In Memory of a Friend
by Adin Yehoshua Meir
I am a former Ramah
camper and staff member stricken
with grief at the sudden death of
my lifelong friend and fellow
Ramah camper and staff member,
Eric Steinthal, z”l. In the wake of
his death, I feel compelled to tell the story
of how Camp Ramah in the Berkshires has
transformed and shaped my life, and the lives
of our group of friends.
I first met Eric as a 10-year-old at Ramah
in the Berkshires. We were in the same bunk
– A-16 – and have been close friends ever
since. Over the next few years, our group of
camp friends grew to 10. We didn’t just hang
out together in camp; sleepovers and shuttling
between each other’s houses were the
norm all year. Our backgrounds were varied,
and represented all facets of Conservative
Judaism, from kids like me who
attended day schools and were immersed in
Jewish learning and culture, to kids who did
not observe kashrut or Shabbat. Yet when
we gathered in Ramah every summer we
were all equal. We all observed Shabbat. We
all kept kosher. We all went to tefillot every
day, and wore a tallit and tefillin every morning.
We all said the motzi before we ate, and
we benched after every meal. And Shabbat...
Shabbat in camp is magical. The day-to-day
routine is replaced by something more spiritual,
more kadosh, more holy. Even as young
kids we understood that Shabbat is very different
from any other day of the week, and
it was camp that taught us that lesson.
For us, camp did not end with the summer.
Kids who did not eat kosher at home
told their parents that they wanted to start
keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and even
leave public school for Jewish day school,
as Eric did.
Our group grew tighter as the years passed,
and many of us attended Solomon Schechter
high schools, deepening our bonds. As we
entered college, many of us continued to
work in camp, but eventually we had to enter
the real world and get jobs. But we still held
onto our friendships, which culminated
every year with the Ramah Berkshires Labor
Day alumni weekend reunion. This was the
most important weekend of the year. I
refused to schedule my wedding over Labor
Day because I did not want to miss it! Many
of us met our wives and significant others
during that weekend, and indeed it is where
I met my wife, Jordana, almost six years ago.
My Ramah friendships shaped and
defined my life. It is easy to take for granted
that nine other people will be there for
you whenever you need them, but I can
never take that for granted again.
Our friend, Eric Jay Steinthal, who died
suddenly on Saturday, March 17, was the
center of our circle. It was Eric and his
fiancée Jodi Siskind who hosted all of our
poker games and get-togethers. Their apartment
was our home base. Eric embodied
the concept of menschlichkeit, and his quiet
and unassuming demeanor and self-confidence
made him extremely popular
throughout the Ramah community. He was
even the commissioner of the Ramah
Alumni Basketball Association, and a member
of the Berkshires Alumni Hanhallah
– its board.
After hearing the terrible news, four of
Eric’s friends, all from Ramah, rushed to the
hospital to try to give his family support and
comfort. The next day, more than 15 of
us gathered at my parents’ house. We spent
the day and night telling funny stories,
trying to get through the nightmare. Eric’s
funeral was the hardest day of my life. It was
filled with memories, love, and most of
all, Camp Ramah. Eric’s life revolved around
camp, and to a certain respect the camp
alumni community revolved around Eric.
We are all trying to make sense of a tragedy
that no parents, no siblings, no partners,
and no friends should ever have to endure.
But we have comfort. We have our bonds,
forged together at Camp Ramah. They
can never be broken. I cannot imagine having
to endure this terrible pain without them.
Even in the face of overwhelming tragedy,
we find support, love, and hope that will
enable us to continue without our friend.
For all of us, that is what Camp Ramah
May Eric’s memory be for a blessing.
Adin Yehoshua Meir, an energy engineer, lives
in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, Jordana.