeles were spent teaching Special Ed high school students, in South Central L.A.; studying for her Ph. D. in Psychotherapy; finding time to develop Earthly Goods, the first nontoxic green company for cleaning supplies to help the planet; playing and watching all major tennis tournaments; attending meditation retreats; hosting friends for vegetarian dinners; hiking many California mountains; dancing whenever possible; and venturing out to all types of live music events, as she especially loved music.
She often participated in drumming circles, went to poetry readings, indie films, local theatre and dance performances, the Hollywood Bowl, art galleries and museums., L.A. Library lectures, and, specifically, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen concerts. Her dear friend, Kathy, an accomplished actress, inspired Sherry to love the theatre and her Shakespeare appearances in San Diego.
As her therapy practice grew, Sherry continued her education in higher learning, attending workshops locally and, eventually, internationally. Together with five other accomplished women, Sherry and her friends started the “Culture Companions.” Originally formed to enjoy the L.A. Philharmonic performances together, the group continued to explore many Los Angeles cultural and eclectic events throughout the city. Dining in various ethnic restaurants was another passion as was cooking at home and experimenting with recipes from her favorite cooking shows.
Sherry loved to travel. She trekked the Himalayas, went on retreat to Machu Pichu, visited her friends in Italy, France, and many other European countries, often sketching and journaling along the way.
Always deeply interested in and wanting to experience different cultures, Sherry met African healer and shaman, Mandaza Kandemwa. She co- hosted Mandaza’s trips to Los Angeles arranging for individual and group sessions in and around Topanga at Deena Metzger’s and Mary Wright’s properties, at the beach, and downtown L.A., inviting her friends to experience and better understand her own ‘spirit world’ connections and another way of thinking.
Through Mandaza, Sherry was introduced to the Kalahari Bushmen, indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose plight with serious drought, displacement, and famine she took to heart and helped raise funds through a concert in L.A. with Jackson Brown donating his time. She was committed to helping the Bushmen preserve their culture in any way she could.
Over the years, Sherry volunteered her time to many groups, organizations, foundations, and causes she believed in. Most recently, together with her Synagogue, she worked to help the homeless, which led to the creation of SPY, Safe Place for Youth, in Venice, CA.”
Among other causes she loved and cared for were her own Ahavta Tora, The Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Earth Justice, The Lange Foundation, and Neve Shalom.”
When I met Sherry in 1995, she was training marathoners with the L.A. Leggers Running Club in Santa Monica. As one of the founding members of the club, Sherry provided tremendous emotional, physical, and spiritual support to many first-time marathoners, proving her natural ability to nurture and empower people beyond their expectations.
After seven months of training and completing their first marathon, a smaller group of six runners continued to run every Saturday for the next 10 years along the beach. We ran a dozen marathons together in some of our favorite places, including Big Sur, the Redwoods, Napa, Tofino, Vancouver, L.A., NY, DC, and San Diego. Sherry coached and encouraged us. She also taught us the art and benefits of massage, healing, meditation, and most importantly communication. Whenever we were all together, she would go around the circle asking what was going on with each of us in our lives. She continued this practice until she could no longer speak at our last dinner two weeks before she died.
Sherry’s passion for community inspired her to leave a beautiful Mar Vista home to discover and embrace the people of Topanga. She had worked with Deena Metzger prior to her move and felt Topanga was the right location for her spiritual journey to evolve.
Sherry was a long-time student of Thich Nhat Hanh. Ten years ago she started her Buddhist Sangha in the Canyon devoted to his teachings and meditation practice. Initially, very few people came but the word soon spread and she continued to host her dedicated group of 20 followers once a week at her home in Fernwood.
Sherry ‘s love for nature and animals was obvious to all who met her. Her beloved little dog Sophie accompanied her to her office nearly every day. A highly respected psychotherapist in Santa Monica, Sherry was convinced of Sophie’s healing effects and the therapeutic impact all animals have on us.
At her request for her birthday one year, her running group met in Marina del Rey to kayak. Sherry had read about the displaced whale stuck inside the harbor who had disappeared. Circling the width of the area we were nearly capsized as the whale emerged so huge in body and length before she drifted outside the rocky wall back into the ocean depths, healed.
Sherry was a water woman. She loved the ocean. Spontaneously she would jump into the ocean at Temescal or Sunset near her gym and dunk three times to visit the sea creatures below.
On the day we took Sherry out to sea for her burial, her only request was for dolphins to surround her exit. I was one of ten close friends who attended Sherry’s burial at sea.
It was a foggy morning as we left Long Beach Harbor. We didn’t have time to arrange for live food to attract the dolphins, but as we came close to the GPS coordinates for sea burial, no fewer than 60 dolphins jumped, played, and celebrated her arrival. Speechless, the 10 of us on the boat stared, smiled, then screamed in obvious belief that she arranged for the pod to be there for us, as well as for her end of life on this planet as her own body was lowered into the ocean.
A memorial service for Sherry Modell is scheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2019, 2-4 p.m., at the Mountain Mermaid, Topanga.
By Robyn Bensinger