This past Thursday, September 27, 2012, local Jewish community leader Reuven Rahamim was shot and killed inside his Accent Signage Systems company office.
When asked about him, those who knew him described him as wonderful, kind, and always cheerful. He was also the sweetest, nicest, most generous person you could meet. Yet if told these attributes he would’ve listened with a smile on his face, then laughed them off, passing off to others any credit for his accomplishments. His humility and generosity of spirit made him the type of person that few are, yet all aspire to be. His death is a great and sorrowful loss to our community.
Mr. Rahamim was an active and integral part of the Twin Cities Jewish Community. A member Beth El Synagogue for decades, he served on the board of the synagogue up until his death. Not one to idly attach his name to something, he was a constant presence at the synagogue, be it at Shabbat services, board meetings, or numerous other events. He and his wife Shereen sent their children to the Minneapolis Jewish Day School (MJDS), and Shereen served as President of the MJDS Parent Teacher Organization while their children were students at the school.
A Sephardic Jew of Persian descent, Mr. Rahamim was born and raised in Israel. His family immigrated to the United States in 1974, but he never lost his love for his birth country. He made sure to visit whenever he could, and he passed along his love and passion for the country to his children and grandchildren. But Mr. Rahamim did more than simply spreading his love of Israel to his family. He was a very vocal and active ally for Israel within the larger community. Like most Jews, he was concerned for Israel’s safety and continued existence, and he worked to maintain a friendship between the two countries, Israel and the United States, that he loved so dearly.
Rahamim’s generous spirit extended to the business he founded, Accent Signage Systems. Accent Signage makes signs for the interior spaces of buildings, including holding a patent on an innovative method for making signs in Braille. His invention and passion for that part of his business has impacted and made easier the lives of thousands of people without the ability to see. Mr. Rahamim would’ve told you that it’s all in a day’s work. “This country has so much opportunity if you apply yourself,” he said in a recent profile for MinnPost.com. “I don’t know many people who have died of hard labor or studying too much in school. You need to be industrious.”
Rahamim’s signs can also be seen in many of the synagogues in the area, a tangible and lasting memory to his tireless work in our community.
Along with Mr. Rahamim the Jewish community also lost Rami Cooks, a member of Bet Shalom Congregation and another victim in this tragedy. Yesterday the 6th and 7th graders in Bet Shalom Religious School met with the rabbis and a grief counselor for a discussion about what happened Thursday. They likely were not the only ones meeting with someone who could help process this horrific event. The children asked a lot of questions, but the one most asked was, “Why?” Why did this happen? Why did the shooter do what he did? Why now?
Unfortunately, those are questions that nobody can truly answer, not even rabbis and grief counselors.
Despite this, I want to pass along a message that was given to the 6th and 7th graders, yet is no less relevant for all of us. It’s not an answer, but it may provide a way forward. Mr. Rahamim and Mr. Cooks devoted their lives to making the Jewish community, and the world, a better place, and their deaths leave a gigantic hole in the communities from which they depart. But just because they’re no longer with us, doesn’t mean that the work they did must end with them. It just means that, “All the things they did, other people have to start doing now.” We can honor their memory by making sure that their actions and their passions are not forgotten or discarded.
Names are important. Judaism teaches us to forgive and to not slander another, but in such a senseless act as this it’s hard to separate the human being from the act they committed. The shooter has and will remain nameless here, both so as not to glorify someone who commits a violent act, but also to shield the aggressor’s family and friends from undue blame.
Like the annual reading of the names of those who died in the Holocaust, we do want to honor the names and memories of all the victims. Employees Jacob Beneke and Ronald Edberg. Keith Basinski, the UPS driver assigned to the area. Rami Cooks: a member of Bet Shalom Congregation, father of four, stepfather to three, and friend to many. Reuven Rahamim, owner of Accent Signage.
Names are important. Rahamim, in Hebrew, means compassion and mercy. May the memory of all those who died in this tragic event lead to a more compassionate and merciful world.