Andover is a small town and the death of our neighbor, Colleen Ritzer, has left us all bewildered and bereft. She had everything going for her. Colleen was a promising young teacher, committed to her calling and devoted to her students. She was a loving daughter who made her parents proud. She was a role model for her younger siblings and a loyal friend whose natural goodness and optimism made her a sought-after companion.
As a father and as a rabbi, I find myself returning to the same question: How can we live in a world so chaotic that tragedies like this can occur?
The rabbis of old suggested that everyone should hold on to two phrases — one in each pocket. On one piece of paper words spoken by Abraham in the Book of Genesis, “I am but dust and ashes.” And on the other, a verse from the Talmud, “For my sake alone, was the entire world created.”
Abraham who faced more than his share of tests and trials understood that we are all on the same journey with the same destiny and none of us can be certain about the length of our earthly sojourn.
The Talmudic author saw life as majestic and magnificent, with unlimited possibilities for human greatness. Each of us is endowed with insight and intelligence, a sense of wonder, and the potential, if we choose, to act with nobility and generosity.
Because life is finite does not mean we should live in a constant state of fear and foreboding. But neither should we misuse our time on this good earth. We need to nurture our relationships with our loved ones and friends, find meaningful work, and live with purpose and joy.
Colleen Ritzer was a daughter all of us would be proud to claim as our own. Her death is simply inexplicable and tragic. But as her pastor, the Rev. Peter Gori observed, “She touched the lives of more people than a typical 24-year-old.”
Colleen loved being a teacher and her most lasting lesson to us all was the example of her own life. She spent her time wisely, lived every day to its fullest and most importantly, she recognized what so many others never see: the divine spark that glows within every human soul. This was her greatest gift to us all, and her lasting legacy. May she rest in peace.
Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanuel of Andover.