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Eulogy for Blaze Nathan Bernstein Delivered by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis of University Synagogue in Irvine, CA delivered this eulogy at the funeral of Blaze Bernstein on January 15, 2018.

All of us have shared and are sharing an incredibly painful experience with Blaze’s family. And this pain will be with us for a long time.

We are angry and numb and emotionally depleted and sleep deprived. Yet, our focus needs to be on one family only — Gideon, Jeanne, Jay and Beaue; Blaze’s grandparents, Richard and Leah and Regina and Gary, and the rest of his loving and grieving family.

It’s about a death we never expected and still find hard to believe, and about the preceding week of psychological torture — during Blaze’s disappearance — before we had to face the worst outcome.

I have known this family since before Blaze’s birth. I have celebrated simchas with them and kvelled as I watched their children grow up. I have always had such respect for Gideon and Jeanne’s commitment to their children, to the Jewish community and to University Synagogue. Because of Jeanne, we created the “Mom’s Club,” precursor to our wonderful preschool. Because of Gideon, we are part of the Legacy Society of the Jewish Community Foundation.

But their greatest successes have been Blaze, Jay and Beaue. Gideon and Jeanne are truly committed, attentive and successful parents, accepting the individuality of their children and nurturing them through travel, books and ethical conversation. (“We want you to do one good thing — one mitzvah — for someone each day.”)

Fifty years ago I was a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. I lived in the dorms of the ivy-covered Quad, as Blaze did last year. I walked the same streets — Locust Walk/Spruce/34th — that he walked just a few weeks ago. Blaze told me, before he graduated high school, of his excitement of getting into Penn and he asked me what it was like, what I majored in, why I loved it. It was a long time ago, but I told him immerse yourself in everything — in the life of not only the classroom, but also the campus. Hang out at a campus gathering place, near the statue of Ben Franklin, who founded Penn in 1740, and meet new people. Going so far from home can be both difficult and exhilarating. Enjoy the exhilarating. And, one day, in my office, he noticed my Penn diploma and said, “In a few years, I’ll have one, too!”

Tragically, that will not happen. But we are comforted knowing that Blaze poured himself into campus life — “Penn Appetit,” the culinary club; how he cooked and baked and enjoyed good food.

Blaze wrote beautifully and was probably the only writer whose essay appeared in the Penn Review before he even began studying at Penn.

Blaze loved children. During his high school years he was one of the best madrichim — teacher’s aides — that we’ve ever had. He loved our preschool director and religious school teacher, Heidi Kahn, and always wanted to work in her classroom.

During the week of Blaze’s disappearance, the whole staff of University Synagogue — our educators, our cantor, our secretaries and facility staff — all had but one goal, which I articulated at our staff meeting: Mobilize our congregation to help find Blaze. He was Gideon and Jeanne’s son and our University Synagogue son, too.

There was no higher priority. Everyone’s primary task that week was Blaze. So, too, with our board and officers, and so, too, with so many of you who are here today — too numerous to mention — who kept a vigil at the Bernstein home, who coordinated with the press, the sheriff, the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation, the Jewish community center, the Solomon Society, and on and on.

All of us came together — as a true kehilla — with one purpose in mind “Finding Blaze.”

Today, we again have a shared purpose — to comfort his family and each other, to say goodbye with dignity and love, to mourn, and to make his life a blessing through the power of memory and good deeds.

Blaze was an optimist, an adventurous spirit, a hiker, a climber and an “out of the box thinker.” He was resourceful and could figure out anything — recipes, science problems, puzzles and Sudoku.

He loved to think, create, synthesize and collect experiences. Blaze didn’t just have experiences, he collected them and brought them together into a gestalt — a conceptual whole. He loved Spanish, and, as we say in the song, “Gracias a la Vida” — Thank you, life, for giving us Blaze in all his glory. Thank you for the blessings of his talents and for using his intelligence and sensitivity to empathize with the less fortunate. Thank you for his humor. (On his Facebook page, he listed himself as “an adjunct professor of Beppo studies at the University of Buca di Beppo”!)

In the Bernstein home, there’s a sign that says: “Friends are like stars. Even when you don’t see them, they are always there.” And they were, and they are, and they will be.

Thank you for being here today and for supporting this family over the past two weeks, and now, more than ever, into the future.

Blaze, we’re going to miss you terribly. That smile — that unforgettable smile and the brilliant and funny comments that you always made when I and others taught you in Hebrew school and in the Madrichim class; thank you for your kind way with children; thank you for your talents, blossoming so beautifully — at the University of Pennsylvania — and for your young legacy so full of promise and hope.

Now, we are all mourning — but we are also so grateful to have known you and we are fully dedicated to keeping your voice, your idealism, your passion and your goodness eternally alive.

To everyone here, please share your stories with one another today and on the days that follow. Share them at our shiva service here, tomorrow night, at 7:00 p.m. Tell those stories, write them, share them online and send those stories of love, respect and admiration for Blaze to each other and his family.

Zichrono livracha — May Blaze Nathan Bernstein’s memory be a blessing to us all.

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