Rina Lee Janet, leader in Jewish community, dies

Rina Lee Janet, a leader in Baltimore’s Jewish community who headed Israel Bonds of Maryland, died of cancer Jan. 15 at her Owings Mills home. She was 62.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Oakford Avenue in Northwest Baltimore and Hatton Road in Pikesville,she was the daughter of Alvin Paul Smelkinson, who worked in the food industry, and his wife, Miriam.

She attended Beth Tfiloh Day School and Pimlico Junior High School and was a 1972 graduate of Pikesville Senior High School. She earned a journalism degree at the University of Maryland College Park.

“She was beloved in our community,” said Melinda Michel, vice president of women’s philanthropy at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “What set her apart was the way she handled herself with such dignity and elegance. In a difficult situation, she found the right way to articulate the problem and how to address the solution.”

Mrs. Janet initially worked in advertising and went on to become director of marketing at the Chesapeake Bay Trading Co.

She was active in Baltimore’s Jewish community throughout her life.

“The marriage of her intellect, ethical code, emotional intelligence and resolute manner was something to behold,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated. “She was the epitome of authenticity.”

At her death she was general chair of Israel Bonds of Maryland. She was president of the Associated Women from 2013 to 2015 and was chair of the Associated Women’s annual campaign in 2012. She was chair of the Women’s Division of Israel Bonds of Maryland in 1997 to 1998.

“Rina was a gift to any of us. She was rare in her approach, composure and superb manner,” said The Associated’s board chair, Linda A. Hurwitz of Baltimore. “She made you want to be a better person. She had no agenda. She lived her life doing what was right.”

She was a past co-chair of Mitzvah 613, a project centered around the scribing of the first Torah written specifically for Beth El Congregation. Mrs. Janet was a former president of the Levindale Auxiliary.

“Her total respect, presence, truthfulness, advice as well as her deep and unwavering love of Judaism, which guided her in life, were just a few of the qualities that made Rina an irreplaceable leader, mentor and role model,” said Rabbi Steven Schwartz of Beth El Congregation in his eulogy.

She had been vice president of Acharai, a program that educates leaders in the Baltimore Jewish community with training integrated with Jewish values and knowledge. She was a founding chair of Chapter Two, an educational program by The Associated to recruit women to find their passions later in life.

She was also a former chair of 11th Mitzvah, a Torah study program created by the Center for Jewish Education.

Mrs. Janet received the 2009 Golda Meir Award for her work with Israel Bonds of Maryland. The award cited her as a “true woman of valor who exemplifies the spirit of the Biblical matriarchs through her leadership and dedication to Israel and the Jewish People.”

In 2017 she received the Lion of Judah Award in recognition of her “devoted commitment to Israel, the Jewish People, and the Baltimore Community.”

“Rina made the world a better place for not only the people who benefited directly from her philanthropic and related work, but those who worked with her. Whether Rina served as a leader or a collaborator, she brought out the best in people,” said her husband, Howard A. Janet, an attorney. “She inspired them. She treated people with respect. She made people feel welcome. She gave them love.”

He also said, “Rina considered volunteer work a labor of love and inspired others to feel the same way. ... Rina also could not be more proud of the family we built together. Our sons and their wives hold dear the same Jewish values and traditions, and respect and love for people that guided Rina’s life.”

“Mom was always so fiercely devoted to her family,” said her son, Andrew Samuel Janet, who lives in New York City. “For 12 years, Mom left a note in my lunch bag on the first day of school every year expressing her confidence that I would thrive that year and continue to be a successful and loving person. She continued this tradition via email through four years of college and three years of law school.”

Her second son, Adam Phillip Janet, said, “What made mom special was her unconditional love and devotion every single moment of every single day. And she would light up any room she was in. People were drawn to her.”

She was a former president of the parents’ association and a member of the Board of Trustees of Gilman School.

“She was a lovely person who was committed to the school and supportive of the school’s community,” said John E. Schmick, a former Gilman headmaster. “If you asked her to get a job done, Rina did it.

At her funeral, Rabbi Schwartz read a letter Mrs. Janet composed to be read at her funeral, stating: “I considered myself a very, very lucky person. For 58 years, the only time I was in the hospital was when I was born and when I delivered my two precious children. I was healthy. I was happy. I was content. And I was proud. I had a very joyful, fulfilling life, although it might have been too brief.”

In addition to her husband of more than 39 years and her two sons, survivors include her mother, Miriam Smelkinson of Pikesville; and two brothers, Ira Smelkinson of Westfield, N.J. and Jeffrey Smelkinson of Columbia.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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