February 1st is a significant anniversary at Camp Harlam. It was on this date in 2011 that we lost a wonderful member of our camp family, Mitch Perlmeter. This was a shock to everyone that knew Mitch as a leader and friend, and an endlessly positive member of the community.
Over the last year, amidst the sadness for this loss, a great deal of healing, support and love has come from near and far. It has been showered on Mitch’s wonderful family and dedicated friends, it has stretched throughout his school and network in Montclair, NJ, and it has been an important aspect of the familial community that we know Camp Harlam to be.
At Camp Harlam, there has been an outpouring of generosity through contributions to the Mitch Perlmeter Memorial Scholarship Fund (click here for more information), we have seen the “Remembering Mitch” message carried through so many programs and opportunities for tribute, and we know that Mitch’s friends at camp will continue to gain strength from each other.
This Yartzeit (anniversary) is a time for us to reflect and to be inspired by a great leader; a time to take a break from the fast pace that life demands to appreciate the delicate nature of life, itself. On February 1st, many of our friends in the Montclair community will be observing five minutes of silence in honor of Mitch’s memory (from 8:50-55 AM), and we will show our solidarity and support for them by doing the same. And if that time doesn’t work for you, maybe you can make an effort to find another time tomorrow that will allow you that opportunity.
In August, I helped with our camp’s “Remembering Mitch” program. It was a day that included various means of honoring his memory and in allowing our community (and members of Mitch’s family and network of friends that were in attendance) to continue the healing process. I posted this Blog entry after that special Shabbat this summer, and I invite you to include these words in your reflections upon this remarkable anniversary:
Excerpted from Blog Post on August 12, 2011
Rabbi Vicki Tuckman, one of my professional colleagues at Camp Harlam, shared this quote with me earlier this week:
“Righteous people are those who constantly wait for the opportunity to do good.”
– Rabbi Aaron of Karlin
Vicki wrote this down as we searched traditional texts and Midrashim for a statement that would befit an award we were to give out on Saturday night. The Perlmeter/Hertzman family and their friends were at Camp Harlam for Shabbat in order to remember Mitch, their son. Mitch passed away suddenly on February 1, 2011 and he had been a lifelong member of the camp family (as have his brother, sisters and parents). It was on August 13th that we carved-out a moment in time – in the heart of a wonderfully busy summer – to remember Mitch and celebrate his life and its seamless connection to Camp Harlam.
I never had the chance to meet Mitch, but from all accounts, he was an extraordinary young man. Following his Machon (CIT) summer at camp in 2010, he was poised to finish high school and return to camp as a counselor before college. The stories that have been told and written about Mitch since February paint a portrait of an exceptional friend; a talented leader; a compassionate human being; and a truly righteous person.
To be “righteous” means to be decent and virtuous, to be moral and good, and to be honest and honorable. In this regard, the word seems to be well-suited for Mitch. He was the sort of person that knew how to have fun and smile, but not at the expense of others. As Rabbi Steve Kushner (a longtime Camp Harlam faculty member and camp parent) said so eloquently when he officiated Mitch’s funeral service:
“…It is tempting and seductive to wonder who and what [Mitch] might have become. There was such an aura of promise to him. He had so much going for him. So much to look forward to. He epitomized optimism. He exuded hope. And his death seems to belie all that. But to fall prey to that trap of ‘what might have been’ is to lose what was truly magical about him.”
During Saturday’s Torah service, with our entire camp community surrounding and supporting each other and our guests, we listened to the inspiring words of Rabbi Elisa Koppel as she described the “magic” of Camp Harlam. While I was touched by her reference to this mystical feeling at camp, I thought more about what it was that created this in camp, as well as what might have created this in Mitch. I continued to reflect as I reread the quote above, and the “magic” I continued to envision was the magic we make by committing ourselves to striving for the highest level of consciousness and principles in forming our community. Being “righteous” in our actions and attitude, and having the intentionality at camp to be sure that the Jewish values, customs and teachings that we reflect on each day are the types of things that will reinforce this quality are critical. In this respect, we are doing something special. And it was here that Mitch was supported and nurtured so that he might grow to symbolize this aspect of camp.
Our staff members that have been friends with Mitch and his family have been inspiring. They have cried and they have laughed; all the while, our team or role models has been making sure to allow camp to flow for our campers as we maintain the high energy andruach of our program. A highlight of the weekend, for those in camp that love playing Frisbee, was an afternoon Frisbee Game on our Fields. With over 100 campers and staff running and throwing and catching, we enjoyed a celebration of fun and the memory of Mitch. Mitch loved Frisbee, and when every camper received a special commemorative Camp Harlam disc, the smiles were so broad.
In a short while, we will be gathering for our all-camp Show. The kids and staff have been working so hard to prepare, and we’re all certain that it will be a fabulous performance. But first, as a final tribute, the Perlmeter/Hertzman family will be helping us present the inaugural Mitch Perlmeter Leadership Award to a member of the Machon (CIT) program. As the perpetual plaque states:
This award is given annually to a leader that demonstrates the ideals, values and dedication that Mitch Perlmeter embodied, including:
Passion for URJ Camp Harlam
Initiative and effectiveness as a leader
Acceptance and welcoming of others
Commitment to the community
Laney Mann, a longtime camper and resident of Baltimore, will be the first-ever Machon participant to receive the award. As the plaque is handed to her, and as the camp looks up on stage at this special young woman (representative of her incredible group of peers in Machon), we will again have the chance at Camp Harlam to honor a “righteous” person. She most certainly embodies the essence of Mitch’s leadership at camp and beyond, and we know that she will continue to develop and strive for excellence within and without the camp community.
We will close the day at camp with Siyum l’Yom, our nightly song of reflection and closing of the day. Tomorrow we will all begin the new week – our final week of the season – resolute in our efforts to create a camp experience that stirs our souls and motivates each of us to grow and learn; to be better Jews, better people, better children, better parents, better spouses, and better friends. And maybe they will say of us, like they say of Mitch and Laney, that we are “righteous”. Maybe we will be seen as that type of leader. Maybe we will someday be honored.
Zichron l’vrachah, may Mitch’s memory be a blessing.