“So good they named him after a sandwich.”
That was the cheer that belligerent club baseball fans screamed when Reuben stepped up to the plate at Memorial Park downtown many times over the last two years.
It was also just one of the memories and jokes shared by the Mitrani family and their friends after the death of their son, Colorado College junior Reuben Eli Mitrani, who passed away on Monday, Sept. 24 in Geneva, Switzerland.
He was just 20-years-old.
Memories and laughter seemed the only appropriate way to encompass the life of a leader, a maniac, a comedian, and most of all a friend to everyone who knew him. There wasn’t a single person at CC who disliked Reuben, and if they did, then they didn’t really know him.
In Harrisburg, Pa., Mitrani’s hometown, current CC students, alumni, college President Jill Tiefenthaler, and Kobi Chumash, Director of Jewish Life, gathered to show support for the Mitrani family.
At a standing-room-only service at the local Jewish Community Center where Reuben once played basketball and lifted weights, hundreds of friends, family members, and even strangers gathered to pray and say farewell to an incredible person who was years beyond his age.
At CC, Mitrani was a philosophy major, though most knew him by his love for intramural and club sports. He may have been a little too intense, once encouraging a friend to continue playing in a flag football game after chipping a tooth, but everyone still gave Reuben a hug after the final whistle was blown.
Mitrani was an integral player on the Club Baseball team, involved in Hillel, and the Llamapalooza Committee.
In the classroom, Reuben was a model student. This summer he inspired his professors and classmates during an English class called “The World of Odysseus,” taught in Greece by Barry Sarchett and Lisa B. Hughes.
“…[Reuben] was one of those rare students I have seen in my 30 years at CC who is completely engaged in life at every level,” said Sarchett, an English professor. “He combined complete enthusiasm for academics, sports, personal relationships, travel, and more. He wanted to experience all of life intensely and he did so with both gravity and with great humor and wit.”
“Every once in a while, I come across students who have much to teach me about how to live, and Reuben was one of those rare ones,” Sarchett added. “I shall miss him dearly.”
Mitrani had only been in Switzerland on his semester abroad for a short while, enjoying his adventures in Europe, when he went out for an afternoon run. Upon returning home, Reuben complained of a severe headache and then numbness and tingling on the right side of his body.
Soon he was unconscious and doctors had reached a diagnosis: an arterial venous malformation had caused a severe hemorrhage near his brain stem. A vein and an artery had rubbed together and caused major brain trauma.
It was probably something that Mitrani had all his life and could have never known about without a brain scan.
Reuben underwent multiple, successful surgeries, was placed in a medically induced coma and, with his family and loved ones by his side, everyone waited.
Roughly two weeks later, Mitrani lost his fight after a subsequent MRI showed there had been irreversible damage to his brain. Reuben would never be able to breathe on his own ever again.
Though he tended to stroll around campus in flip-flops and a cut-off shirt suitable for no occasion, Reuben was always composed. He could hold his own better than anyone else, and knew how to comfort you on the worst of days in the worst of circumstances.
We could all use a little bit of Reuben’s comfort right now.
I first learned of Rueben’s condition midway through a class last block, and while I was concerned, I was comforted by the knowledge that there was no one stronger and more able-bodied to deal with such a serious medical condition than the man I had shared so much with at CC.
Donna Orbach, Reuben’s mother and, by far, an incredible woman, kept everyone updated on her son’s condition through a CaringBridge.org website. It was refreshing to follow his progress and it felt like we could help through our words to her.
Donna repeatedly thanked the CC community in those difficult weeks for our support and prayers.
And then, sitting in the library on the Sunday before the fourth week of first block, I received a phone call and read Donna’s words: “How long is a lifetime?”
The answer can only be measured in Reuben’s.
Any of us would be lucky to be half the person that Mitrani was and we should all be thankful for the incredible opportunity we had to learn from that big, beautiful, goofy guy.
CC will never be the same. Not only for those who knew Reuben, but also for those who didn’t. He was just that kind of guy; loving, compassionate, sometimes prone to questionable decision-making, but also a leader with tough skin and an incredible attitude towards conquering life.
The Mitrani family, with the help of relatives and friends, has started a campaign to REMember, playing off Reuben’s initials in order to draw support. On campus, students have been selling wristbands and donating profits to funds set up in Reuben’s name.
Plans are being made on a more long-term scale in order to preserve Reuben’s memory, including a possible club baseball memorial game, naming part of the new El Pomar sports complex in his honor and even an intramural Olympic games to recognize Mitrani.
I, for one, am for a Reuben’s Rueben in Benji’s or the Preserve. I know he would have loved to see his name on a menu and tell people in line, “Hey, that one is named after me.”
He deserves it, and then some more.
We will forever miss you, brother.
You can support Reuben and his family by donating to the The Reuben Mitrani Memorial Fund for Emma Kaufmann Camp or the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund of Chisuk Emuna Congregation in Harrisburg, Pa. Wristbands that support these funds can be purchased by contacting Alyson.Hammonds@coloradocollege.edu