As far as Sami Rahamim knows, the seating at the State of the Union address is random. He told the Forward that there “were couples invited who were separated.” His seat, as the guest of his congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was “up in the gallery, facing the President on the left side.”
The man he was seated next to was Ruben Reyes, a district director for the Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the congressman from the district bordering that of former representative Gabby Giffords. While waiting for the president’s entrance, Rahamim chatted with his seatmate and found that they were “aligned” on many issues and spoke about being an immigrant and “what it takes to make it in this country.” Another coincidence is that Reyes shares a first name and the same initials as Sami’s late father Reuven, who was fatally shot at his workplace, Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the day after Yom Kippur, September 27, 2012.
Sami was at the State of the Union along with 120 other survivors of gun violence sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns They are spending the day after the address in small groups, “visiting our members of Congress, particularly the swing votes, to show what we really mean in this fight,” he said.
He had met many of the other survivors at a press conference sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 17 in New York, and says of the others that even though they have only met a few times “we are a close community, and share something extremely powerful.” In a dvar Torah he gave at his synagogue, Beth El in St Louis Park, Minn., on January 5, he wrote of how being with other survivors, there was a “profound lump sum of grief” and “yet, there was an immense feeling of strength and unity among us” because “we were all there to stand for something together.”
When I found myself having a long and enjoyable phone conversation with one of my daughter’s peers and former classmates, it was with a sense of genuine surprise and delight. But it was bittersweet as well.
I was speaking with Sami Rahamim of St Louis Park, Minn., who was in my daughter’s class at Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School. He has become an advocate for gun-violence victims in the months since his father, Reuven Rahamim, was shot and killed along with five others at the business he founded on September 27, 2012, the day after Yom Kippur. The gunman was a disgruntled just-fired employee who later turned the gun on himself, authorities said.
Rahamim told me that on the day his father was shot, he was on a bus to the University of Wisconsin at Madison to see his then-girlfriend. When the bus arrived, his girlfriend and family friends who are students there, knew of his father’s fate but didn’t tell him until they drove halfway back to Minneapolis to meet up with Rabbi Avi Olitzky of Beth El Synagogue. Rabbi Olitzky also works as a chaplain with the Plymouth, Minn., police department doing notifications of death. But having to tell his congregant this news was difficult.
All the rabbi could muster about the occasion to say to a reporter was “It’s a tough one. There’s more silence than words and the silence speaks louder than the words.”
If the event was traumatic for the notifier, it was all the more so for the young man affected. In the weeks immediately after his father’s death, Rahamim says he was all but frozen.
“A while, for months, I couldn’t get through a single newspaper article, even sports, my mom couldn’t finish a crossword puzzle,” he said. “Stuff you normally do becomes more difficult.’”