I Am Thankful And Honored To Call Him My Friend

2 Dec

I had made it through the majority of Rich’s most recent post on November 9th, before my eyes began to well up with tears. Hearing me from the other room, Stacy, my fianceé looked over my shoulder to see what had provoked such sudden sentiment. As she read the powerful and emotion-filled sentences of Rich’s post, Stacy asked with curiosity: “Who was Jeff Klein?”

“….Who was Jeff Klein?” ….”Who was Jeff Klein…?”

The question kept repeating itself in my head. I searched for the words to her seemingly short and innocuous question, yet could not formulate an easy response. Perhaps, the inability to encompass all of Jeff’s incredible qualities and abilities in one short response is what makes his passing so difficult.

As I took a step back to reflect on her question, numerous memories came flooding back into my mind.

I remembered playing on Jeff’s recreational basketball team and watching in amazement as he drilled endless jump shots. I remembered how infectious his joviality was, so much so that he could light up even the darkest room. I remembered trying to convince him that the Jets were clearly a superior team to the Giants – a misstatement that, unfortunately, persists today. I remembered talking to him about applying to law school and his curiosity about the legal profession.

The list is endless.

Yet, there is one memory that stands above them all.

Anyone who had the pleasure of speaking with Jeff could sense his intelligence in an instant. Jeff’s academic prowess was conspicuous even amongst an immeasurable wave of high school students who went on to attend top colleges. In sixth grade, I, like Jeff, chose to take French as a secondary language. It was there that we became fast friends. We were all given a French-equivalent name by our teacher – mine was Jerome.  Jeff’s was Joseph, a name I continued to call him, jokingly, even outside the classroom.

Time certainly has a way of flying by. Six years later, Joseph and I were in the same AP French class during our senior year. While Jeff was one of the top-performing students in our class, French remained – and will forever be – truly a SECOND language for me. One morning, our teacher was unable to make it to class. In her stead, she left grammar sheets which had to be completed and handed to the substitute teacher. To the delight of the entire class, our substitute teacher informed us that once we were done with the sheets we could leave early – a rare, yet treasured prize amongst high school students.

While my French skills placed me at a tortoise’s pace, the remainder of the class completed the sheets like hares. Jeff had completed his work early and was getting ready to leave. However, something stopped him in his tracks. While Jeff could have run off to the cafeteria to talk about sports with friends or catch a bite to eat, he put his bag back down. “Do you need help?” he asked. As the rest of the class filed out swiftly, Jeff stayed behind to help me complete the sheets. We both left the classroom with two extra minutes to spare before next period.

If I told Jeff why this moment was so memorable and impactful, he would probably smile and shrug it off as an innocent act of kindness. But this behavior on an otherwise relatively typical day in French class was not typical of everyone. It was a microcosm of Jeff’s selflessness, his compassion and his inherent desire to help others.

I finally had the answer to my fianceé’s question. “Who was Jeff Klein?”

….Someone I am thankful and honored to call my friend.

   –Jared Kaplan

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