This past week marked a year since the tragic loss of Hebrew Academy sophomore Sammy Farkas Z’L. The school and students commemorated the year by memorializing Sammy and celebrating his life through events, videos and songs.
Community members and Hebrew Academy parents and students attended a ceremony hosted by The Shul of Bal Harbor the night of January 7th. The evening began with a speech by the Farkas family’s Rabbi, Rabbi Friedman, who addressed the audience about how last week’s Parsha could compare to the grief that was communally felt for Sammy. Following his speech, Sammy’s aunt, Michelle Farkas Maidenberg, talked about how Sammy always lived in the moment, a way that we all should live. She then asked anyone who knew of or was impacted by Sammy to stand up, resulting in the whole room standing. Hebrew Academy junior Mary Berkowitz then read an essay that she wrote about the impact Sammy made on her life and how much she misses his presence. Following her, Sammy’s father, Michael Farkas, disclosed the pain he still feels for Sammy every day. Rabbi Aharon Assaraf also spoke, describing how special Sammy was to him.
Rabbi Assaraf then showed a video created by Sammy’s classmates, which showed the class singing “HaLev Sheli” by Yishai Ribo and Omer Adam (scroll to the end of article for a link to the video). In the video, students stood on the beach and on the school patio wearing “Sammy Strong” shirts while the song played in the background. It also included a clip of Sammy davening and speaking about the importance of davening, a passion he was well known for. The Rabbi of the Shul of Bal Harbor, Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, concluded the ceremony by explaining how to honor Sammy’s memory and discussed what a true Tzadik he was. Once the ceremony ended, the student body stayed for a Kumzitz in Sammy’s honor.
The following morning, an exact year since Sammy’s passing and the day before what would have been his 16th birthday, the school celebrated Sammy’s life. Rabbi Friedman opened the ceremony by explaining how to cope through examples from the upcoming Parsha. Dean of Academics and Innovation Rabbi Bossewitch spoke about the meaning of Sammy’s Hebrew name and the pain we are still enduring. He introduced Darren Glick, a musician and friend of the Farkas family, who wrote an original song about Sammy. Glick spoke about the importance of tefillah and how when one prays for someone else, their positive wishes transfer to the person praying as well.
Students stood up to sing Glick’s song, which they had learned and rehearsed the previous day. The song, called “Love Don’t Fade Away,” addressed how Sammy’s memory and love is everlasting as long as we reach out to keep him with us. Tears were shed as students sang along with Glick with their arms around each other and reminisced about Sammy and the joy he brought to everyone’s life.
The service concluded with a video documented by Abraham and Anna Hirsch, close friends of Sammy, which was a compilation of students and faculty members talking about what they miss most about Sammy (see link at end of article). The video truly exemplified the monumental impact Sammy had on each and every students’ life. The video began with a clip of Sammy discussing why prayer was important to his daily life, and students even mentioned how his Kavanah when praying was one great attribute about him. Once the video ended, everyone went outside to partake in milk and cookies, Sammy’s favorite snack.
Though it has been a year already, the students are still mourning, and many feel that Sammy’s loss has greatly impacted their lives.
“I think that it’s crazy that time has gone so fast because when I look back and think of what happened a year ago, I remember it like it was today,” said Danelle Levi (11th grade). “And it’s just crazy to see people move on, yet at the same time hold his memory so close to their hearts. I feel like it’s amazing that no matter how much time goes by, people talk about him like it was just yesterday.”
Students also expressed how different school feels without his daily presence in the hallways.
“I’ve definitely missed him a lot, and like everyone says I’ve missed his smile and his presence in the school,” said Deborah Winer. “He really just lit the school up.”
Many still feel the pain of missing Sammy in their daily lives.
“It’s been a year and the pain still hasn’t gone away, I feel it everyday. I just can’t believe a whole year has gone by where we haven’t seen him. It’s just really weird,” said Tziyona Gheblikian (11th).
Students even addressed how the class unity has eased some of the pain of Sammy’s passing.
“So it’s been a year since Sammy has passed, but it’s still a little too hard to wrap your mind around what actually happened. I think the pain will never actually leave because Sammy was such a special person, but I think it has definitely gotten easier to deal with because of how our entire class surrounded each other and has supported everybody,” said Ben Grosz (11th).
Yet even with all the mourning, a universal theme is how the class has begun to take Sammy with them in their lives and use his memory to shape their actions.
“Not a day has gone by where the thought of him didn’t cross my mind; instead I started to see him more and more in my actions, values, dreams, and perspective. He has completely shaped the way I have been trying to live my life the past year, and I feel blessed to have had the privilege to know him,” said Esther Nahon (11th)
The school will commemorate the Hebrew date of Sammy’s yartzheit with a day of learning on January 29th.