BY BRAM BESSOFF Bram Bessoff
I only knew Jared for a couple of hours, but since his passing I feel like I’ve known him forever. My Pesach started the same as usual, first night is usually spent with friends and this time we shared the Seder table with old and new acquaintances from the Sunshine school including Jared, his brother Josh and father Jordan Forman. Nothing seemed out of place, the kids were kids, the wine was flowing and everyone did their share of participating in the Seder. Jared read with vigor and played even harder so it came as a complete shock when not 24 hours later he was in the hospital never to awake again.
Come Sunday, the majority of Ahavat Achim’s congregation was in attendance for the funeral. It was one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever had at temple, but the outpour of support from the community was comforting. How did a seven year-old boy affect that many lives during his short time here on Earth? It became quickly apparent, eulogy after eulogy exactly why.
Jared had the “X” factor – that inexplicable quality that makes rock stars legendary, videos go viral and entrepreneurs strike gold. It starts with something special inside a person but requires an external catalyst to ignite it – we usually chalk this up to timing and luck. We have all seen it before, someone with incredible talent, that band with songs so good you wonder why they aren’t signed and all over the radio – Jared didn’t even get that opportunity.
Described by all as the kindest boy, although mischievous, he had a heart of gold. He knew how to win friends and influence people without having to read Dale Carnegie’s book, he had fans of all ages at 7. Naturally gifted at sports he was destined to be a pro baller, most likely a quarterback by the look of his arm. But his true passion was guitar. He wanted to be a rock star and was already on his way, judging by the amount of effort he put into his practicing. More importantly, people always seemed to take notice how he lit up a room when he stepped into one – which is why his passing attracted crowds resembling the high holidays.
All who know the Forman family are quite aware they play an active role in the local Jewish Community. Jared’s father, Jordan Forman, can be found leading services at AA often, and their devotion and involvement in social circles around town make them a high profile family, but this is not the reason why the community came out in droves. The “X” factor brought us all, as I was reminded once again when we made a Shiva call this past Thursday where we witnessed a 10-fold minyan and a home overflowing with love and support for a family cut down in their prime.
The whole scenario makes me wonder why we are so good at taking time out of our busy lives to be there for someone outside of our immediate family in the face of death, yet when it is time to share Jewish moments in life, so many of us choose to skip out. Yes, we all attend temple for the High Holidays but many congregations are barely filled for Shabbat services Friday and Saturdays if there is no B’nai Mitzvah. Often, many Jewish cultural events never have a second coming due to lack of attendance, audience or funding.
I get it, humans are designed to take care of “me” first and it often takes something drastic to put our autopilot on hold and do something truly selfless for another, like attend a funeral or make a Shiva call. Perhaps it is left up to the community leaders to figure out how to serve the “me” factor when planning events, asking for volunteerism or expecting people to show up. The first step is to make it easy. I’ve personally learned this over the last several years trying to invigorate the Atlanta Jewish Community to come together. My weapon of choice is music through Shabbat Rocks and The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF), but it has proven to not be a powerful enough medium to overcome the “me” without having the “X”.
So now that I am president of the AJMF, it is my vision this year to get more of the community involved by making it easy for all to attend in 2015. Every congregation in town has plans, most often booked years in advance, making it difficult to align calendars between congregations and the Atlanta Jewish Community at large. Which is why for our sixth season, AJMF would like to support your effort’s along with asking the community to support ours. Settling on a concrete date, we are looking for any and all congregations in Atlanta considering a musical event next spring to plan it during the two weeks we are now officially setting aside for the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival every March 20-29.
It is our goal this year to raise enough money to not only put on our events but help subsidize yours. Together, we can help align the two factors and create a hub for Jewish culture here in Atlanta that will draw Jews from all over the South for years to come. Perhaps one of these events can be dedicated in Jared’s name. In the meantime, if you would like to send your condolences to the family, contributions may be made to Children’s at Scottish Rite, 1001 Johnson Ferry Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30342, www.choa.org; Ian’s Friends Foundation, 855 Marseilles Dr., Atlanta, GA 30327, www.iansfriendsfoundation.com; or the Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation, www.childhoodbraintumor.org.
Not all of Passover was mired in sadness however; second night we attended the Sixth Point Seder held at the Heritage in Sandy Springs where nearly 60 people shared enjoyable moments reflecting upon our exodus from Egypt. The proud father in me reveled in my eldest child’s reciting of the four questions in such a public forum. Noone minded the shouts of laughter and glee as a dozen kids searched for the Afikomen and everyone met someone else they have never known before and bonded new friendships over wine and a lack of maror.
Take a chance on organizations like this as they are the “X” factor that could unite this community beyond the tight bonds found within our congregations. In all my 42 years, this was the first time I did three Seders. Always a Bessoff family tradition, we meet two times a year for a meal: Thanksgiving and Passover. Due to the ridiculous scheduling of CRCT tests over Passover week, the annual tradition of meeting at my folks’ place in Memphis was moved to Atlanta.
We always try and invite a newbie to attend a Bessoff Seder and this year one of my wife’s closest friends got to experience the mayhem including the traditional reenactment of plagues including opaque shades for darkness, countless plastic bugs and locusts, white pom-poms by the hundreds for hail and sheets of bubble wrap to resemble the popping of boils. No matter how crazy, traditional or civilized your Seder may be, the point is always the same – remind us all especially our children where we came from and to never let the atrocities of our past occur again.
Since Yom Hashoah just occurred, I watched “The Book Thief” with my two daughters just the other night. It’s an emotional story of a young, German, orphan who lives through the Holocaust, stealing books to read to the Jew her foster family is hiding in the basement. Both of my girls said it was the first movie they ever cried from watching and we have been holding meaningful conversations ever since.
In many ways it was the perfect film to start this journey of conversation as it elicited all the right emotions without the graphic nature of many Holocaust-films like “Schindler’s List” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.” Any parents considering exposing their children to the Holocaust may want to look to this movie as a potential first to start the dialogue. And in light of all discussed above, I hope everyone looks to attend one of the many functions happening in Atlanta as we remember all who lost their lives during the horrific moment in history and go out of your way to remind everyone and anyone to remember so it shall never happen again. Be the “X” Factor.