Merle Orren and the Motivation Behind the MOST Program


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MOST_img2This program is named in memory of Merle Orren (z”l). Merle Orren’s life was a testament to the transformative power of learning. Always a loving, sensitive, thoughtful, and compassionate soul, Merle enriched her world and ours at Temple Emanuel through serious study of Torah and the Jewish tradition over the last 15 years of her life. She not only read Torah each month at our services, she personally embodied the very best of the Torah she studied. In her memory, her beloved husband, Gary, and their children, Meredith and Jonathan, have established the Merle Orren Scholars Transformation (MOST) Program so that others may experience the blessing of learning that she so deeply treasured.

Merle Orren was born in 1946 on the north side of Chicago, and raised along with her sister Margie in the same apartment building where her father had grown up and where his parents still lived upstairs. The building was a stone’s throw from Von Stueben High School where Merle’s parents had been high school sweethearts and where Merle became a luminary – a student government leader, homecoming queen, star swimmer, cheerleader, newspaper editor, and outstanding student.

MOST_img5Outside school her passion was modern dance which she continued to study and perform at Oberlin College. In college she majored in experimental psychology. She graduated from Oberlin with two things in hand: a magna cum laude degree with highest honors in psychology AND a husband named Gary whom she married during her senior year.

She next earned a Ph.D. in physiological psychology from Boston University, working mostly at the B.U. School of Medicine and at Boston City Hospital. For many years she conducted brain research, primarily on petit mal epilepsy. Later she became a clinical neuropsychologist working on the rehabilitation of brain-injured patients.

MOST_img3MOST_img4Merle loved many things besides dance: high among them, riding horses, playing tennis, and reading books. But she especially she loved her two children, Jonathan and Meredith, and many years later Meredith’s effervescent daughter, Maribelle.

She was a deeply spiritual person throughout her life. Over her last 15 years, through study and interaction with many remarkable teachers and friends at Temple Emanuel, she profoundly deepened her love for Judaism.

Such biographical details tell only part of the story. What inspired so many people to love and adore Merle was her integrity, positive outlook, keen mind and curiosity, uncommon common sense, humility, gentle kindness, ability to listen, calm and steady resilience, and extraordinary authenticity.

Merle Orren died on June 1, 2011.