By Jen Merrill
The REMember Foundation Created Community-Enriching Opportunities
Reuben Eli Mitrani was 20 years old when an undetected congenital birth defect known as cerebral arteriovenous malformation unexpectedly took his life in September of 2012. He was studying multicultural diplomacy and international relations in Geneva at the time, a junior at Colorado College and a “specimen of health,” according to his mother.
“We have been looking for ways, as many parents who lost a child do, to memorialize him, to think about who he was going to be and the impact he was going to make on the world because Reuben was a remarkable young man, and he was deeply loved in every community that he was a part of,” says Donna Orbach, Reuben’s mother.
Reuben’s mother and father, Albert Mitrani, founded the REMember Foundation in their son’s honor with the hopes of supporting families dealing with the grieving process and encouraging young people to create opportunities for themselves to become leaders, thinkers and doers.
The REMember Foundation operates under the tagline, “One person at a time, one day at a time, one breath at a time,” encouraging individuals to make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of those around them, just as Reuben worked hard to do.
On Thursday, March 13, 2014, which would have been Reuben’s 22nd birthday, the REMember Foundation will welcome Maggie Wheeler – who played Janice on the hit show Friends – and Emile Hassan Dyer, a percussionist and the leader of The Golden Bridge Community Choir, to host workshops and a special concert and community sing.
The REMemberfest: Together in Song workshops will be held during the day at Londonderry Private School – where Reuben attended – and Capital Area School for the Arts. Wheeler and Dyer will teach harmonies so that students and staff members can actively participate during the concert. A public workshop, which costs $20 per person and includes light dinner and concert attendance, will also be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for the public. The concert will be held at Chisuk Emuna Synagogue in Harrisburg at 7:30 p.m., and admission is $10. All proceeds benefit The REMember Foundation so that they can continue to provide community-enriching events.
“Maggie and her partner in this create an opportunity through ancient traditions like spirituals, gospel, African, Aboriginal, all types of indigenous sounds and call and recall and singing and rounds,” describes Orbach. “It’s just this whole harmonious blending of voices that you cannot help but be moved by, and you can’t help but feel fond of the person right next to you that you might not have known.”
Orbach had the opportunity to participate in one of Wheeler’s workshops at Omega Institute for Holisitic Studies in New York, and she was so moved by her experience that she asked Maggie to hold a workshop in conjunction with The REMember Foundation.
“It doesn’t matter whether you can sing; the strong voices, the better voices will carry the weaker voices, just as we do in life. Maggie has this brilliant way of allowing people’s voices to open up. I didn’t anticipate that I would enjoy this, or that it would be deeply meaningful to me. But it was, especially being at that point in my life, 11 months after Reuben died, where I happened to be very fragile. Here I was with a group of strangers singing and doing this vulnerable act, and I felt very supported and cocooned,” explains Orbach.
Beyond events like REMemberfest: Together in Song, The REMember Foundation promotes community programing that helps arts and discussion to aid in community building residents deal with grief and death. They are also creating a needs-based scholarship with the help of Colorado College, where Reuben was a student. A third element of the organization is to create grants, especially those that will enable young people to become more involved in the wellness of their communities.
“Reuben made a concerted effort to change his whole lifestyle all by himself. He changed the way he ate, and he started exercising every day,” says Orbach. “So what we would like to do with the third element of this is to create grants for young people to go out into their communities and build programs that will encourage physical fitness, nutritional health and wellbeing and to help spread that throughout the community, whether it be helping baseball teams exercise or get coaches.”
After her son’s death, Orbach was determined to keep his memory alive in a way that would continue his life’s work. However, at 20 years old, his life’s work was still materializing. Regardless of what her son would have worked toward in the future, there’s one word that Orbach continually associated with him: integrity.
“I keep coming up with that word when I think about him now. He was filled with integrity,” says Orbach. “It occurred to us from all of the thousands of letters and emails and phone calls that we got from people that he met from around the country and the world that Reuben really touched people. He allowed each person to be an individual and feel as if they were heard, as if they were important, as if what they were doing was important. He listened, and he was there,” she says. 7
To register for REMemberfest: Together in Song, visit remember-foundation.org or call Donna Orbach at (717) 648-4110. Tickets will be available at Mitrani at Home (3535 Walnut Street) and at Londonderry School.
For more information about The REMember Foundation, visit rememberfund.org. REMemberfest is a project of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities, fiscal sponsor. The REMember Foundation is a fund of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities. The official registration and financial information of TFEC may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State or by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania (800) 732-0999.