Rami: The Magician of Two Disparate Landscapes.
Yonatan Ariel, Executive Director of Makom, gave this eulogy at the Global Jewish Forum of the Jewish Agency for Israel on Wednesday morning, June 24th 2015. It has been a year since Rami passed.
Rami Wernik passed away last Erev Shabbat from cancer. He was 46 years old. He served as the North American Director of Makom and was a dear friend and colleague.
Rami is the son of Rabbi Joe and Miriam Wernik – with Joe known to many here, as he served on this Board for numerous years. Rami leaves them, his sister Idit, his wife Kim and his two children Zohar and Dvir to whom he gave his all. And an astonishing array of friends, colleagues and admirers, including his children’s mother, stellar Jewish educators on three continents, and an avalanche of students touched by his gentle and stunningly modest spirit.
We would like to dedicate this Global Jewish Forum to Rami’s memory – here’s why.
Rami – I tried, and failed, to get you to work with me at Melitz. But I kept my eyes on the prize. When we met up again whilst you were a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow we had a series of rolling conversations about life, the Jews, education and the world. You have been a charming partner ever since. The exquisite devotion you pay to your thoughts before they emerge as words, the compelling and inviting attention that you offer to any conversant, and the rigor with which you challenge ideas before you take them inside are just wonders to behold.
Avraham, our patriarch, was a revolutionary, smashing the idols of his time. In our day, when in the midst of the blogosphere and the twitterverse we are stifled and suffocated by the clamour to make a deafening noise, and more-so in strident tones, then discreet, charming Rami stood out as a superb listener. He gave the most generous reading possible of any poorly expressed thought, gently enabling the other to be at their best, not trashing them for being their worst. Avraham Wernik, like his namesake, was a revolutionary for our times too.
So when you came to work at Makom, my heart thrilled. The purposefulness, the resolve to succeed in an honest way, and the spirit of fun and adventure that you displayed was magical.
For years I have called you by a nickname: Rambo. It always struck me as a delicious and judicious choice because of its incongruity. Rambo is the bulked up, physically aggressive drifter, lunging and wandering hopelessly. Contrast that with you as the smart, sensitive, handsome caring man with loyal anchors in so many areas of your rich life. Yet the determination with which you chose Jewish education as your profession and your knowledge, passion and skills for philosophy and its applications to real life is what it takes to be an elite craftsman in the education ‘A’ team. You prepared meticulously, designed passionately, and interacted delicately – with an abundance of care for your pedigree, your peers, and your participants. What an honor to be with such gifts.
Rami was the quintessential value-driven educator committed to and loving Israel and the Jewish People.
He was a true bi-lingual, bi-cultural talent. He spoke Jewish and Western with gusto. He grew up in Israel and having survived Hodgkins disease he was educated both in the US (JTS-Columbia, Harvard and Stanford and as a Wexner Fellow), and in Israel (Hebrew University and as a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow). He was a wonderful professional and an influential figure at Melitz, Mercaz Herzl, Camp Ramah, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in California, the American Jewish University and has for the last several years directed Makom’s programs in North America, travelling the continent to cultivate and teach the embodiment of Klal Yisrael.
Leah Goldberg captures Rami’s bi-focal commitment in her poem Oren – Pine. The last two verses read:
אולי רק ציפורי-מסע יודעות
כשהן תלויות בין ארץ ושמיים
את זה הכאב של שתי המולדות.
אתכם אני נשתלתי פעמיים,
אתכם אני צמחתי, אורנים,
ושרשיי בשני נופים שונים
Perhaps only migrating birds know –
suspended between earth and sky –
the heartache of two homelands.
With you I was transplanted twice, oh my pine trees
with you, I branched into myself and grew –
And so my roots are in two disparate landscapes.
As Jon Levisohn his friend and co-conspirator in philosophy of Jewish education wrote:
“Rami was kind, compassionate, honest, funny, and so smart. Never naive, but never a cynic. If you ever had a conversation with him about Israel, you know what it sounds like to care so deeply that your critique is, genuinely, self-critique... He radiated warmth and kindness. He’s the kind of person who deflated ego just by his presence.”
Our tradition teaches us:
עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר, והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות
(משנה, מסכת אבות, פרק א’, משנה ו’).
Find a teacher and acquire a friend, and judge each person with merit.
My experience with Rami was that the order was reversed. First you found a friend, and then slowly, elegantly, he would peel the layers of his wisdom and offer them graciously for your consideration.
This is the distilled essence of what I have learned from Rami:
- Care and be curious about generations – those before you, those alongside you, and those after you.
- Practice listening, and learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. Let your ears trump your mouth.
- Think before you speak. Think fast, but think first.
- Find work that you believe in, that you can devote your whole self to.
- Eat nuts, fruit and dark chocolate every day.
- Make and nurture wise, happy and caring friends.
And that is why this Global Jewish Forum is dedicated to Rami z”l.
With tears in our hearts we remember a gifted educator, a deep thinker, a great team member and an all-round mensch. We are all going to sense the palpable absence of his warmth, intelligence, and moral compass. We will miss him terribly. With every good wish for the journey onwards.
יהי זכרו ברוך May his memory be for a blessing.