A light faded from the world in recent days. Rami Wernik of blessed memory, zichrono l’vracha, was a phenomenal friend, husband and father; a scholar, teacher, mentor and leader; a man of dignity, humor, loyalty, generosity and truth — a light gone elsewhere after a heroic struggle with cancer.
Something like a nation of good will has risen up to shepherd Rami from this earth, to envelop his loved ones in compassion, and to continue to share in the endless gifts he brought to the world. In the months and years to come people will continue to reflect his light, but the tears remain bitter today. We ache with longing.
Rami was a philosopher by training, an educator in practice, and an iconoclast at heart. One of our many affinities was that we each chose professional paths that skirted the academy, but ultimately led us to serving at the core of Jewish communal life. We first met exactly 14 years ago on the faculty of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, teaching young adults, many of whom were seeking their Jewish selves for the first time. Rami later served as the dean of the Fingerhut School of Jewish Education at American Jewish University — training the rabbis, teachers, and administrators who would populate synagogues, Jewish schools, camps, and other essential communal services. Then, before he became ill, as North American director of Makom, the educational wing of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Rami traveled the continent deepening conversations, programs and what he and his team called “wrestling and hugging” with Israel in many of our bedrock institutions, including JCCs.
Seeing Rami’s light through the lens of JCCs helps ease the ache of missing him a little. After all, it is a season of friendship and light in the JCC world. Think of the 24 overnight and more than 135 day camps in our network serving over 85,000 children and meaningfully employing more than 17,000 staff, many of whom — children and staff — will participate in camp communities for long portions of their formative years. Think about how many people make a friend for life at camp, or at their JCC, or at another Jewish communal program. This is just like the way Rami and I met, entwining and changing our lives forever.
Look at the summer sky, a million stars shining like the perfect shards of so many shattered hearts lifted high. We come together in institutions like JCCs to learn, stretch, rest, play, and grow. But in some way, or perhaps in every way, we come for the people. We come for the light. May we all be blessed with the light of true friendship.
Here is the last song I was privileged to share with my friend.