Jewish Journal

Matthew Mezza, Santa Monica High School Freshman, dies at 14

by Ryan Torok

Posted on Jan. 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Santa Monica High School freshman Matthew Mezza, 14, died on Friday, Jan. 14, when he jumped to his death from the 10th floor of the Sheraton Delfina hotel in Santa Monica.

According to reports, Mezza ran to the hotel after abruptly leaving a campus baseball practice, telling his teammates that he intended to jump. Several of Mezza’s teammates chased after him before losing sight of him.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Santa Monica’s Beth Shire Shalom knew Mezza well and has offered his eulogy from Mezza’s funeral, below. Comess-Daniels said in an interview that Mezza continually showed a commitment to helping others.

“[He was] a wonderful human who was only about passion and compassion and doing the right thing,” Comess-Daniels said.

Mezza became a bar mitzvah at Beth Shir Shalom and volunteered in the synagogue’s religious school as a teacher’s aide.

Refusing to speculate about what drove Mezza’s actions—saying only that he “died from an emotional tsunami that hit him”— Comess-Daniels offered insight for how to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.

“When [anyone is] feeling anything that causes them to lose their hope and lose options and lose possibility, they need to talk right away to somebody,” Comess-Daniels said. “Suicide is a disease, it’s an illness, and Jewish law looks at it that way.”

Mezza’s funeral was scheduled for Wednesday, January 19, at Hillside Memorial Park and Cemetery.

Eulogy for Matthew Mezza delivered by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels

Beth Shir Shalom, Santa Monica, CA-  Jan. 19, 2011

In June of 2009, Matt became a Bar Mitzvah.  I had the privilege of working with him as he developed his sermon for that day.  We studied together for three months.  It was great to see his mind move and create.  He enjoyed getting idea upon idea, understanding things in new ways and gaining a sharper and clearer perspective.  That’s what Matthew’s mind was all about.  This is why what brings us here today makes no sense.  What brings us here is NOT the kid we knew.  I never knew Matthew not to exude confidence, not to have joy at the ready and that smile!  Most people in the world who pack a set of braces like Matt had usually find that those braces inhibit their smile.  That was not Matt.  He made his braces part of his smile.

Matt was only the slightest bit gangly because of his exceptional height for someone his age.  He considered his height an attribute.  He wasn’t done growing yet, in that way and in so many ways.  He carried his height well. 

Matt was only the slightest bit gangly because of his intelligence.  His was not a cold, medicinal intelligence either.  He coupled what he knew and what he learned with his passion and his compassion.  Matt wanted to change the world with what he knew.  He had a fervor in him to find what was wrong in the world and go about the business of fixing it.  He felt mandated to fix the world.  He felt that we are ALL mandated to fix the world.  He demanded it of his family and his friends.  He carried his intelligence well. 

Matt wasn’t old beyond his years.  He used every bit of maturity that was available to him and mixed it with his youthful exuberance and it came out…Matt.  He loved to play, to play around, to just be.  He was able to turn, seemingly on a dime the way his peers saw it, and get serious about a need in the world.  One might say that because of the subtleties in the way he comported himself through life that he was a leader.  I wouldn’t say Matthew was a leader… he just led.  He did it without trying.  You could see that his peers were sometimes a little stunned by this guy, who was still a little bit sweaty from putting his all into a few minutes of shooting hoops, and was now sitting up straight, as I always remember him doing, and putting as much energy into a comment, question or answer as he did on the court.  His friends got it, and they participated, too.  Thanks, Matt.

Everyone here who knew Matt has moments, experiences and appreciations to share.  All of us at Beth Shir Shalom do, from the young children he helped to teach in his role as a Teacher’s Aide, to his fellow Aides to the teachers who knew they could rely on him, to his friends in his and our Youth Group, who depended on his encouraging presence to the adults who knew that in Matt they had a burgeoning helpmate in addressing the world’s needs.  How is it that someone so young touched so many so quickly, so easily and so deeply?  How is it that someone so interested and interesting, who was always about the business of giving and receiving positive feedback, could, in what seems like a moment, only perceive negativity, desperation and hopelessness?  It was perhaps in the nature of what went horribly wrong inside of Matthew that kept us from getting even an inkling of a hint about his pain.  Perhaps we didn’t know because Matthew was being Matthew and, caring human that he was, didn’t want to burden any of us with his confusions and sadness.  It makes us frustrated.  It makes us angry.  Let’s not be angry at Matthew!  The Matthew whom we knew wouldn’t do this and the answers we seek are shrouded in the mystery of his death and the way he died.  We must say the word…suicide, and we must see suicide as an illness.  It was a terrible, vicious illness that caused a young man with such an incredible history of finding goodness to only see one, dark, irrevocable option in his life.  He died from suicide – it was an emotional stroke, short-circuiting all the incredible wiring that was laid by his family, his friends and him.  Don’t speculate about him any more than you would speculate about why someone you know gets cancer.  Matthew is worth much more than that.  In Jewish tradition, we have a closed casket and we do so because it is considered to be insulting, uncaring, unkind and even bordering on the obscene to look at someone who no longer has the ability to look back.  Matthew’s casket is closed.  It is not a good or honorable or honoring use of our energy to try to pry it open.

What we CAN do with our energy now, in Matthew’s memory is help one another the best we can on this relatively brief and definitely fragile journey of life.  For all of us, but for Matthew’s peers in particular, when we are hurting, let’s not hesitate to share our pain with those whom we can trust because we feel we might burden them if we do.  Go ahead – burden us!  True friends will embrace you WITH your hurt and won’t use it against you.  We should be unafraid to hold one another, to listen and to speak.  The great majority of Matthew’s life was all about holding those who were dear to him and listening and speaking.  It was only his dying that was otherwise.  Let’s remember how he lived. 

What we CAN do in Matthew’s memory is to recognize how precious our families are.  No, we can’t choose our relatives, but Matthew knew, seemingly innately, that developing and maintaining family relationships are worth any small hills we need to climb or minor compromises we need to make.  What we CAN do in Matthew’s memory is have a great baseball season at SaMo Hi – and that’s not only about winning.  I hope you do, but you may not.  What it’s about, in Matt’s memory, is the honor that he felt being part of the team and what it meant to be in the struggle with you to make each other your best.  What we CAN do in Matthew’s memory is to treasure our friends and ask and ANSWER “how are you” within the trust that only friends can develop.  What we can do in Matthew’s memory is learn and teach with joy.  For Matthew, knowledge was the way in which he could make the world better.  We should learn that way, too.  Matthew seemed to be searching for that one idea, that one understanding that he could contribute that would make this world better, that would bring us some peace, some understanding and some cooperation.  Along the way, he would honor and cherish all the ideas and bits of fact he could gather, but he was still looking.  In Matthew’s honor, in Matthew’s memory – trying to muster and echo that incredible youthful excitement of his, trying to capture his joy, his emerging vision, his commitment – let’s care, let’s be concerned, let’s get something done in this world. While we’re doing it, let’s smile, braces and all.

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