I spent the entire night of Wednesday, January 13, stressing over finals and trying to figure out my second semester schedule. The looming exams and the confusion over mini courses/experiences/AP classes and how to fit them all in was overwhelming me. At some point I put my phone on airplane mode, in an attempt to focus. At 12:30 a.m. I figured it was time to call it a night; I reactivated my cell service just to check if I had gotten any texts and calls.
A few texts from a friend came in—the first few were relatively unimportant, but I stared at the last one. My tired mind couldn’t fully comprehend what I was reading.
At the least, I knew for sure that my—and my friends’—world had been rocked by something far more devastating and important than my second semester schedule.
A “freak accident.” The type of thing many of us feel will never happen to us, will never touch and shatter our lives. Yet I’ve realized that while we can never be truly prepared for one to strike, we have to know that they can happen to us.
I wish I could have a theoretical example to share here, but instead I have one that is painfully all too true. Last week, Daniella Moffson, a Barnard student and the sister of one of my Ramaz classmates, passed away after being in an accident where the bus she was on crashed. She had been in Honduras for a volunteer mission, and had been on her way back to the airport. That’s all I want to share of the details—there are other news sources that have more of the story, but I personally don’t want to approach this from a journalistic perspective. It hurt me—it still hurts me—too much on a personal level. I still remember the moment I saw that text.
Certainly I could approach this from a theological perspective. I believe that God works in mysterious ways, and we never understand His plans; we have to trust in Him no matter what happens. While I believe in that, it isn’t much comfort right now. It doesn’t make the pain of her loss any easier for her family, friends and community.
I’m not the right person to write about Daniella herself, as I never met her. If you plug her name into Google, you can find a ton of quotes and memories about her from people who knew her well, and they’re much better equipped to talk about her than I am.
All I can say is that I really wish I had met her. From what I’ve heard, she was someone who devoted her entire life to chesed—Friendship Circle, Chai Lifeline, even an AIDS clinic, and finally Global Brigades, among so many other initiatives. She even chose to do chesed over having her own vacation time; I’ve heard and read many stories about how she always put others before herself.
I can say a bit more about Daniella’s brother (I’d like to keep him anonymous here in order to respect his privacy). I’ve had a couple of classes with him. He’s the type of person who always says hi to me in the hallways, whom I always enjoy getting a chance to talk to. I and so many others are thinking of him and his family right now, and are hoping for the best for all of them. I also want to promise my classmate, my friend—I don’t know if he’ll ever read this, but still—that I won’t define him in my mind by all of what’s happened. When things return to some sort of normalcy, if they ever do, I’ll be there for you like always, but we’ll also keep on moving forward. Senior trip, graduation, and so on. I know we will.
And now for me, after going to the funeral and the shiva, there are still finals, there are still college interviews, there are still responsibilities. (A side note: Ramaz has been superb at making sure that students know they can postpone finals on an individual basis if they feel too overwhelmed.) I can’t stop thinking about it all but I do need to keep moving forward. But it’s hard. It’s hard when I head over to a Penn interview with the funeral still fresh in my mind. It’s impossible when I start trying to study a Gemara that happens to discuss suffering and burst into tears. I can’t stop my life, but I wish I could.
The last thing I want to say is that we’re all in this together. My grade has come together to support the Moffsons and each other; Ramaz and its administration have been closer to the student body than ever before; the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and Upper East Side Jewish community, of which I am a member of by proxy, sharing memories and emotions. This is not in any way a silver lining to what happened. But it’s the one thing I’m holding onto, and I hope it can help all of us.
By Oren Oppenheim
Oren Oppenheim, 18, is a senior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.