I am blogging about my experiences in Israel (and surrounding countries) this year, and I wasn't sure how to approach the situation at hand. Should I blog about Florida?
In this case, the answer is yes.
To be fair, those of you who know me know how much pleasure I get in making fun of Florida. It is not a place I would settle after graduate school, as I find it hot, boring and generally not New York (although Broward County is a lot like the boroughs). But there are a few holy things in Florida that do not ever merit my mockery:
1. The University of Florida, the greatest school EVER. (Sorry, JTS, I love you, but you don't have a football or basketball team like UF's.)
2. My home shul, Beth Am.
One of the reasons I am able to study in Israel this year is because of a generous scholarship donated by my parents' shul, Temple Beth Am in Margate, FL, where I grew up. I am eternally grateful for the support Beth Am has given me over the years, and I hope that lessons learned in Israel can be used to benefit future generations of kids coming out of Beth Am.
So when stuff goes down in Florida, I find out. On Monday, I heard through the UF AEPhi network that a sophomore had passed away in a car accident over the weekend, a girl who ended up being from my shul, with whose family I am familiar. Z''L. (Zichrona Livracha -- may her memory be for a blessing)
Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), I got news that was worse for me, personally, as it involved the tragic passing of a dear younger-brother-type in a fire at his off-campus house in upstate NY. Seth, a fourth-year at RIT, was a cute, quiet kid. I am familiar with his terrific family, as his older brother and my younger brother were pretty close growing up.
What does one do in dealing with the sadness? Well, some create and join Facebook groups in memorial (a fascinating sociological phenomenon of late), some sit and cry, some peruse local newspapers for stories that explain how, WHY could this happen to such a sweet kid?! Some book tickets for a holiday weekend to pay respects to an honorable kid from a lovely family. Some of us...write. (And Facebook -- it's a verb. Who are we kidding?)
Usually, when I hear news from Beth Am, it's "This person is getting married" or "So-and-so's daughter got into dental school." Idle chatter, nice news...it doesn't really make a dent. My dad would say, "That's nice," and if you ask me in person, I'll tell you his whole "that's nice" joke. It's actually good.
I am trying to figure out how the finality of death makes the news coming from Florida suddenly impact me. It makes me wonder what really went on this past fall, when I was at minyanim around Jerusalem, when people gathered in our shul to pray to be sealed in the Book of Life? Was there a leak in one of the vents, a slip of the proverbial pen when God got to Beth Am? Was the AC blasting too loudly for God to hear (The answer is no, it's never too cold in shul, and yes, I'm talking to you, L.)? I know enough from studying theology with Gillman and Brown to know that I can't answer that question...I just have to believe that God is not omnipotent, although I prefer in this case to believe that God sucks at Life. (I probably would get an A for this rambling, because I always did well when I admitted I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.)
Back in the day, I sped in Gainesville, I lived in an off-campus house, and I even escaped a (minor) fraternity house fire. And here I am, in Jerusalem, listening to terrible stories of college students that are..were...just like me.
May the memory of Seth provide comfort to his family and friends, and may the lessons of his life bring blessings to those who knew him. Z''L, kid.