I am here today representing friends, parents, alumni, staff, and lay leaders from Camp Ramah Darom who have traveled from across the region to be able to show love and support to the family members of Mitchell, Leslie, Hannah, and Ari. And to convey heartfelt condolences on behalf of thousands in our Camp community, across the country and Israel, who are grieving with us all.
The words of the Prophet Jeremiah ring in our ears today…
כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה: קוֹל בְּרָמָה נִשְׁמָע נְהִי בְּכִי תַמְרוּרִ
רָחֵל מְבַכָּה עַל-בָּנֶיהָ מֵאֲנָה לְהִנָּחֵם עַל-בָּנֶיהָ כִּי אֵינֶנּוּ.
Thus says Adoni:
A cry is heard in Ramah – Wailing, bitter weeping – Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted, for her children who are gone.
To the uninitiated, summer camp can be perceived as a lighthearted diversion, a fun excuse to leave Florida when the weather gets too hot, and a carefree way to pass the school recess. But to those who know what it means to change the clocks, as Hannah and Ari did, camp is a magical world and a sacred experience. Hannah and Ari thrived in this space and would return home transformed as they would recount publicly in articulate speeches to their synagogue, here on the bima at Congregation B’nai Israel.
Mitchell and Leslie first chose to send Hannah to Camp Ramah Darom in 2008 and Ari began his own adventure four years later. For the past decade, their children were more than just campers – they were our family. And over the years, the warmth of the Weiss family home was experienced by countless Ramah friends when they traveled to the Clearwater area for simchas and reunions.
As you have heard and will hear some more, Hannah was well known at camp for milking goats and playing in the dirt. Ari lived in the spotlight and was beloved for his musical abilities. But the talent that I’d like to highlight today is both Ari’s and Hannah’s skillfulness as weavers – not exactly the type of weaving we do in the art studios at camp though.
In so many ways, Hannah’s and Ari’s lives embodied the values of Ramah Darom. Each summer, they both sought out new friends in an effort to be inclusive and strengthen the fabric of our community. As leaders among their peers, they spun vibrant threads of positivity, passion, and a love for being Jewish. And from these fibers, an intricate mesh of interconnected relationships emerged.
Hannah’s camp friends talk about how knowing Hannah changed you in positive and permanent ways. Her radiant smile, her contagious laughter; you’d catch her in her signature overalls and boots, taking the goats for a walk on a leash with her campers.
A conversation with Hannah felt like a gift. She was present with you. Connected. In age when we spend so much time talking with our thumbs, Hannah spoke to you with her eyes, with her smile, and her generous heart. In these conversations, her friends recall that you would lose track of time and never really conclude – just pause.
Hannah was known at camp for protecting the planet and her younger brother, and her brother’s friends. It was through her involvement in Ramah’s organic gardening and sustainability program as a rising 10th grader that we saw her develop a passion for environmental activism and food justice. After spending the summer in Poland and Israel with Ramah, she returned to give back to camp as a leader in our farming program – working with the goats and chickens, getting kids excited about the entire growing cycle from seeds to compost and back again.
Her friend, Eleanor Stern, who spent 10 consecutive summers at Ramah with Hannah described her this way: “Hannah wanted to save the world and her first step was gathering friends together, giving them company and food and a listening ear, and making sure that her loved ones loved one another.”
Chila Haber who, along with Eleanor, attended the memorial service in Philadelphia said that, “Hannah cultivated a lifestyle of reciprocal love. Even in the way she practiced self-love, she benefited the people around her. Hannah brought people together. She opened our hearts and inspired us to hold the Earth and each other with compassion.”
It is not an exaggeration to say that Ari was a rock star. At camp, he lit up our stage and thrilled our entire community, fronting the band for Nachsho Live and Nivo U. Ari had serious groupies, legitimate fans even among a discerning college-aged audience – not clapping politely for him but cheering enthusiastically and basking in his stardom.
But even more than music, sports, or any other pursuit, Ari was a devoted friend and used his charisma to inspire others to be caring and connected. Like his older sister, Ari in his own way fostered a strong sense of connection and community among his peers.
Ari was the camper who inspired counselors to return to work at Camp summer after summer. Never too cool to show sincere love for a friend or dance with complete abandon or get swept up in the emotion of communal singing at Se’udah Shlishi.
Ari – we will miss your voice leading cheers in the Chadar Ochel; we’ll miss your laughter echoing off Gesher hill; we’ll miss your sweet harmonies and haunting guitar; we’ll miss your uninhibited expressions of Jewish joy, dancing wildly with your friends at Havdallah; we will miss your Yom Sport energy. We’ll miss your passion and your kindness.
But we are blessed that while we knew you, you were a teacher of Torah.
Now, I must share that this particular piece of Torah, this wisdom that Ari imparted, was transmitted in an unusual way. As a camp director, I am often alerted to incidents of graffiti in the cabins so that we can tend to clean up any offensive “artwork” during the year. This particular inscription of Ari’s, though, flew under the radar and it is a blessing that we were able to preserve his teaching – which he wrote in Sharpie on his bunk bed!
Amar Ari Moshe (Ari taught us)…
“To the next members of Bunk 7
Make memories. More importantly, make connections.
Take every moment and be active and present in all things you do.
Be nice to everyone for we are all part of our beautiful community.
Talk to someone new every day.
Have a positive attitude – even if you hate the activity.
Make memories, but make memories that count. By the end, all you will have are memories.”
This Torah of Ari’s, also exemplified by the life that his sister led, can be taken as the instruction manual, if you will, for the loom – the weaver’s loom that they both used so adeptly to fashion interconnected lives of meaning. Today, this exquisite textile, this sacred tapestry of community is torn. Like the ancient ritual of Kriyah that we perform, rending our clothing as an expression of grief and mourning, the fabric of our lives feels damaged.
But in our pain and our loss, we can still wrap the fabric around us like a Talit and feel comforted and supported by the strength of our community. And we can all learn from our memories of the Weisses how to be weavers ourselves. May we all be blessed to live lives inspired by the Weiss family – lives filled with passion and purpose, connection and community. Zichronnam L’vracha.