By Jacob Cytryn, Executive Director
Sunday, July 7th, 2019, was the type of day Seth Rich z”l would have loved: sunny and warm with a slight breeze. It was a great day for the things that Seth loved most about camp, including sailing, free flowing conversations with friends and counselors, and roofball. We gathered in the early afternoon next to the boatshed, in front of the racks that for decades have held camp’s rowboats over which the Seth Rich Memorial Roofball Court now stands. We were joined by Nivonim 2019, the other campers from Omaha, where Seth grew up, assorted senior staff, Rabbi Steven and Shira Abraham from Beth El Synagogue in Omaha, and by the bittersweet guests of honor: Seth’s parents, brother- and sister-in-law, and the nephew he never met. Three of Seth’s counselors – Rabbi Ezra Balser, Laura Elkayam, and Ben Hofkin – sent in reflections about Seth from their years of knowing him as camper and friend. Rabbi-in-Residence Aaron Melman sang a memorial prayer for Seth on that day, the third anniversary of his death on the Hebrew Calendar.
The tone of the moment was melancholy as the many of us there who knew Seth wished more than anything that he could have been visiting camp that day, reconnecting with this place that played such a crucial role in forming him as a Jew, a friend, and an engaged citizen, playing roofball on any of the other roofs in camp. We wish for a world where no scholarship dollars were raised in Seth’s memory, and where no plaques ever needed to be commissioned to dedicate roofball courts in his memory by his family and his aidah. After these words, some tears, and all these wishes, we channeled Seth one more time, for no one was better at moving in and out of different emotional registers at camp, with his uncanny ability to fully engage in the serious topic of the moment and then, in a flash, seemingly leave it all behind and have some unabashed goofy fun. But he only seemingly left it behind; his brain was always working and processing, pondering intellectual ideas and emotional resonances, concerned about a friend or the nature of God or the fate of American democracy or how best to implement some national policy. So too did we, unable and unwilling to cede his memory and legacy, hold on to the pain and sorrow of his palpable loss as we turned our attention to something he loved and played two raucous games of roofball.
Below are excerpts from Ben’s remarks, as well as links to two previous blogposts I’ve written about Seth.
[excerpt from ben] Seth was the kind of camper who made me love being a counselor and later rosh eidah. He was truly one of the most positive people I’ve ever known – always one of the first kids to volunteer for anything, and always ready with a constructive suggestion or idea but never with a complaint.
The last time I spent with Seth was the summer we were on hanhalah [leadership team] together when I was Rosh Nivonim and Seth was in charge of boating. My lasting memory of him from that summer is of Seth perched on the railing outside the radio booth late at night many nights, often talking with a friend but sometimes just sitting contentedly by himself, invariably wearing a smile. I remember it always seemed to me as though he was keeping watch over camp, making sure all was right in this place he loved, this place he called home.
Seth made the world a bit brighter for everybody he touched, and I still oftentimes can’t believe that the world has been deprived of his light. Like both Seth and so many of the things he loved, roofball is fun, creative, inclusive, a little impish, and charmingly goofy; dedicating this court is a lovely way to honor his memory in this place. May Seth’s memory be for a blessing for us, for Seth’s family, and for everyone who calls Ramah home.