I’ve known Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein for years. We are friends and members of the same temple, and Gideon and I value each other’s ideas and input in our work as financial advisors. In the time that I’ve known them, what has continuously amazed me is their dedication to helping make the world a better place for everyone. This young family has always been tireless in their efforts to help others. As charity organizers and volunteers. As caring friends and neighbors. As true pillars of the community. Years ago, I asked Gideon why he took the time to post about all of his activities on Facebook. His reply: “Sharing is caring.” Simple. Wise. And I got it.
Fast-forward to the night of January 2, and suddenly Gideon and Jeanne’s lives were turned completely upside down. Their oldest son, Blaze, home from college for the holidays, was missing. A happy, accomplished, responsible kid, he had gone to meet a friend late that evening and never returned. The community response to Blaze’s disappearance mirrored the Bernstein’s own unfailing passion for helping others. In short, it was swift and powerful. Fliers were distributed. Emails were sent. Facebook alerts were shared not only in our own community, but nationwide. Offers for help from across the country poured in. Friends and family flew in from distant cities. Meals were delivered. Notes of encouragement flowed in. From their close circle of friends to complete strangers, everyone rallied around them and with them to try to ease their pain and help find answers. They were overwhelmed with the love that poured in from everywhere. Gideon’s words, “sharing is caring,” had taken on a whole new meaning.
Tragically, no amount of community support could alter the reality of Blaze’s brutal death by an ex-classmate. Yet, once again, Gideon and Jeanne found a way to give to others, even as they were suffering through an immense and unimaginable loss. Within weeks, they created a memorial fund in Blaze’s name. Less than a month after Blaze disappeared, Jeanne Bernstein wrote this stunning piece, My Son, Blaze Bernstein, Was Murdered. Then Came the Outpouring of Love. At a time when these mourning parents could hardly breathe, Gideon and Jeanne became powerful activists for a vital cause.
I continue to be amazed and humbled by Gideon and Jeanne’s sheer grace over the past two months, and by their ability to see the good, even in the wake of their own personal and tragic loss. Gideon and Jeanne have been working on building community their entire lives. After Blaze disappeared, they found themselves reaping the fruits of seeds they didn’t even realize they had been sowing. The result is now a beautiful movement in memory of their son.
As I watch their whole family move forward by opening their hearts to others, I can’t help but ask myself not just what I can do to help them, but how I can learn from their example to share more, to care more, and to make the world a better place—under any circumstances. As I help my clients ease into retirement and beyond, I wonder how each of us can offer more value to our communities. I wonder if the true role of money in our lives is to help us realize our own higher purpose in life. How might we change the world if, like the Bernsteins, we embraced the concept of “Sharing is Caring” as the force that drives us toward fulfilling our own purpose?
On Sunday, February 25, the Bernsteins are hosting #BlazeItForward: A Tribute to Blaze Bernstein and a Communal Call for Kindness at Segerstrom Center for the Arts to honor Blaze’s memory and to thank the community that came together to embrace them. The event has been underwritten, so all tickets are free to the public. Blaze loved cooking, music, art, performing, and writing. He graduated from the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA), served as the copyeditor for the student-run food magazine Penn Appétit at the University of Pennsylvania, and was an activist in his own right, focused on inclusion and equal rights. Had Blaze lived, he would have surely made a difference in our world. The theme of the event is how we can work together in community to honor his memory as we #BlazeItForward.
One place to begin that effort is to donate to the two memorial funds at the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County: The Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund to support organizations that Blaze would have liked to support and charities that work to protect children from violence and that foster emotional health; and the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund, for worthy, service-minded college-bound high school seniors who have overcome adversity.
Of course, that’s just the beginning. To further embody the idea that “Sharing is Caring,” I urge you to ask yourself how you might leverage your talents, passions, and assets to make our world a better place. There are so many people in need and so many causes that can benefit from our support—both within our local community and beyond. Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein created positive change from the depths of personal pain and unimaginable loss. You too can make a difference. Decide what matters most to you and begin to sow your own seeds for a better tomorrow. Now is the time to #BlazeItForward.