The Ramah Wisconsin community mourns the loss of our alumnus, former camper (2000-2005), staff member (2007-2008, 2011), and beloved colleague and friend Seth Rich, who was murdered walking home to his apartment in Northwest Washington, D.C., in the early morning hours of July 10. Seth was a true Ramahnik at heart, and his exuberant personality and endless curiosity made him an ideal camper, eager to develop relationships with everyone, ready to try any new activity at camp, and always ready with a creative game, story, or twist on the old and unfamiliar that allowed every day with him as a bunkmate or counselor to be an adventure. His passion for politics, public service, and statistics led him to internships during college and, most recently, a job with the Democratic National Committee as their Voter Expansion Data Director. Both DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton issued public statements about Seth’s tragic passing (here and here). During his Nivonim summer of 2005, Seth’s aidah (division) was assigned Naomi Shemer’s famous song עוד לא אהבתי די / Od Lo Ahavti Dai / I have not loved enough. The story behind the song is that Shemer, perhaps Israel’s most famous singer-songwriter, fell ill and was certain that she would die from her ailment. She wrote the song, a blatant entreaty for more time to do all the things she wanted to accomplish in her life, and none more than simply to keep on loving. Reflecting back eleven years later, no words could more aptly describe Seth’s life, cut-off as he began to approach his enormous potential.
עוד לא הכל עשיתי ממש במו ידי / Od lo hakol asiti, mamash b’mo yadai / I still haven’t done everything with these very hands of mine עוד לא הכל ניסיתי, עוד לא אהבתי די / Od lo hakol nisiti, od lo ahavti dai / I still haven’t tried everything, I have not loved enough
עוד יש הרבה דברים שרציתי לעשות / Od yesh harbei d’varim she’ratziti la’asot / There are still so many more things that I wanted to do את בטח תסלחי לי גם בשנה הזאת / At betach tislichi li gam bashanah hazot / You will for sure still forgive me, also this year [because] … תביני, אי – עוד לא אהבתי די… / … Tavini, ay – od lo ahavti dai / … You’ll understand – I have not loved enough
We share below some reflections by those who knew Seth well.
I wish I knew him better, but I certainly remember him at camp having a remarkable mixture of passion, instinctive leadership, and utter silliness. My experiences at camp were more fun and memorable because of him and his goofiness. – Eddie Gandelman, Cabinmate
It’s horrifying to think that as I woke up this morning at Ramah, where I had the privilege to wake up in the same room as Seth for 3 years, Seth was already gone. Seth was a special person, with an infectious energy and smile. Seth’s penchant for telling big stories, his sense of adventure, and his uncanny ability to receive a package filled with the perfect ball or game that we didn’t know we needed made him a bridger of social groups, an amazing cabin-mate, a great partner in crime to get into mischief with, and a perfect person for late night heart-to-hearts. Seth’s magnetic personality and unstoppable drive made him destined for greatness. The way he drew people into his life, made them share his passions, and feel a part of his story made it clear to everyone that he would do great things in and for the world. I remember a few summers ago at camp Seth talking about his desire to enter into politics, and him being so confident that it was the right path for him. Seeing the touching way the DNC spoke about him in their statement, it’s clear that he had made it on to that path.
Being here at camp has made all of the memories and pain more acute. Even though we rarely saw each other outside of summers at camp, and hadn’t been in serious touch for a few years, Seeing the trees on which he used to hang his hammocks, the roofs on which he used to play roofball, and the cabins he used to call home brings back so many memories of him, and all of them serve as witness to just what a special person he was.
Seth was a person of many epithets and nicknames, but the one I heard from his Rabbi, Steven Abraham, is probably the most important and fitting one to describe Seth. “The kid was a mensch.” Not only was he a mensch, but he was a good person who was actively working to make the world a better place.
May we all learn from Seth’s example, embracing life to the fullest, bringing people into our stories, and giving fully of ourselves to actualize our beliefs.
תהא נפשו צרורה בצרור החיים יהי זכרו ברוך המקום ינחם את משפחתו בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים
May Seth be bound up in the bonds of eternal life, may his memory be for a blessing, and may his family soon find comfort among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. – Jeremy Fineberg, Cabinmate, Current Program Director
This morning, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the violent death of Seth Rich.
Seth was my bunkmate in Bogrim, a cabinmate in Machon and Nivonim, and we shared a great staff room in 2011. I remember that as a teenager, he was a goofy guy but very loyal. His shenanigans always brightened our days.
I’m grateful that I got to know him a little more in the summer of 2011 when we were a bit older. It was evident that as an adult Seth cared greatly about politics and democracy.
I don’t want to fall victim to that trap in Facebook of making our friendship seem like more than it was. We were classic “camp friends,” with little contact during the off-season, but we’d pick up every June with where we left off.
I know that Seth was much more than the wacky kid I remember. He was a person with the same strengths, weakness, passions, anxieties, fears, and courage that all we humans possess. I will miss him, and I hope his memory will be for a blessing.
– Jacob Slutsky, Cabinmate
When I think about Seth, I think about his personality and how he always loved to just have fun. His pure enthusiasm for everything he did was amazing – always smiling from ear to ear. I remember Seth at all the big camp moments, the play, Zimriyah (Song Festival), Yom Sport (Color War) … and I can picture Seth being front and center, getting his fellow campers and peers excited and wanting to join in. Always giving 110% to everything he did. I specifically recall Seth during the Campwide Talent Show that summer, when the Nivonim boys did the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dance. Seth seemed to be having the best time with his friends up there. He had the most infectious smile on his face, and picturing him during that moment brings a smile to my face. It was innocent, fun, exciting, and memorable. I find myself trying to explain Seth as a camper, and the word that I keep coming back to is goofball. Seth always made the best of every situation and made everyone around him happy. He will truly be missed!
– Shera (Benkovitz) Lebraty, Seth’s Counselor in 2003 and 2005
Seth, the one and only true roofball champion!!!!!
My dear dear friend. I can’t believe the news is true. I’m heartbroken. You were so much more than a camper to me. We kept in touch for many years after camp and Ramah seminar [in 2006]. You told me about your family and yourself and we kept in touch and wished each other mazal tovs when each of us had a simcha (joyous lifecycle event)… We were friends. We talked so much after lights out at camp and during our time in Israel. You were always concerned about me during the hard times in Israel.
We loved goofing around. You were such a clown and yet so mature for your age. You truly cared about your friends. What a great friend.
One of my most special times with my campers was playing roofball for hours and hours. Seth brought this insanely huge tennis ball and it was our official roofball ball. We decided one day to play roofball on every single roof at camp … and we did it! We played roofball on EVERY SINGLE roof at camp. And then of course he came to Israel for seminar with that ball and we played on every roof at the chava (Goldstein Youth Village) and any other roof that trip. On the last day of summer during the 2nd Lebanon War, just before I left for reserve duty, Seth signed and handed me the honorable roofball ball in a touching ceremony.
Seth Rich, I love you. I’ll miss you. You always had a friend here in Israel. I’ll never forget our great memories together. I send my love and support to your family and friends.
My heart is broken… RIP my roofball champion
– Ariel Keren, Seth’s Counselor in 2005 and 2006
I had the great pleasure of spending five summers with Seth, two as his Rosh Aidah (division head) and three as colleagues together on the staff of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. Seth’s zest for life put him at the center of so much that camp had to offer; his energy was frenetic and contagious, his curiosity for ideas and, even more so, for people’s personalities, boundless. Seth was an unassuming intellectual: he was an exceptionally bright adolescent and even as a rising high school junior displayed some of the interests that would lead him to his dual passions of public service and statistics, but he always seemed more at home in the games of adolescent boys, in planning elaborate pranks, on the sailboats and motorboats on Lake Buckatabon.
Many people I encounter seem to assume that the ideal alumnus of Camp Ramah is a Rabbi or Jewish scholar. There is a much more powerful, compelling, and historically accurate case to be made for someone like Seth. While his Jewish identity was central to who he was, it was but one part of his complex personality. Seth was a networker when I met him as a fourteen-year old; knew he wanted to work in polling after his first few years of college; cared so deeply about so many people. He combined the great pillars of our camp: being a great friend, a lover of intellectual pursuits, committed to unabashed fun, and an underlying allegiance to the Jewish people. His intelligence, charisma, and emotional openness made him someone you wanted to like you and someone you wanted to be like. He was one of the great campers, an exuberant, roofball-playing, teenage mutant ninja turtle-dancing, light-and-sound-board-controlling platinum blond kid from Omaha with a massive heart and a brain and a soul to match.
At the end of his last summer as a camper, I wrote Seth and his peers individual letters. As I sit up at camp, a copy of that letter lies buried deep in a filing cabinet back in my home in Chicago. I will uncover it in the fall to share with Joel, Mary, and Aaron. My best guess is that it says something like: “Dear Seth, Rarely have I met someone like you – so ready to care about everything and so ready to have fun doing anything. Keep being you.”
On behalf of the hundreds of Ramahniks whom you touched during your summers here, the staff who worked with you as your camper, fellow campers, and the campers and staff you influenced as a staff member, we mourn the loss of a great and true Ramahnik. Here in a place you knew as a home, your memory is already blessing those of us who knew you and who will remember you this week and forevermore.
– Jacob Cytryn, Seth’s Rosh Aidah (Division Head) in 2003 and 2005, Current Camp Director