On November 5, Yavneh Academy dedicated the Judah Marans Music and Art Center, which was established in memory of Judah Marans. Marans had been a student at Yavneh as a child. Tragically, he died in 2015 at the age of 27.
The event began with opening remarks from Pamela Scheininger and Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, Yavneh’s president and head of school, respectively. A video presentation that detailed the remarkable accomplishments of Judah’s life followed. Afterwards, Marans’ parents, Nina Kampler and Zvi Marans, each shared a few words about their son. A performance from members of the school’s choir closed out the ceremony. Guests were then allowed to visit the new center.
Judah affected many people during his life, and for many attendees the event was very moving and emotional, particularly when it came to the video presentation. Over the course of the event many people openly shared moving stories about their experiences with him. In addition to family and friends, there were also previous classmates of Judah’s who came for the ceremony.
“We’re so proud to be able to do this and provide the family an opportunity to recognize an amazing child,” Joel Kirschner, the school’s executive director, shared. “His voice will continue to resonate through the halls of our building through the Judah Marans Music and Art Center.”
The new center can be found near the third-grade wing, near the school’s original music and art rooms. Renovations of the floor took place over the summer. On one of the walls is an enlarged version of a picture of a tree that Judah drew. Underneath it are the words of a poem that read, “The days pass, the years go by. But the music lasts forever.”
“When Judah died and we were finishing sitting shiva, we decided that we wanted to do something that would be productive, that would be for the community, that would commemorate him in a positive way,” Zvi explained in the video. “His happy times were in Yavneh. He loved Yavneh, and we wanted to do something for Yavneh.”
For Marsha Motzen, the school’s music director, the center is a “beautiful space,” and “a fitting tribute to an artistic man.” Other teachers in attendance, such as Adina Rudin, also commented on how beautiful the commemoration was. Rabbi Shmuel Bernstein remarked that “it’s a privilege to see the memory of Judah commemorated in a Torah institution that also celebrates the arts that he celebrated so dearly.”
In addition to the new art and music rooms, the renovations included an entire revamp of the original floor. The bathrooms and offices have all been redone, and the finished product is elegant and befitting of Judah’s legacy.
“This is a beautiful vision,” Rabbi Knapp said. “It fits in concert with our school vision. We’re always looking for ways to expose our children to more in the world of the fine arts, of music. I think, most notably, it’s been about Judah and honoring his memory. And it’s also been about helping the future. Helping Jewish children. Helping the Jewish community have more opportunities.”
Rabbi Knapp described Judah as a “Renaissance man,” and throughout the night many attendees frequently commented on his talents. In addition to being a talented pianist and magician, Judah also had a love for theater and frequently performed in plays. One of his earliest passions was art.
“A lot of his insight and laser focus and passion, I could see it germinating when he was a kid,” his sister, Dara Marans Shapiro, shared on screen. “When he would look at an object and then recreate it in a really special way for a child.”
In the days prior to his death, Judah struggled with his mental health. His parents hope that his passing can open an important dialogue regarding the stigma of mental illness. “When we learned that Judah died, we immediately knew that we owed it to him to no longer keep this a secret,” Kampler said in the video. “Mental health is such a quiet, shameful, unknown stigma, even today. I wish we could have reached out to the world, from a mountaintop, because maybe we could have accessed people who could have helped him better.”
Zvi described Judah as “perhaps one of the most courageous people that I had ever known,” explaining that “for Judah to get up every single day and put a smile on his face, which is relatively easy for most of us, it was very challenging for him on a day-to-day basis.”
During Kampler’s speech, she shared that even though she and her family suffered through such a tragic and horrible ordeal, she wasn’t filled with sorrow, but gratitude for the community that helped them through it. She closed her speech thanking everyone, saying “you breathed life back into us.”
By Adam Samuel
Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. When he isn’t busy reading the daily news, he divides his time between managing his blog, adamssoapbox.blog, and gradually learning how to play piano.