I traveled specifically to Los Angeles this past weekend to meet the Avrechs and honor the memory of their son, Ariel Chaim Avrech, who died two years ago at the age of 22, after first being diagnosed with cancer eight years earlier.
I did not know Ariel, I did not know his family. But since early October 2004 via Seraphic Secret and via personal correspondence with Ariel's father, Robert, I did get to delve into their world. And it was most important to me to make the effort to be part of their world on Sunday, June 19, 11:00 a.m., at Young Israel of Century City, when the Second Annual Ariel Chaim Avrech Yahrzeit Lecture was to be held.
Not only was it a Yahrzeit lecture, but it was Robert and wife Karen's 28th wedding anniversary, which was mentioned briefly, and Father's Day, which was not acknowledged publicly.
To delve into an arena of memories of and tributes to a deceased child every day is difficult; to do so on a publicly acknowledged "parent holiday" is almost unthinkable. But Robert and Karen and their two daughters sat dignified, with their emotions in check, and in the front benches of their beautiful shul to welcome the speakers for the event.
Karen's brother, Rabbi David Singer, had learned gemarah in Ariel's name and did a siyyum of his tractate after speaking about his late nephew, Ariel, and Ariel's parents. Karen's father, Rabbi Philip Singer, stood dignified as he spoke about his late grandson and Ariel's handwritten study notes that he'd been transcribing. Ariel had notebooks filled with notes, comments, questions, Halachic debates, and he had notes about notes, seemingly never-ending scribbles in Hebrew and English that made sense to those who read them. A real "talmid chacham", "ben Torah", Ariel could teach others, older or younger than himself, all that he'd acquired. As Robert Avrech has said many times, "Ariel became my teacher..."
The main speaker of the event was Rabbi David Fohrman, who'd flown in from Baltimore, where he's a teacher at Ner Yisroel Yeshiva -- and one whom Ariel respected, admired and enjoyed so much -- and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkin University. As well, Rabbi Fohrman heads an organization called Jewish Explorations. And that is exactly how the rabbi spoke. He did not just speak; rather, he explored the Jewish concept of forgiveness, using the example of Joseph and his brothers in a scene that takes place at the end of Sefer Bereshit.
Rabbi Fohrman didn't stand on the bima and spew out information; he led and moderated a round-table-type discussion among the attendees in that shul. He posed scenarios, took polls, cited comparisons and references to help the audience understand if whether or not one can truly forgive & forget, or just forgive; what are forgiveness and apologies composed of -- it is never just about I. It is about what I did to YOU. It is about recognizing what you did, and the process of how you reach vidui, confession. But it is not just the relationship between I and YOU. It is about the ultimate relationship between I and G-d.
We can't always question why things happen; we can only try to recognize and overcome them.
We can't always understand why G-d chose someone to be so sick and die at a young age, but we can try to learn in that person's name, try to emulate that person's good qualities and try to keep that person alive in so many other ways.
Robert and Karen Avrech and their family are busy doing that. They started their publishing company, Seraphic Press, in Ariel's name. Robert's first release for the company, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden, is dedicated to Ariel. Robert keeps his blog, Seraphic Secret, which began as a means to talk about his great loss. The Avrechs have sponsored a scholarship in Ariel's name and have brought this annual lecture to their shul.
To their credit, they spent two years producing THE BOOK OF ARIEL, which was released at the lecture. It is a most lovely tribute book, filled with personal family stories, Ariel's own words, accolades and memories from family and friends and community members. The words are punctuated by photos and even an accompanying CD, a song written for Ariel by a Jewish performer.
I am more than honored to have had a personal poem I wrote, "Seraphic Vision," included in the book. It is my personal offering to this young man whom I did not know but hopefully, whom my words captured.
His neshama should have an aliya, and may we all be strengthened for having known him personally or having discovered, via his family and friends, his wonderful and most admirable character traits.