“G-d was the outpouring of love and consolation that occurred in the Synagogue and the Church social hall after the service. G-d was all the Campers, parents and current and former staff that came together to show their devotion. G-d was the commitments to continue the work that Hannah and Ari had only just started”.
On Wednesday, January 10th I traveled to St. Petersburg, Florida to witness something that has transformed me and, I am certain, everyone who was there as well. I, along with Fred Levick, and Sharon Rosenfeld, arrived together at Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) and was overwhelmed by the number of staff, parents and campers of Ramah Darom who came to hug, cry, and comfort one another in paying their last respects for the Weiss family.
As we all knew, but it was confirmed at this memorial service, the Weiss family was dedicated to their Jewish roots. They served the communities in which they lived over their shortened lives with devotion and a spirit of Tikun Olam, making the world a better place for others to live. Both Mitchell and Leslie were doctors who did not take their being more fortunate than others for granted and were very philanthropic. I learned that Leslie, a Ramah Poconos alum in her own right, had just celebrated her 50th birthday and had a big celebration with many of the family’s friends and family. It was heartbreaking to hear over 3 hours of family members and friends eulogizing over the loss on a hill in Costa Rica just a week prior, on New Year’s Eve.
Both Hannah and Ari were Ramah Daromniks with Hannah being an alum. All I kept hearing over and over was how Hannah was going to save the world. Social justice, sustainability, and farming were her passions. From the time she was a little girl and continuing all through her camp and early college years, she was truly on a mission to make a difference and save the world. The words of List College Dean Shuly Rubin Schwartz said it well, “She was driven by a real sense of social justice.” “She was a special person.” Hannah was a sophomore, studying theology and participating in a joint undergraduate degree program at List College and Columbia University and had already emerged as a student leader and an ardent environmentalist. Ari, only 16, lit up the camp through music, playing guitar, bass, and piano at concerts. Geoff Menkowitz in his moving eulogy said: “It’s not an exaggeration to say he was a rock star.”
“Man is like a puff of wind, his days like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
Walking away from the service I was taken aback by the fact that these four wonderful souls were lost in an instant. It is said that man plans and G-d laughs. However, as G-d laughs, man cries! I will be forever affected by seeing how tenuous an existence we have. However, to bring hope even to this tragedy, I paraphrase what I learned studying under Rabbi Harold Kushner when he attended one of our Passover retreats at Ramah Darom. G-d was not the tragedy that befell the Weiss family, G-d was the outpouring of love and consolation that occurred in the Synagogue and the Church social hall after the service. G-d was all the Campers, parents and current and former staff that came together to show their devotion. G-d was the commitments to continue the work that Hannah and Ari had only just started.
In that vein, I am pleased to announce the formation of The Weiss Family Scholarship Fund in memory of Leslie, Mitchell, Hannah and Ari Weiss. Leslie and her sisters spent all their summers at Camp Ramah themselves and understood the impact of the Ramah experience which they passed on to their children. Hannah and Ari were more than just campers – they were extraordinary role models for their peers and others in the Jewish community. Their loss has left a deep void in our community.
This scholarship fund enables other campers to experience the magic of Ramah just as they and all of their children have. Please consider a contribution to this fund, as I have, to honor and continue the legacy of Hannah, Ari, Leslie & Mitchell.
President, Ramah Darom, Board of Directors