January 31, 2018
On Monday morning I received the call that I knew was coming and had dreaded more than anything. The voice on the other end of the line was that of a mother, a woman who I have come to recognize over the past three years as one of the strongest, kindest and caring individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. No one should ever have to make that call and certainly no parent should ever, ever have to know what it means to lose a child. Her words were few and neither of us were truly able to process it all in that moment. What we both did fully understand, however, was that he was gone. Josh Randman zichrono l'vracha, a young man who fought valiantly over the past three years, was unable to fight any longer.
Since Monday, I have been trying to make sense of it all, and I continue to be drawn back to the words from the Book of Job that were said multiple times during the funeral:
יְהוָה נָתַן, וַיהוָה לָקָח, יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְבֹרָךְ
God gives, and God takes away, blessed is the name of God. (Job 1:21)
We know as people of deep faith that it is sometimes too difficult for us to fully understand the obstacles and challenges put in front of us. We cannot fathom the loss of a young adult, a person with so many dreams and incredible intellect, because we are not supposed to. Instead, we come together as a community, we support his loved ones, grieve together and celebrate a life that was cut far too short yet one that was lived to the fullest.
From the moment Josh was diagnosed with this terrible form of cancer back in 2015, he made a point to let all who would listen know that he would not allow his cancer to define him. His words, "Cancer is what I have, not who I am," resonated with his classmates, teachers and friends and later took a prominent place on the Team Josh shirts that were created as a fundraiser to support him and his family. He worked hard - even through some excruciatingly difficult treatments - to get his work done and never stopped seeking out wisdom and knowledge.
He told me, without hesitation, that he was still going to graduate on time with his classmates. Not surprising at all, Josh fulfilled that goal. Following many months spent in Houston receiving treatment and recovering, Josh returned to New Jersey during his senior year and continued working towards completing his high school requirements. On May 26, 2016, with our community all on their feet cheering loudly and proudly, Josh walked across the stage to receive his diploma. The embrace we shared on that stage is something that will remain with me forever.
Josh was an inspiration to all who had the blessing of knowing him. It was clear in the outpouring of love and support that was on display at his funeral with so many teachers, current students and alumni in attendance. We were there because that's what we do - both as a people and because that's what it means to be a part of the Golda Och Academy community.
It is fitting, on a number of levels, that Josh was last here in school just a few weeks ago for our Alumni Basketball game. It is a moment for our young alumni to come back and reconnect with their friends and teachers and an opportunity for our younger students to see how passionate our alumni still are about GOA and the experiences they had here. Josh and I shared a few moments together that afternoon and didn't really say much. Silence dominated the conversation and, using our tradition as a guide, I think that's quite ok.
In parashat Shmini (Vayikra 10:3) Moshe attempts to comfort Aaron following the death of his sons, and we learn that after Moshe spoke Aaron remained silent (וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן). This type of silence comes from a place of not being able, at certain incredibly difficult moments in our lives, to fully fathom God's power and actions. We can allow that silence to fill an awkward space or we can simply embrace it and recognize that it is in those moments - when silence dominates - that we are truly comforting ourselves and others by simply being present.
Josh z'l was present in so many of our lives and will always hold a special place as part of our Golda Och Academy community. We will continue to support his parents, Gary and Elyssa, and his brother Noah, as they traverse this very difficult path towards healing. Josh's legacy has and will continue to live on. It will be remembered in our conversations and will be felt every time our Coderunners Robotics team readies themselves for a competition. It will also, I hope, be felt by all of us who work hard to make the most of every moment in our lives - that is how Josh lived every day of his too-short life and he should be an inspiration to us all.
יהי זכרו ברוך - May Josh's beautiful memory be a blessing to all who had the honor and privilege of knowing him.