I REMEMBER BLAZE BERNSTEIN.
I remember countless synagogue services, Sundays at religious school drop-offs and pick-ups, various special events over the past decade and a half. I remember him at my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, his smile and his enviable ability to both be an unforgettable part of the crowd as well as blend into it virtually unnoticed.
I remember his parents – we were always friendly if not close friends – at synagogue galas and other gatherings. I remember Gideon’s disarming calmness and Jeanne’s outgoing good nature. I remember how enriched they were by our Jewish community, and how they enriched our community in return.
I remember their son, Blaze Bernstein. But I never knew him. Not really.
I never knew about his passion for writing, or how scary good he was at it. I’ve written three books, been a writer all my life, and I can’t form a single sentence as well as Blaze. He wielded words like a master craftsman, doing things with the English language that should have been impossible. His writing didn’t just jump off the page, it leaped into your heart.
I remember Blaze Bernstein – the child, the young adult, the mensch who hung out with my daughter and all the other synagogue kids. Yes, he was always part of the crowd, but I didn’t take the time to get to know him apart from it.
I never talked to him beyond an aloof and impersonal “Hey, Blaze.” I never took the time to ask about his life, what he cared about, how he liked high school. He was just Blaze, Gideon and Jeanne’s son, one of the gang.
But now I know he was so much more – a writer, sure, but also a poet, an intellectual, a scientist, a chef, a dreamer, a doer, a loving son and sibling. He lived more life in 19 years that most people could live in 100. Blaze was all these things, yet I never once considered that this familiar face would have anything to offer a self-absorbed, middle-aged man who he probably only knew as Alex Goldhammer’s dad, if he knew me at all.
And now? Now I would give up 1,000 heartbeats for one conversation. I would hold the Earth still for just one more smile. I would tell him to change the world as only someone like him could.
I remember Blaze Bernstein. But I wish I knew him – because for the past two weeks I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep, haven’t gone a day without crying, haven’t been able to process his murder as reality, haven’t come to terms with the fact that I had every opportunity to get to know this wonderful human being and now I never will and it’s my own damn fault.
All I know is I miss him. My family misses him. Our synagogue and the world miss him.
And while I can’t make up for not knowing him as well as I should have, I can promise this: By performing daily acts of kindness, by rejecting hate and prejudice, and by never again taking a precious human soul for granted, I will never, ever forget him.