Linking Hearts at Stanford (In Memory of Amir)

From The Chabad House At Stanford:

Linking Hearts at Stanford
Extend a helping hand to special needs children.
Kickoff Event – meet professionals and volunteers

Sunday, October 17th 10am – 1pm
Location: Hass Center – 562 Salvatierra Walk – Donald Kennedy Room
RSVP appreciated – For reservations click here

Linking Hearts is dedicated to the loving memory of Amir Lopatin.

Junior Congregation

My wife and I have been leading a youth minyan at Congregation Emek Beracha for the past couple of years. We pray with the kids for 15 minutes and then play a fun, educational game for 15 minutes (e.g. Chumash Baseball). For a while we had been looking for people to help us out and give us some weeks off, but it was hard to find volunteers. Then, just a couple of months after he moved into Stanford, Amir came up to me and asked if he could help out. It was perfect timing, just when we needed the help! It’s clear that education was important to Amir not just as part of his PhD program or as his future profession — he wanted to educate children in his free time, too.

He was a little nervous before his first time leading the group, and he asked if I should help out to make sure things went well. Being excited about the day off, I told him he would be fine on his own. After the group ended and he returned to synagogue, he looked a little disconcerted. I asked him how it went, and he said, “I was too easy on them, the kids were out of control! I don’t know if I can do this…” I asked the kids later when I saw them, and they said that they had a great time with him, and that he made up a new game for them to play (I can’t remember what it was). Amir was just being hard on himself, because he cared so much about education. Amir wasn’t too easy on them, he just helped them have fun while they were learning…We’ll miss you, Amir.

I miss him

I met Amir on my first day at Stanford. It was lunchtime during orientation to our doctoral program in education. My first impression of Amir, I am embarrassed to say, was so stupidly knee-jerk. We were talking politics, and Amir asked my impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Amir told me he was “middle of the road” polticially…pretty much on par with the rest of America. I thought “who is this guy?” I pretty much dismissed him. Since then, Amir has taught me much.

There is not one conversation I had with Amir that could be described as mundane. Amir’s inquisitiveness sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, particularly when he would ask questions like: “Aurora, you’re gay, how do you feel about religion” or “Are gay people attracted to themselves?” and he always caught me off-guard…these were happy hour, end of the week type questions. What I loved about Amir, is that he had the courage (audacity?) to ask the questions and did so in such a good-natured, friendly way that all I could do was give a little sigh, turn to him, and answer honestly. He made me reflect and give a little more of myself than I think to give. And to me, that was a very profound gift.

I am haunted by the long conversation Amir and I had about what kind of car he should buy. He was so excited about the Honda Element, and wanted to know a woman’s opinion… would it attract the girls? I told him I would prefer the Subaru wagon he was considering, but that he should go with what makes him happy. He couldn’t wait to get on the road with his new car. I wish he had dropped his work and joined the cohort trip to Tahoe… I wish…

Amir and I talked about relationships. I had just ended one, and he had a lot of good wisdom for me about endings. Amir got drunk on margaritas at my house and sang Les Miserables duets with Colin and told funny stories. He said nice things about me. I thought a lot about him after that.. about how first impressions are not always correct, about how complex people are, about why I hold back. Jon and I ran into Amir while hiking the dish. He had been running, and Jon and I were both impressed. They talked about climbing the wall sometime. I smiled at Amir. He said “have a good spring break if I don’t see you before then.” It was two weeks before spring break, and I hoped I would see him before then, but I didn’t.

Amir didn’t hold back with people, at least not with those of us in the SUSE cohort who knew him. I learned a lot from him in the few months I knew him. I think I can honestly say that Amir was one of the most unusual people I have ever met. My faith does not help me understand what happens to souls when they move on, but something in me believes very strongly that Amir’s soul is doing some profound work for our world, and my hope is that his friends and family feel his love and amazing presence even now.

Amir, you were so clearly a gift to everyone who had the privilege of talking to you even once… thank you for your time here. I hope you like where you are now. I will miss you.

Amir makes me think of my Cyprus goal

Before I begin, I want to let Amir’s family know that I think about him everyday here at Stanford. At least once every other day I pass another student and think for a moment that it’s him. I realize that you have suffered two losses in the last 12 months – Amir and his father. Having gone through a similar situation several years ago, I know that words don’t do anything. Faith is what matters.

That being said, I thought I would share my exchanges with Amir, which were unfortunately very limited. I first met him last September when I went to the orientation party for new students. I was riddled with anxiety, and so I went straight for a beer and then to the opening in the back of the room that led out onto a patio. I didn’t want to stand there by myself, so I nervously introduced myself to the guy next to me who seemed to be quite comfortable in the situation. The smalltalk was forced, and I was just thankful that he kept it going. Amir later told me that he didn’t know anyone either and that I was his first conversation. He must have had a better poker face than I did.

We exchanged e-mails, and he later told me that he needed a ride to Target. A foreign student came with us, but as Amir sat up front with me, he did most of the talking, which was really asking questions about my interests. As many others have said on this website, he struck me as very smart, and I was a bit reluctant to engage in deep conversation with him out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold my own. But he sensed my insecurity and made me feel more comfortable with sharing.

On our way back, I told him that I’m working on a peace plan for Cyprus that uses a paradigm not yet considered by Kofi Annan and others in the international community.

I felt very vulnerable when I shared this idea with Amir because for me, Cyprus (and its divided capital, Nicosia) is simply a 30-year proving ground for something that I envision working eventually in Jerusalem. There would be certain accommodations that both parties (Jewish and Palestinian) would have to make, and Amir was the first Jewish person with whom I shared my idea. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react emotionally.

It turned out that he treated me to one of his beers, and we stood out in the Rains parking lot for close to an hour. He asked probing questions and generally made me feel more comfortable with describing it. I think I was too wrapped up in my own thoughts to learn more about his PhD LDTS program. Hearing about tank simulators was too complex for me!

We had decided that we would get together for a beer or frisbee, but unfortunately time got the best of us. I only saw him in passing after that, but he was always quick with my name and a smile. Who knows if my Cyprus (and, modestly, Jerusalem) idea will gain a wider audience, but I’ll be going to Singapore in June to present it at a cooperative learning conference and plan to share it eventually with those who specialize in that island’s affairs. I’ll certainly be thinking of Amir on a usual basis, just like I do with my best friend in 2nd grade who died in a car accident.

Since it was Amir and not me, I’m going to put a lot of energy into this pursuit. He would likely to do the same if our roles were reversed. Watch over us, Amir; we need your guidance as we follow our responsibilities, loves, and dreams…Peace be to all of you.

– Mills Chapman

On the occasion of celebrating the life of Amir Lopatin

The following was delivered by Amir’s friend Lizzie as part of Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

“On the occasion of celebrating the life of Amir Lopatin”

Dov called me last night at around 9pm, as I was finishing dinner at an Indian Restaurant in Palo Alto. “Shavua tov!” I said with characteristic ebullience. “I actually have some tragic news,” he said, deflating the red balloon of my new week.

Amir– I think I remember every conversation we ever had, for two reasons: One, there weren’t that many of them, as far as friendships go. That was not by choice or design, rather, because I mostly saw you on Shabbat and other special occasions. Two, they were all incredibly interesting, and I always felt both challenged and rewarded by sharing ideas with you and listening to your thoughts. I know many people felt the same way. You have a very memorable mind, my friend. A memorable mind, an adorable face, a kind, caring heart, and a pure, golden soul that has returned to God. It brought with it a life of your experiences and dreams, reunited with the One source that creates and sustains everything, and now we are here, our souls connected to yours, to remember you.
I met you for the first time in Dov’s sukkah. Fancying ourselves honorary grad students, Emily and Carla and I walked over to Chabad’s shabbat grad dinner. We squeezed in through the opening in the side and looked for empty seats. There were a few, one next to a grad student on the one side of the table, one next to you. I chose the one next to you. I think Aaron Master was sitting near by us, but you know how it is at these crowded Chabad meals: you can only really talk to the person sitting next to you if you want to get into more than superficial conversation. So you and I got to know one another, spoke easily and freely. I’m from Chicago, you from New York. I’m a senior, you’re a first year Education PhD student. What do I want to do with my life? Knowing you had gone to Orthodox school I hesitated… may as well just out myself: I want to be a rabbi. Okay, let me have it. Give me all the reasons why it’s wrong and I shouldn’t.
Instead you smiled. You were impressed. “I think it’s great,” you said. “But why Judaism?” I didn’t understand. “The texts are so dry,” you continued. “I mean, of all religious books the Torah is so boring, and horribly written in parts. Speaking from the vantage point of literature, there’s so much better stuff out there to read. I mean, all that genealogy and begat stuff at the beginning… it’s totally uninteresting!”
I would later learn that this was your irreverent, whimsical side coming out. And furthermore, your words came from a place of deep education, knowledge, and respect.
But at the time I was groping for a rope– there I was thinking that this, here, right now, is my only chance to save yet one more Jew from defecting because he doesn’t think Judaism is spiritual enough. And I was at the same time intrigued– what are you doing celebrating Shabbat, I wondered, if you think Judaism’s so boring? So before returning to Torah, we talked about observance.
“My dad died of cancer a few months ago,” you told me. “I’m saying kaddish. It’s what he would want me to do.”
“And you keep Shabbat still?”
“Yeah. I’m trying to find meaning in all of it,” you said.
I could relate to that. “You know,” I said, “Rashi gives a reason for all of the boring begats in Genesis. If the Torah is supposed to be a guidebook for Jewish living, then the question is, why begin at the beginning and go through all of that? Why not just lay down all the laws? It’s that God wants to show that the world was created for a purpose, to tie the story of the very creation of the world to our lives as Jews. All the begats are our primal ancestry, leading up to Avraham, leading into the Israelite lineage, and then of course, into Egypt, out of Egypt, and to the mitzvot.”
Amir, you should know at that moment, right after I was done talking, a few things were going through my head. 1. I am a huge poser. Who am I to be talking about Rashi? What do I know about Rashi, for God’s sake? I probably got whatever he said wrong and misquoted him completely. 2. I must look like such an idiot talking about Rashi to someone who went to Orthodox school and probably learnt that piece in seventh grade. 3. What is this sudden need I feel to save you?
And then you did the nicest thing, that I couldn’t tell at the time was totally sincere. You said, “Yashar koach! That was really nice.”
I don’t think anyone had ever said that to me in one-on-one conversation, but then, it’s not often I go off as if on a pulpit, in normal conversations. “Well, I didn’t think of that, of course,” I said, embarrassed, kicking myself mentally for trying to be some sort of chacham over dessert. “Yeah,” you said, “but that makes sense. I like that.”
You and I walked back in the direction of campus after dinner with a few people. You told me about the years you’d spent in Salt Lake City as we passed the Mormon Church. I looked forward to getting to know you. I wondered what you thought about me.

Rather than go over the details of my every interaction with you, let me try and remember out loud the qualities that characterized you in all those instances. You remembered things, were concerned about my life and what I was doing. You asked me about rabbinical school, what I was looking at and where, what all the considerations were. You would engage in conversation, that is, you listened well and responded to what was said– you didn’t assume things, you took in and turned over ideas. You were thoughtful. Needless to say, patience and thoughtfulness are qualities the world could benefit from more people having. You exemplified them.
You were funny. At first I didn’t realize it, but you were. Funny, irreverent, you poked subtle fun, but always in a nice way. You were straight up– that is, I think you had very clear vision about a lot of issues and could communicate it well and argue your viewpoints, like a good New Yorker. And man, what cemented a place for you in my heart: you complimented my jewelry. Every Shabbat you would comment on something new: Like the earrings, like the ring, what a great watch. I remember at the end of last quarter I must have been wearing all your favorite things because you said, “Wow, it’s like Lizzi’s greatest hits!” Amir, I would say, I love that you have such a good sense fashion when it comes to women’s jewelry, namely, taste for mine. And I love that you are secure enough in your masculinity to comment on it. Well, you said, it’s the next best thing to wearing jewelry myself.
Now that I think about it, you were great at giving compliments and bad at receiving them, like a person with a healthy sense of humility (perhaps so healthy it bordered on pathological). It’s been said that what one says about other people reflects their own qualities. If that’s the case, you should consider yourself an extraordinary person. Unique, deep, a ponderer, a doer, a question-asker, an action-taker. I don’t think you gave yourself enough credit for all your positive attributes.

The last time I saw you was Purim. I sat next to you for the megilla reading, we shared a book, you read through the Hebrew and I the English, that is, when we weren’t kibbitzing quietly. You looked across the room and leaned in and said, “Hey, that guy, he’s like the quintessential good-looking guy, isn’t he?”
“Guess what,” I whispered back. “When given the choice to sit next to you or him at dinner at Sukkot, remember? I sat next to you.”
You were shocked. Flattered, speechless. You blushed. I’m glad I got to tell you to your face something to make you feel good. The other part of that conversation I remember was you letting me know that you just had the best Shabbat day of your year: you skipped shul and lunch, and went for a long bike ride in the hills. I was so glad for you, to see you crafting your Jewish life, trying not to feel guilty about experiencing Shabbat in your own way. Good for you, I said. “Yeah,” you sort of nodded in self-affirmation, almost surprised at yourself. “It was really nice.”

Amir, I don’t know what happened in that car when your soul ascended, merged back into God like a wave back into the ocean. I am still in disbelief that I will not be seeing you at any more Shabbat dinners, randomly in Hillel, driving around in the new orange Element you only bought, in which we drove to Tahoe two months ago. The kosher co-op will be missing a crucial member in you– both a leader and a positive presence. Other people can speak to your involvement in the Education department, Jewish learning, Linking Hearts, and other social action projects around campus. I only know from your kindness and friendship, both of which came in abundance. I pray that some of your spirit has spilled over into those of us whose path you crossed. I feel blessed to have known you, even for these short months. I will miss you.

Baruch dayan emet, replies Jewish tradition in the face of an untimely deaths such as yours. Blessed is the true judge. There is some deeper meaning in your death that we do not and will not understand. I won’t presume to comprehend any part of that truth or meaning. But I will ask, What has your life taught me? What can your death teach us? It’s funny how it all comes down to cliches: Life is so precious and fragile. At its end we must ask what we will be remembered for? It will be our kindnesses, our moments of sweetness and compassion, our acts of chesed, our words of sincerity. Out the window go our possessions, our petty concerns, our trivial daily battles. We will wonder, How did we give love and respect? How much light and love did we let in, and how much did we give out?
Baruch dayan emet. In the honor of your life and memory, may I be a more patient listener and a better friend to those waves in the ocean still rolling. One day we will all join you.

I think of you with so much affection and friendship, my friend. May your soul light the way for others.
In peace, Lizzi.

Michael Remembers Amir

The following thought was shared at Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

At the Kosher co-op – it was so easy to get along with him and he helped out so much more than his share.


Rabbi Joey Felson Remembers Amir

Rabbi Joey Felson shared the following at Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

Ever since I got the news, I’ve been thinking about Amir. He was such a unique figure for me at Stanford – someone I connected with very strongly.

One thing I felt with Amir was that he was sure about where he hoped to be headed in life, and he was a person who was extremely thought out. We used to study every week–at certain points he wanted to study Gemara, as he said he had never been turned on by it. Then at certain points, he switched and said – I really want to home in on my passion and look through seferim to see what speaks about education.

I said to him – Well, we could start…

He said, No let’s go and see the breadth and what speaks to us. So we went to the library, and we found things that are eclectic – and he would say – this speaks to me – he would say “this is incredible because I might be able to get credit for this!”

What’s amazing is – I’ve had a lot of people trying to get credit studying with a rabbi – but the difference with Amir is – he said, This is what I want to do. I want to be an educator and I think that my tradition has so much to say about education. I want to access these texts as an educator.

He would just start talking about the realities of life in a very clear and direct way. He was an individual who would spend a lot of time in contemplation and would really think and come to very interesting observations about life and the people around him. I’ve very rarely met a person who could just put it on the table the way Amir Lopatin would put it on the table. He would put an issue on the table and say, let’s talk about it!

He was in pursuit of some higher level of existence for himself and the people around them.

When people pass on, very often the reaction is what to do in his memory/honor – but we forget that one of the most powerful things you can do is to try to figure out what they represented in your life, and then take that and bring it into your life.

Can everyone think about how they can become a little more focused about what they want to do? That is honoring him. I would leave conversations with him and say, “I wish I thought about things as much as he did.” I want to try to carve space in my schedule to do that, and I will have him in mind.

Carla remembers Amir

The following was shared at Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

When Amir bought his car, I was in shock…it was pink! He said, what do you think? I said, I hated it! He said, should I paint it? He really loved it…I keep thinking about it, the color and how excited he was to get it – and how unique he was – he always really challenged me and gave me really unique advice that no one was courageous enough to say to me.


Jeremy Friedman remembers Amir

Jeremy Friedman shared the following at Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

I’m someone who should have known Amir a lot better- he grew up three blocks from my house – we went to the same high school. I could have gotten to know him better and I regret that…He was saying Kaddish for his father every morning…He was biking to minyan at 6:30am – for normal Stanford kids, 6am is literally the middle of the night. Amir was there very consistently – getting on his bike at 6am – from what I know about his own religious beliefs, he was doing this because this is what his father would have wanted; he was able to honor his father by getting on a bike at 6:30am – he wouldn’t accept my offers for rides! I think that shows a level of dedication to his father and other people.

Jen Burney remembers Amir

Jen Burney shared the following at Chabad at Stanford’s memorial service for Amir, March 29, 2004.

I met Amir when he said in typical fashion –”Ah your Jen – you play ultimate Frisbee – I didn’t know other Jews played Ultimate.” So thus began our friendship.

One of the most genuine and sincere people I’ve ever known…He stood out.
And he had the most serious puppy dog eyes of anyone I’ve ever seen.
He genuinely believed he could change the world – without being patronizing at all…forever young but very very pragmatic; the third way he stood out to me was through being a fantastic educator. Amir – I still owe you a trip to San Francisco for a pick up Frisbee game we never got to go to. I will think of you when it comes time to play and when it comes time to be an educator.