They came to Congregation Beth Elohim on Eighth Ave. from all directions dressed in black, men and women and girls — and lots and lots of young boys in rarely worn suits matched with soccer shoes. They gathered to comfort a Park Slope family after the devastating loss of their beloved 12-year-old son Sammy, who was tragically struck by a van and killed Tuesday evening on Prospect Park West.
There were few words, just tear-stained faces and the occasional hard hugs as friends and family consoled one another on the steps leading up to the grand 1,000-seat chapel, which was nearly full by the time Kolot Chayeinu Rabbi Ellen Lippmann stood to address those gathered.
“We long for goodness and mercy. It is unimaginable that Sammy is gone, that he will not have his bar mitzvah on Nov. 16, but…” she said sympathetically, looking especially at Sammy’s mother, Amy Cohen, his father Gary Eckstein and his sister Tamar —longtime friends and congregants of her temple. “This is real and you are completely unprepared.”
Nothing can prepare a close family and a tight-knit community for the sudden loss of one of its brightest stars, a soccer-playing, snowboarding trumpeter with an infectious dimpled smile, a sweet gracious manner, and loads and loads of promise.
Rabbi Lippmann spoke of Sammy as a “great student full of insight and questions,” quoting from his own bar mitzvah speech on the difficulty of forgiveness as example.
“He said, ‘I find it hard to forgive. Why? Because of stubbornness…’ ” she read. “ ‘We often criticize others, but then we act the same way.’ ”
She linked his prescient thought to the need for forgiveness of the press whose articles in the wake of the tragedy seemed to “rush to judgment to blame Sammy for running into the street.” In actuality, she said, he was wearing cleats, and he slipped and tripped in front of the van, which was unable to stop in time.
Sobs could hardly be contained as Sammy’s sister Tamar spoke of the great loss of her talented, funny brother with whom she would sit and talk, whose absence during even four short weeks at camp was so difficult.
“I kept expecting you,” she said, breaking down at the idea that the temporary feeling is now so irreparably permanent.
Sammy’s mother Amy spoke beautifully, expressing so honestly how she felt “at a crossroads between the land of the living or following along where Sammy has gone…”
“I am wracked with guilt that I could not do more to protect him,” she said.
But in his short life, Sammy’s great humor, strength and zest for living were an inspiration to so many.
“There is a hole in our hearts that won’t be filled,” Sammy’s father Gary said, “But we’re here not just to mourn but to celebrate the life of a bright light that touched so many people. I hope that bright light lives on as a blessing.”
For his family and the many young friends that gathered to celebrate Sammy, that will certainly be true.
Brooklyn Prospect student Jack Golick spoke sadly of the loss of his best friend of nearly nine years.
“He was principled in his thoughts,” he said, then shook his head and took his seat.
Rabbi Lippmann ended the beautiful homage with the inspirational directive to take something positive from the tragedy.
“Build a new world from the love and grace and joy Sammy brought to so many lives.”
The Cohen-Eckstein family will sit shiva at their home at 75 Prospect Park West, #6D, Friday from 2 to 5 pm, Saturday from 8 to 10 pm and Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 3 to 8 pm. Donations may be made to Transportation Alternatives or Heifer International.