The Power I Don't Have
On Wednesdays, I have power.
On Wednesday mornings, I go to six classes at school.
Here, I have the power to determine if I’ll pay attention in class and do my assignments.
After class, I’m a madricha at Hebrew school.
Here, the young students look up to me, and I have the power to influence how they view their Jewish education.
Throughout the day on Wednesdays, I have positions of power in my activities. If I focus, I’ll finish my schoolwork. If I’m conscious of my attitude at Hebrew school, I’ll become a positive role model for Jewish kids.
So on Wednesdays, I have power.
Except on Wednesdays, I do not have power.
“Oh, Cameron called me? That’s random,” I said to Rachel, my temple’s educator, as I turned in some madricha paperwork. It was Wednesday, September 11, 2019.
Cameron then texted me, saying that if I needed anything, he was here to talk.
This was out of nowhere. Cameron is good friends with my sister, Rahnie, and he’s like a big brother to me. He lives in California where I go to summer camp, and we don’t talk much during the year. Something was obviously up, so I called back to check on him.
“Hey, Cam, are you okay?” I said, walking with Rachel to my Hebrew school class. I heard shuddered breath through the phone. Cameron was crying.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?” I responded, really starting to worry.
Cameron asked me if I knew, and when I said I didn’t, he said: “I’m so sorry I’m the one to have to tell you this… Oh, god...” He paused, trying to pull himself together. I panicked, fearing something might have happened to Rahnie. My heart raced.
“Cameron, what? What happened?” I asked firmly, scared to death for my sister. At this point, Rachel and I had stopped walking and she was staring at me, wide-eyed.
“There was a shooting in Northridge...” He took a steadying breath, then said: “Michael is dead.”
I was expecting anything but this. At first, all I felt was relief that my sister was okay. Then I entered a numb state of shock. Michael? Dead? At that moment, I didn’t understand yet. I knew that it would sink in soon, but for that second, everything sort of froze.
Michael was my advisor at camp this past summer. As counselors-in-training (CITs), we had four college-age advisors living with us for eight weeks, mentoring and befriending us.
Michael was nineteen.
I spent the afternoon in Rachel’s office on the phone with family and friends, searching for information about the shooting. I had expected a mass shooting, but all that came up on Google was a murder-suicide case in a suburban home. I scrolled past that.
I called my dad, who’d worked with Michael for a few summers. I told him Michael was dead, and he responded, “Michael who?”
I said, “My CIT advisor. Michael.”
Hearing his nickname made the tears come rushing in.
“Yeah,” I sobbed, “There was a shooting in Northridge.”
I got on the phone with Rahnie. We thought maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was all just some horrible misunderstanding. But it turned out, the murder-suicide was exactly the right story.
The news report said that a young man, a middle-aged woman, and a middle-aged man were found dead in their home with gun wounds. They suspected that the middle-aged man was the father, and that he had killed his wife and son before killing himself; his twenty-five-year-old daughter had escaped.
Well, we thought, that could be anyone! This was obviously a mistake. I actually thought about calling Michael to inform him that people thought he was dead, and he ought to tell everyone he was okay.
Mostly, I wanted to call Michael to know for sure.
Rahnie said she was going to ask a friend if they had any information. A few minutes later, she called back and told me it was true. She was holding back tears, and in that moment, I knew it was real. In retrospect, I don’t think I ever completely believed it was a lie.
Here, I had no control over the situation. I was powerless.
All I wanted to do was be with my CIT family at camp. That weekend, there was a community Shabbat, and that’s exactly what I did. My Aunt Judy and Uncle Andy generously let me use their flying miles to get to California, and I was able to spend the night with my CIT family that not only loves Michael, but also loves me.
Now, Wednesdays remind me that I don’t have the power to control every situation, but I do have power over my reactions.
I didn’t have the power to stop Michael’s death, but I do have the power and the privilege to do what I need to heal.
I have 66 friends who I can call “family.” The way we continue to come together and to support each other in this difficult time is remarkable. We are able to grieve for our loss of Michael together, in the loving arms of this siblinghood. None of us had the power to save Michael, but we did have the power to come together that first weekend as a community and make each other a little more whole.
I have the power to grieve and the privilege to grow from this traumatic experience. I can learn, I can move forward, I can help others.
Most of all, I have the privilege to share my memories of Mikey. Through actions, through words, through the way I live. Through writing.
Let me begin.
Mikey, or “Lertzy,” as I liked to call him, was a rock climbing teacher and belayer who always kept a carabiner fastened to his olive green HydroFlask. Well, except for when a CIT would steal it. But however angry Michael pretended to be when his carabiner got stolen, I think he secretly thought it was funny. Mikey was always laughing, and it was contagious.
My earliest memory of him was a few summers ago, before he was my CIT advisor, when he would come sit with my bunk at lunch and stuff his face with food, spit it out into his water, and drink it. He did it this past summer, too. Every day. We’d yell, “One bite!” and he would vigorously stuff his mouth. That shows his attitude toward life: Do it all. Take chances. Have a good time.
Michael might have been wild, but he was also sentimental. He made Spotify playlists for the summer to play in the CIT living area and during meaningful programs, and a lot of us CITs now have those songs on our playlists. They stuck with us because of the memories Michael and our other advisors helped us make with those songs surrounding us.
I could go on. And I will. Every day.
Wednesdays will never be the same. I will never be the same. But the privilege I have to share stories about Michael gives power to his memory. Even on Wednesdays, that has to be enough.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Harris, Eleanor. "The Power I Don't Have." 17 January 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 17, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/power-i-dont-have>.