On Wednesday, January 10, 2018, close to 300 Ramah Darom campers, parents, and current and former staff members gathered together at Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg, Florida to grieve alongside hundreds of other family and friends, to honor the memory of Leslie, Mitchell, Hannah and Ari Weiss, and to provide support to their families. Friends of Ari’s and Hannah’s traveled from as far as Texas, Missouri, New York and Washington, D.C., and many more Ramahniks across the country and in Israel watched the memorial service via a live stream feed from the Synagogue.
Following the three and a half-hour memorial service, our Ramah Darom group walked a short two blocks from the Synagogue to St. Jude Cathedral, which graciously provided us with a large room to meet in, and members of Rabbis David Weizman and Danielle Upbin’s shul in Clearwater, Congregation Beth Shalom, provided us with a meal. After eating, our group circled together to listen to some songs which Ari recently recorded, and then continued to sing camp songs arm in arm.
Angels from Congregation Beth Shalom, in Clearwater, who prepared and served a meal for our community following the memorial service: (from L to R) Dana Shepard, Batya Bar-Av, Caren Evans, Karen Tashman, CBS Executive Director, Vivian Haicken, Barry Haicken, and Randi Kraus.
At the end of this long, emotional day, one of the parents, Suzanne Fine, who travelled from Texas with her son, Ethan, described it this way: “I’m learning, it’s possible to have a completely shattered heart, yet for that same heart to be abundantly overflowing with love all at the same time. Yesterday will go down as one of the worst days in our life. No parent, hell no one, should ever have to watch a 15 and a half-year-old eulogize their best friend. Yet yesterday, in St. Petersburg, that is exactly what we did. Everyone in attendance was left with a true understanding of just how close-knit our Darom community is.”
Coming together was the beginning of the process of healing from the devastating shock and pain of loss that has rocked our world. Rabbi Jacob Luski said it best in opening the memorial service, “At a time like this there are no words,” he said, “but words are all we have.” In this spirit we wanted to share, especially for those who were unable to be present in St. Petersburg or view the memorial service, the heartfelt words that were offered by Camp Ramah Darom’s Director, Geoff Menkowitz, and by Ari’s lifelong camp friend, Ethan Fine, who together helped give voice to our grief and give comfort and direction to our community as we begin to reconstruct a world without precious friends.
In the months and years ahead, let us commit ourselves to remembering the love and inspiration we drew from Leslie, Mitchell, Hannah and Ari Weiss, and to being grateful that our journeys through this life blessed us and our community with the privilege of knowing them and, for so many of us, with the gift of loving and learning from them. May their memories forever be for a blessing.