This Shabbat marks 10 years since Alan Senitt [pictured, inset] was killed in an horrific knife attack in Washington DC in the early hours of Sunday, 9 July 2006.
Alan had been to the cinema the night before with two friends. Afterwards, he walked a friend back to her flat in the affluent suburb of Georgetown to make sure she got home safely. As they approached the front door, they were attacked by a gang and, in the ensuing struggle, Alan was killed. He died as he lived: standing up to hate and fighting to protect what he cared most about.
I was the other friend with them that night. We had discussed going out after the film, but instead decided to head home. The next day was going to be spent watching the Wimbledon and World Cup finals and the beers were in my fridge. So we went our separate ways: Alan and Tybee turned left; I turned right.
‘Inspiring’ is a word that gets thrown around too cheaply. Many things and people are described as such, although in reality few are. But Alan was one of those people to whom you gravitated. It might have been his warm yet mischievous smile, his ever-so-slightly strange sense of humour, or the way he made you feel welcome and valued. He had an aura that rubbed off on everyone he met.
Alan was killed aged just 27, yet he had already made a huge contribution to the community. Alan became BBYO’s national president and his activism continued through university, resulting in him being elected UJS National Chairman upon graduation. He then worked for BICOM, as the first director of The Political Council for Co-existence and The Co-existence Trust, and as director of The Israel-Britain Business Council. By the time he left for Washington, Alan was a respected leader of the community, one whose counsel was sought by those with more experience.
Leadership is not easy. Great leaders are ones who respect others, who lift them, challenging them to reach heights they never thought possible. That is what Alan did. He was motivated by ideals, not just political ambition. He believed in the ability of young people to make a contribution to the world and had a burning desire to effect positive change.
Whether it was fighting for student rights, standing up for Israel, tackling racism in all its forms or building bridges between people of different faiths, Alan always led from the front and inspired others to get involved. I often wonder what he would have made of our community and society today; the one thing I know for certain is that he would have been at the heart of making it better.
Alan and I shared a love of American politics; it was this that had driven us both to Washington. One of his favourite programmes was The West Wing. There is a scene in the final episode where C.J. Cregg, the Chief of Staff to the outgoing president Bartlett, is chatting to Josh Lyman, the
incoming president’s senior aide. Standing in the former office of Leo McGarry, Bartlett’s long-time and ex-Chief of Staff, C.J. hands Josh a note that contains four letters and the principle that guided her decisions: ‘WWLD?’, ‘What Would Leo Do?’.
One of my guiding principles over the past 10 years, consciously or subconsciously, has been ‘WWAD?’, ‘What Would Alan Do?’, and I am sure the same is true for many of his friends as well.
Alan continues to be deeply missed. On 19 July, his family and friends will get together at JW3 for his tenth yahrzeit. Despite the sadness, we will share fond memories, laugh and celebrate a life well-lived, however short it was.
Hardly a day goes by without something triggering a memory of him, when I don’t wish we had gone out for that post-film late night drink. I still carry the cinema ticket in my wallet. It is my
reminder that although you can’t change the past, you can draw strength from treasured memories and use them to build a better, brighter future.
Alan’s memory is perpetuated today through the work of The Alan Senitt Memorial Trust. For more information or to make a donation to support its work, please visit www.alansenitt.org.