Ricki Kaplan’s Friends Say “It Shouldn’t Have Happened”
JOHNSON CITY, Tennessee (WJHL) – An East Tennessee State University management professor who was fully vaccinated died of COVID-19 on Friday, more than a month after falling ill.
ETSU colleagues and devotees of the B’nai Sholom congregation in Bristol remember Ricki Kaplan on Monday as warm, kind and concerned about the well-being of others.
âWe all walk around saying ‘this shouldn’t have happened’,â said Rhona Hurwitz, an officer of the B’nai Sholom.
Kaplan was a member of the board of directors of the small tight-knit congregation. Hurwitz met her about three decades ago, when the two found themselves joining the synagogue after moving to the area.
Both have seen the congregation shrink over the years – sometimes when older members have passed away, other times when people have moved.
But Hurwitz said Kaplan was a dynamo when it came to service.
âRicki has been involved with all of our bar and bat mitzvahs since I can remember,â she said.
Kaplan was “the lady of the pretzel,” Hurwitz added.
âWhatever your color theme for your bar mitzvah, she was making pretzels in those colors. Pretzel sticks soaked and with (sprinkles), the set of nine meters. She would always say ‘I have to come home and make pretzel sticks.’ Ricki and pretzel sticks for bar mitzvahs were one thing.
Hurwitz, herself a retired ETSU professor, said Kaplan was quite the cook.
âShe was cooking in our kitchen all the time,â Hurwitz said. âShe was our social chair. So whenever we had some type of celebration that involved food, and most of our celebrations do, (if) it was the post-Rosh Hashanah service snack, it was the breaking of the fast after Yom Kippur. , it was the seder during Passover, it was the welcome meal for the new members that we had each spring, she coordinated all that. She did the shopping, she did the cooking with a few other of us who could show up.
“You know, she was just always, always there.”
The Jewish faith does not shy away from the reality of death, and Hurwitz has endured the deaths of several other B’nai Sholom members over the years. But she said it was different.
âIt’s a death that should never have happened,â said Hurwitz. It was a death that really hit our community very hard because she wore so many hats in our congregation. ”
It also hit the ETSU community hard.
Al Spritzer had just completed a lengthy stint as Dean of the College of Business at ETSU when Kaplan received her MBA there in 1999. He saw her move from assistant to full-time lecturer.
Spritzer, who recently retired, recalls that Kaplan was ready to teach just about any class and was “a very, very supportive and warm colleague.”
âWhen others had their own health issues, she would make chicken soup and show her interest and concern for others,â Spritzer said.
Spritzer was among a group that received emails informing them of Kaplan’s condition after his illness. He said a close colleague, Karen Tarnoff, received updates from Kaplan’s sister and shared them.
âAt first one of those emails asked us to pray for her – that it was serious,â Spritzer said.
But last Friday, just over a month after his hospitalization, the email update delivered the worst news possible.
This news concerned another member of the B’nai Sholom, Nancy Fischman, called “an incredible person”.
âShe just put herself out there for the others,â Fischman said.
Fischman said Kaplan loved children and babies.
âAnyone who came to synagogue service with a baby, she would carry it with them,â Fischman said with a laugh.
âI remember she carried picky babies during services so they wouldn’t cry and distract others,â she said.
This year a boy from the synagogue did his bar mitzvah in April and it was a special time for Kaplan, Hurwitz said.
“She said she was so happy being president of the fellowship to give him the gift of the fellowship because she had carried him like a baby and watched him grow up for 13 years.”
Fischman said the congregation celebrates the end of a 24-hour fast each year on Yom Kippur, the great Jewish holiday.
“She ended up being the organizer of it lately, she ramped up and was president of the fraternity, and she was on the finance committee and helping with our investments.”
Fischman said the congregation and Kaplan’s many other friends and colleagues have gone through a period of excruciating uncertainty.
âI knew she had been in the hospital for a long time and was doing well enough for the second day of Rosh Hashanah to zoom in on the hospital services that day,â she said. “She didn’t have her camera on but everyone said it’s good to see you here.”
“So we thought she was recovering, and then the next day or the next day she was put on a ventilator.”
Fischman said the congregation had received mixed reports after Kaplan’s intubation. At one point, someone – Fischman thinks he was on the medical team – said “she’s fine for the situation she’s in, and then two days later she was gone.”
Hurwitz is one of a group of four synagogue women who all have birthdays between August 17 and 25. His is the 21st. Kaplan, 15 years younger, turned 56 on August 18.
“We were all good friends at the synagogue and we were trying to have a common anniversary celebration dinner.”
Four days after his 56th birthday, Kaplan was in the hospital and Hurwitz admits to feeling some frustration about it.
“The reaction was, it should never have happened,” she said. âShe was vaccinated, she wore a mask all the time. She had hand sanitizer in her car. She took all the precautions you could takeâ¦ â
Hurwitz said that although she never let her slow down, Kaplan suffered from a few issues that left her immunocompromised. Still, she said she wasn’t too worried at first when her friend had a revolutionary affair.
“I kept thinking, she will come out, she will come out. But the longer she stayed in the hospital, and I spoke to her on the phone several times and she didn’t have the breath to speak. And I would say, ‘Ricki, get some rest. We can text. You don’t need to speak in person. Please rest.
She believes her friend would have choice words for people who continued to resist vaccination.
âShe would tell them to let go and get the shot. I know she would and she wouldn’t say “butt”.
Fischman said the reality of seeing another vaccinated person die from COVID is frightening. She said Kaplan was young and that to her knowledge he had no other medical issues.
“Once she was put on the vent, I was afraid she wouldn’t come out of the hospital, but it was still a shock.”
Fischman certainly thinks Kaplan would urge people to get vaccinated and watch out for COVID-19, but she also thinks she would have one more piece of advice.
âDon’t isolate yourself to the point of losing touch with people and losing your ability to help others. She’s just that kind of person.
Despite her generally positive outlook on life, Hurwitz – who said Kaplan often did her shopping for her during the pandemic because she too was immunocompromised – said she had developed real issues with the current situation regarding vaccines and mitigation efforts.
âIt’s a situation that is perpetrated by people who are extraordinarily selfish, who don’t care about others and the effect they have on others,â Hurwitz said.
âI am extremely frustrated. I have no sense of confidence when I see someone without a mask who is supposedly vaccinated and therefore does not have to wear one. ”
The following is part of a statement issued on Monday by the ETSU:
The ETSU community is deeply saddened by the loss of Ricki Kaplan, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing at the College of Business and Technology, who died on Friday, September 24.
Ricki was a graduate of ETSU and was an adjunct faculty member before joining the university faculty in January 2007.
âShe loved her students,â said Dr. Karen Tarnoff, associate dean of business and technology and colleague of Ricki. “She demanded the best of themâ¦ because she wanted the best for them.”
Ricki has been active with the CBAT Communications Lab which has provided assistance to students needing help with presentations and other projects. âRicki made sure the students got the help they needed,â Karen said. âShe trained the tutors and even cooked for them several times a semester. She did it because she was the kind of person she was.
Jim Harlan, interim president of management and marketing, echoed this observation.
âRicki was the best of us,â he said. âHis intelligence, his heart and his passion for students changed lives forever. She was the first to care and the last to leave whenever someone needed it. We miss her.
âWhenever a job needed to be done, she was the first person there,â added Karen.
Colleagues say one of Ricki’s biggest legacies has been his work with international students. She worked closely to support the international articulation of ETSU with Shandong Normal University in Jinan. In addition to traveling there, she facilitated arrangements for ETSU professors to teach there and actively recruited many students to come to ETSU. On the ETSU campus, she helped coordinate the international student seminar that all international CBAT students are required to attend.