randomness...: January 2004

My opinions, updates on my life, all sorts of "randomness"...

Friday, January 30, 2004

Another Friday afternoon, another Shabbat is coming. It's been a couple weeks since I last posted anything--sorry about that. Been keeping myself busy the past couple of weeks. Subbing at the Jewish Academy (JAMD), doing some work for Young Judaea, some work for STEPS, my photography class at OCC, and other random stuff. I'm still slightly jealous of everyone who has "real" jobs, but I'm keeping myself busy and I can't really complain.

There's been so much snowfall lately--it's gorgeous outside. A little bit cold, but nothing to really complain about. I've even gotten to the slopes a couple times for some snowboarding. Nothing to crazy, just Alpine Valley, but better than nothing. And I'll be at Winter Park in couple weeks, for the STEPS ski trip, so I can't complain.

In case you haven't heard, there was a suicide bombing in Jerusalem yesterday morning. Ten people killed, 44 injured... Scary stuff. I found out through an e-mail from friends of mine who are in Jerusalem for the year entitled "We're Okay." It amazing how such a seemingly comforting title could cause so much panic. Instantly I knew that something wasn't okay.

It's so hard being in America when something like that happens. I know to a lot of people this won't make sense, but it makes me want to be in Israel more than ever. Not so that G-d forbid I would be close to such a tragedy, but to show these terrorists that they cannot and will not win.

Well Shabbat is starting soon, so I'm going to go. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, January 16, 2004

Well, another week is ending, another Shabbat is beginning. It's been full of ups and downs. Went to yoga with my Mom today, and got this great little book on yoga for children. Figured I could use it for camp or something--I just couldn't pass it up. Went snowboarding with Jeff yesterday. Did pretty well, but my knees are definitely all bruised up. And I had my first photography class this week--beginning digital photography at OCC. I already think I know what I'm going to do for the projects, which is exciting. Should be an interesting class...

I love winter, especially snow. It's so magical. While it's snowing, while it's on the ground, always. And this snowstorm the other day dumped so much snow on us. It's amazing. Helps to distract me from the grief I still feel. He's on my mind always--everything makes me think of him. I didn't spend enough time with him when I could have.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Rabbi Berkun was kind enough to e-mail me a copy of the wonderful eulogy he gave for Kenny:
Eulogy * Kenneth Birnholtz * January 5, 2004 * 11 Tevet 5764
Dorfman Chapel/Clover Hill * Rabbi Jonathan Berkun

The mysteries of life and death are beyond human understanding. We are perplexed and overwhelmed when pain and anguish befall those whom we love. In sorrow, confronted by death, which has taken our beloved Kenny Birnholtz from our midst too soon, we feel our frailty.

Moses came to the conclusion, toward the end of his life, that “the mysteries belong to God.” There are limitations to knowledge and comprehension. There are problems we are not meant to solve. In the face of such mysteries we recite the words of Job, Adonai natan v’adonai lakah, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken,” and we continue to place our faith in God and the ultimate meaning of life.

Today, we recall the meaningful life of our beloved Kenny Birnholtz. Because of his tragic and sudden passing, our recollections are a mixture of tears and laughter. Our tears flow from our pain, our devastation, and our shock. Our tears flow from our deep sense of loss, emptiness, sorrow and grief. Our tears flow because when a young life is cut short, we are overwhelmed by its ending.

Yet, Kenny Birnholtz packed a lot of living into twenty three years because he simply loved life. He had remarkable passion and energy. He was a vibrant and vivacious spirit.

Whatever Kenny did, he did with all his soul and with all his might. If it meant staying up all night working on a science project in High School so he could get the grades to be accepted into Michigan, he did it. If it meant going to the bookstore to read every published travel guide so he could meticulously plan a trip to Europe, he did it. If it meant learning everything there was to know about East Asia so he could teach English in Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand, he did it.

What Kenny could not accomplish through proper preparation, he accomplished through his smooth, charming, and magnetic personality. Kenny was a lot of fun to be around, and he had a wonderful sense of humor. He was always doing something and he was almost never alone. Everyone loved to be around him, and Kenny had many special relationships.

He loved the people he met at the Food Co-op in Ann Arbor. He loved the people he met while working at the front desk of his father’s office. He loved the people he saw while he was working in the coffee shop. Kenny once wrote, “I want to talk to people, [I want to] forge real human connections… The only answer is real, personal contact.”

Kenny was very much in touch with his feelings. He empathized with others and was a sensitive listener. He could immediately tell if something was bothering you. When his parents would visit him at school, they noticed people constantly approaching their son with their problems.

“Kenny we have to talk… Kenny, I need to tell you something.” He was always there if you needed a friend. He would always have money for the homeless, even though he had no money. Kenneth Birnholtz did not have a bad bone in his body.

Kenny was extremely intelligent. He graduated Country Day School with honors. Last May, he graduated University of Michigan with a 3.6 grade point average in history, specializing in Middle East Studies. Kenny’s love of people inspired his overall plan. His dream was to establish residency in California and go to Berkley Law School. He wanted to be an advocate for the Human Rights Watch.

Kenny did not always choose the most direct path towards achieving his dream. His parents said the challenge of keeping Kenny on the road was like the challenge of driving a car with no power steering that wants to veer off the road. As a child, he often forgot basic vocabulary words such as “homework,” or “rules.”

For example, the Country Day School required students to wear a coat and tie. While Kenny succumbed to their dress code, he searched for loopholes through which he could assert his individuality. To the dismay of the faculty, Kenny frequently delighted in wearing different colored socks on each foot.

He was not much for material things, and openly expressed disdain for popular culture and popular politics. He drove a car with 130,000 miles on it. He bought his clothes at Value Village, some of which had been donated by his father years earlier. He was especially proud of his six dollar suit which he wore for particularly festive occasions.

Kenny advocated “Midwestern simplicity and hospitality.” He was a unique, free spirit. He loved music, especially playing his guitar. He did not read music, but he could listen to a song once and then play it by ear. He was a creative artist who would have been happy on a mountaintop with only a book and his guitar and the daily New York Times.

The New York Times was one of Kenny’s sources for political information. He read it cover to cover every day. He took current events very seriously, and he had definitive opinions about world affairs. If you got into a conversation or debate with Kenny, you had better have done some research and you had better know your facts. Especially when it came to the Middle East.

Kenny was a lover of Israel, but he opposed the current government. He visited Israel several times, most recently on Nativ, a year long program of study and kibbutz work. His sister, Melanie, was studying at Hebrew University that same year. Kenny returned from Israel fluent in Hebrew and inspired to embrace Jewish observance.

He always expressed a love of Judaism. He felt that Judaism was a joyful faith that celebrated life and the seasons. He identified with the ethics of Judaism and its concept of Tikkun Olam, the challenge to help the world and make it a better place for everyone.

Kenny attended our Shaarey Zedek Religious school and was active in USY. He loved leading the family seders after his brother Jeremy relinquished the leadership role. He always wanted to sing every song into the waning hours of the night. On the High Holidays, Kenny led services for the first and second graders. His mother would watch him as he mesmerized the children with his playful personality. The children were sitting on the edge of their seats, hanging on his every word as they all sang the Hebrew songs together.

Kenny’s favorite Jewish setting was of course, Camp Ramah, where I had the honor of knowing him personally. He believed that every Jew should experience a summer at Camp Ramah. He was a camper and counselor there for many years, and I remember that no one had more spirit than Kenny. His campers all loved and respected him. Kenny was cool. The children were in awe of him. He was their pied piper.

Kenny’s loving family also cherished his dynamic personality and warmth of spirit. His grandparents, Alvin and Elenore Winkelman of blessed memory, Cantor Joseph and Edith Birnholtz, his aunts and uncles, Marilyn and (Michael) Franco and Mark and (Paula) Birnholtz, and all his loving cousins. You all have fond memories of love and laughter at Camp Michigania and your recent trip tracing your roots to Eastern Europe. Kenny was the life of the party at holidays and family gatherings.

Jeremy and Melanie, you have so many memories of special times spent at home, in Ann Arbor, or in Israel with your youngest brother. There were times when he stood by you and times when he taught you things. Times when he frustrated you and times when he comforted you. Times when he challenged you and times when he inspired you. You loved each other and you were true to each other, and you always laughed and had fun together.

Sandy, you were always proud of your son, Kenny. You have a twinkle in your eye when you speak of your youngest child. You loved that he had too much integrity to accept parental handouts. You loved that he passionately demanded that you donate your tax refund to Howard Deans’ campaign. You loved that he forbid you from buying any non free-trade coffee. You loved that he pushed you to leave big tips for waiters and waitresses.

Sue, you delighted in these recent days when Kenny was getting comfortable with living at home part time. He even told his friends, “I know I am living at home, but my parents are great roommates.” You loved having him home. Your face would light up every time he was on his way.

He was always so appreciative and thankful for all that you and Sandy did for him. He would tell you, “Mom, Dad, you did everything you could do for me. You gave me a great education. I am very grateful to you.” You gave him his start. You bequeathed to him his wings which gave him the courage, vision, and determination to dream his dreams.

Kenny’s dream was to work to create an ideal world in which no one was excluded, a world in which everyone earned a fair wage, a world in which people were taken care of. Kenny wrote that his dream was “to see the beautiful sights, monasteries, and mountains… to hike and to climb… to share… to listen… to come home, live well, and set a good example.”

Kenny lived the true path towards his dream. He may not have completed his life, but he certainly started a life that most do not have the courage to begin. We will miss his humor and his energy. We will miss his idealism and his goodness. We will miss Kenny so very much.

Everyone in this room is blessed to have known Kenny, and that is why we feel so broken. May our loving memories of Kenny provide us with strength and comfort in the days, months and years to come. We are so grateful for having had him in our lives.

May the soul of Yaacov Chaim ben Baruch Yehoshua, Kenneth Howard Birnholtz, be bound up in the bond of everlasting life. And let us say Amen.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Shabbat is starting soon, so this is going to have to be a short entry. This has been a tough week, but so many people have been so amazing and caring. Sitting in my kitchen is this week's issue of the Detroit Jewish News. I know that inside it is Kenny's obituary that Shelli Dorfman wrote. I decided to wait until later to read it, putting off for a little bit the inevitable tears. One day at a time is the only way to do this... At least Shabbat is finally here--that has to count for something, right?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Kenny's funeral was today. An emotional whirlwind. So many people I haven't seen in so long... People that under other circumstances I would have loved to see, too catch up with... But I could barely say hello. I think most people I just hugged through my tears without saying anything...

The funeral was moving. Rabbi Berkun led a wonderful service and delivered such a touching eulogy. As Sue (Kenny's mom) said afterwards, it really captured the essence of Kenny. Cried most of the time, with a couple breaks to stare at the stained-glass windows not really comprehending where I was or that it was all real.

The cemetery afterwards was tough. I somehow managed to end up standing alone, sobbing as they slowly lowered him... Then someone's arm was around me as I cried, then I was holding a shovel letting some dirt fall, then I was hugging Sue... Stayed until he was completely buried. Still didn't (and doesn't) seem real.

Shiva was almost a drastic change in emotion. A little crying, but more smiling. Telling stories about Kenny. Catching up with old friends. Being with one another... It's such an amazing thing, the way Judaism teaches us to morn. The idea of having everyone together while in such an emotional state of mind. No one has to be alone. Not the family, not friends. Everyone looks out for one another...

I've been thinking a lot about people I've lost touch with over the years. People I used to be friends with, that I don't even know where they are now. I don't know when I saw Kenny last before he died, and that's eating me up inside. It should never be so long since you've seen a friend that you can't remember.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

I haven't posted anything lately, but now is not the time for updates on my life.

A good friend of mine passed away a few days ago. Kenny Birnholtz.

I can't even believe that this is true. I've known Kenny since we were high school freshmen. Met at some USY retreat at camp, became friends right away. Talked about everything... He went out with Kimmie, my best friend, for years. I went to Vail with him and his parents in high school... I switched groups with Kimmie when we went to Israel our freshman year of college so her and Kenny could be on the same group. I had classes with him at Michigan...

I found out right after Shabbas. Since then I've done a lot of crying, made a lot of hard phone calls, written some tough e-mails, and maybe slept for a couple hours. Cried through a yoga class today--my failed attempt to force myself to relax.

I don't want this to be real. How can this be real? I got out of bed this morning at 8 (was that only this morning?), walked to the mailbox without shoes or socks on not even realizing the temperature, and looked in the newspaper. There it was. Under death sentences. Birnholtz with a little Jewish star next to it. I looked on-line at the funeral chapel's website. www.thedorfmanchapel.com. There it was, information on Kenny's funeral.

It just doesn't seem fair. It ISN'T fair. Not fair to his family. Not fair to his friends. Not fair to him. Not fair to me...

More than anything I want to wake up from this nightmare. But I can't even fall asleep, so how can I wake up?


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