Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation
Kate Svitek Memorial Foundation

"I have learned over the years that I am a person that learns by doing... I am excited about a profession that is a little out of the ordinary. What is important to me isn't necessarily how well I may or may not do on my statistics test next week, but what is really important to Kate Svitek as a person, and discovering who I really am on the inside looking forward to a fun and rewarding life journey ahead."
- Kate Svitek

Kate's Memorial, March 3, 2002

Rabbi Greg Marx:

Can there be a lament any greater than this, can there be a moment more heartless, more debilitating, more cuts to the quick and to the soul of each and every one of us in this room, than to gather here to memorialize a 22 year old girl who had everything to live for. Adoring parents, a loving brother, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends come here not wanting to be here at all, but to say farewell finally after searching tirelessly, after spending nights on end awake, wondering, hoping, praying. But we have finally come to this point. We come here to memorialize Katie Svitek. Bound in the depth of our grief and despair, keep us strong, that we who are here this afternoon can help this stricken family. Help us to support them as they ask the inevitable questions, asked by Job – Why? We grieve for what might have been, for joys unrealized, for the tasks undone, for hopes thwarted, for growth arrested, for love stifled, for unmet challenges so dear to Katie. Lord, help us to be examples of faith and compassion. Help us to raise up her family from the depth of their sorrow, slowly and lovingly. Help us to lead them from the night of their desolation to the dawn of another day, which will come, when Katie’s memory will return to them gently, peacefully, and abide in their hearts. Pray with one voice that her soul rest in peace, pray with the family and all those who mourn wherever they may be, know comfort speedily. Let us please say together – Amen.

---Canter (sings)---

Rabbi Robin Frisch

A modern philosopher once wrote, often God paints in frost beautiful pictures upon the windowpane but soon the warm rays of the sun melt them away, and yet in their brief existence the pictures had a purpose and fulfilled their mission. Among the flowers, the sweet rosebud nods its modest head kissed by the dew and blushes at the sight of the rosy dawn. But what if it’s plucked or if left on the bush its leaves soon fall away, yet we cannot say that the rose had lived in vain.

We continue with the words of Psalm 23 that can be found on the leaflets you received and I invite you to please join me:

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. 
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. 
He leadeth me beside the still waters. 
He restoreth my soul. 
He guideth me in straight paths for his name’s sake. 
Yeah though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil for thou art with me. 
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. 
Thou hast anointed my head with oil, my cup runneth over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life 
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Ellen, Frank, Michael, Hope and Bob – there are no words that can adequately express the feelings that well up in all of our hearts at the untimely passing of Katie. The Jewish tradition recognizes this unparalleled sorrow that a parent or a grandparent feels at the loss of their child. Our tradition teaches us that the holy one, blessed be he, grieves when children depart from this world during the lifetime of their parents. To be sure, we all stand at this moment on the very edge of faith. We can’t help but wonder how something like this could happen to such a young, beautiful, adventurous, and vibrant young woman. Someone so full of life. Someone who had so much more to experience, so much more to offer, and so much more to live. The answers for which we search to bring comfort will forever elude us. We can’t know life’s such trials and burdens are laid upon us. These are the heart-numbing questions we can only abandon to our faith and a transcendent God that we cannot unfortunately understand. But God is also an intimate God. A God, who as the sages taught and as I truly believe, feels our pain and shares our sorrow. And even in your sorrow, you must always as you have in these recent weeks remain mindful of the blessing that Katie was and will always be, of the joy she brought to this world, and to everyone who knew her. Her life, while all too short, was full of beauty and meaning. Our sages taught us that life isn’t to be measured in length of days. Rather we live in our relationships, in our deeds, in our intensity and capacity for living, not in our years. They told the story of a king who had a vineyard, and hired several laborers, one of whom worked more diligently and effectively than the others. At the end of the day all of the laborers gathered to receive their wages. They were amazed to see the king pay a part-time laborer for a full day’s work, and they petitioned and complained. "Behold we’ve worked a whole day for our wages. He only worked but a few hours for the same salary." And then the king spoke, "Why do you complain? Consider that this person in a few hours did more work for me than you who toiled all day long."

While Katie’s life was regrettably lacking in length, we know that it excelled in its depth. We can feel confident that of her short life, it can be said in just a few hours she did much more than many who have the whole day long to toil. The holy one blessed be, He grieves when children depart from this world during the lifetime of their parents. God grieves and we too shall grieve. But as the song of songs reminds us, love is strong as death. But death has taken Katie, it can never ever take the great love she brought to this world and the love you all felt and you will always feel for her. Each of you will carry with you your love for Katie. Each of you will carry with you her character. You will carry with you her smile. She will live on in all of your memories long after many have been forgotten. She will live in your memory, and she will live in your love.

We continue with the words of a poem.

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
We remember Katie.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We remember her.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
We remember her.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember her.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We remember her.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
We remember her.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
We remember her.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
We remember her.
So long as we live, Katie too shall live,
For she is now a part of us 
As we remember her.

---Canter (sings)---

Rabbi Marx:

Nine years ago, Katie stood where I stand right now reading from the Siddur. About six years ago, she stood here dressed in white and she confirmed her faith in the community of Israel. Like a dream, we keep waiting to wake up, but we don’t wake up – it’s a nightmare.

Ellen, Frank, Mike, Bob, Hope, Nancy & Peter, Pat & George, Sandy & Wilson, Chris, Natalie, Lynn, Nathan, and Rosalynda, I stand here so empty, wishing that there were words that I could say, wishing somehow that we could wake from this nightmare in which we find ourselves. But, I know there is little. All we can do is come here with our love and with the silence that fills this room. This room is filled with people of many faiths, many different understandings of God, so I ask that we listen to the silence. I ask that we pray in our many different ways.

Frank & Ellen & Mike. I ask that we hold an image of Katie in our head, remember her smiling, remember her snowboarding, laughing, dreaming, or just sharing special moments. Silence is the heart of death. Silence alone, I believe at this time can do it justice. Please let us pause.

---moment of silence---

The Torah portion tells us, "Ve-yaal Moshe Me Arbot Moav, el har Nevo, Rosh Pisgah… velo yada eish, et h’vurato ad hayom hazeh."

These words were written about Moses, the great law-giver of Israel. It says, "And Moses went up out of the fields of Moab, unto Mount Nebo. And God showed Moses all of the land, the land flowing with milk and honey, and Moses was buried on that mountain. But no one knows to this very day where he lies in peace. When I read these lines I realized that these lines speak to us about Katie. Because as painful as it is to come and to eulogize her, it is all the harder and all the more painful to see this empty space before you. We don’t even have her and that makes it so much more difficult. But it was Moses’ legacy that lives on. It was Moses’ legacy of Torah, of love, of life, and of hope that the Jewish people for 4,000 years have remembered. We do not need Moses’ grave. We need Moses’ legacy. I know we need Katie. I know you need Katie, but I want us to think about the legacy, just as we think about Moses. Katie stood for love – Love of family.

Ellen, Frank, Mike, Bob and Hope, you knew that she was many different people all rolled into one beautiful girl. She would be demonstrative and yet very quiet and reserved. She would tell you she loved you in her unique ways, "give me smoot", just touch me. She wasn’t always so comfortable with kissing in public, so Frank & Katie would just rub their hands across their faces. Frank, you always felt that bond with her soul when she did. She was unpretentious. She was down to earth. She loved the simple things in life, but at the same time she never forgot to reach out and to care for those around her.

When she was living in Burlington at the University of Vermont, as she studied and as she spent time with Mike, she found three girls with whom she babysat. She became almost like a parent figure, a loving example of what it means to be wholly present, not just to spend time, but truly to be there – to love them. Those girls adored Katie.

Ellen, she loved you. She loved you for all that you are, for your wisdom, for your compassion, for your strength, and you loved her because you saw in her not only a reflection of your own gifts which are so multiple, but she was Frank through and through. She really was. Frank, she talked like you, she laughed. In so many ways she was cut from the same cloth.

Katie Svitek loved life in a way that so many of us fail to do. Go outside, breath in the cold air, snowboard, hike, explore, embrace nature for all the blessings that it has to offer. Katie wasn’t one to stay home. The outdoors always called her. She wrote in an essay a number of years ago for the National Outdoor Leadership School for which she applied to go (and I will speak on this in a moment) to Patagonia in Antarctica. She wrote, I’ve always done things that dreamed big, dreaming of all the places I’d like to go and all the things I want to do. I’m always looking for adventure and new places to explore. I’m constantly reading magazines and books, looking on the internet, requesting information about various exotic destinations. In my own little world, this is what’s important. These adventures of life make me happy. These things, going outside and climbing a mountain and skiing down it – these are the things in life that are most important to me because they teach me about myself and I prove myself. And it makes me believe what a special and unique person I really am. I want to be challenged physically, mentally, socially. I want to experience life. She did, every single day with courage, with tenacity, and with guts. She dreamed of beginning a business in ecotourism because it was nature that was her spiritual foundation. She wrote, "nature is an amazing thing. The concept of human beings so powerless and the natural world really hits home and then you find yourself alone in the wilderness. Being able to take a break away from civilization empowers me. Very few people take advantage of exactly what the natural world has to offer. Each summer I came home, having been outdoors, a happier person, a more independent person, a person more content with who I am." I hesitate to say it, but that mountain that is her resting place made her happy. She was happy on that mountain. She was at home on that mountain and she was with God on that mountain. I know Ellen you hate Mt. Bachelor, but she loved it, and I want that to give you some comfort.

She was a great writer. She was not just an outdoorsy person. She could write ad copy that would make executives with whom Frank works with say, "Who wrote this?" And he would say, "My daughter." She had gifts that were immeasurable. She also had a backbone and a strength that is rarely seen in a 22 year old girl. She could hike farther and longer and faster than most men in this world. In fact, and I don’t mean to put you down Frank, she out hiked you, and you’re a tough guy. Climbing the top of Mt. Rainier, 14,410 feet wearing bad shoes, causing blisters, going so high that the tree-level had stopped and there was less and less oxygen, that was what gave her strength. She loved it. She loved the challenge. She would say, "Dad when you are climbing do you feel tired?" Frank would say, "absolutely." And you quoted her as saying, "the body can do three times more than what the mind says it can do." She was tough. How many teenagers do you know think it to be fun to go to Antarctica, live in a tent, eat food out of a can, where it is constantly raining and blowy and miserable – would want to do that for 75 days? That was Katie – pushing the envelope, doing what everybody else said you can’t do, you shouldn’t do, go to college, get a job, become a professional – No. Katie had her profession – it was living life, it was embracing the world.

Bob, you said, at your home at the shore you have this lovely heated swimming pool. Right? What would Katie do? She wouldn’t go swimming in the heated pool. She’d jump in the bay. And you would say, "Katie, it’s dirty in the bay. It’s cold in the bay. There are fish in the bay." But that’s where Katie wanted to be. And once in a while, she’d come up to the pool, and she’d warm herself up a little bit. And after she’d warmed up, she’d jump right back into the bay.

I think she’s braver than most people I’ve ever met. I remember how afraid I was when I went to college, traveling alone (I didn’t know anybody). Katie did that over and over again. She researched on the internet all the beautiful places that she wanted to live, and she saw Bend, Oregon. I never knew Bend, Oregon even existed, but she found it. And she went out there alone, 21 years old, and she made a life for herself. And she made friends, and she worked, and she laughed – so much so, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, that thousands of people cared for her in an unprecedented way, never before at Mt. Bachelor. She made friends simply by making banana bread or zucchini bread for the lift operators. Katie Svitek had guts. She was also an incredibly fussy eater. Frank would say let’s go to TGI Fridays, let’s go to Applebee’s, let’s go to Ruby Tuesdays, and she would say, "yuck, cholesterol. I’m not going there." She knew what she liked. She knew what she didn’t, and she was never afraid to tell you what she thinks. Wonder where she got that from, Frank.

When she was a little girl, she went to preschool at Or Ami. The teachers saw in her that take charge attitude, that I’m going to handle whatever is brought upon me. In the report card the teacher wrote to Ellen, "I don’t worry about going outside from the classroom for a moment or two if I have to get a drink of water, because I know (and Katie was 3) that she’s in the room.

I also want to talk about friendship. I want to talk about how she built community. Many of us are here today because we love Frank & Ellen, Mike and Bob & Hope. But we are also here because we respected Katie, because we loved Katie. Because she had a way in her quiet reserved ability of reaching out and saying, "I care."

I received an e-mail the other day from a man by the name of Scott Bellows. I want you to hear what he said. Dear Rabbi Marx: I am one of the people who searched for Katie Svitek at Mt. Bachelor. I am a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue. Katie’s situation has weighed heavily on my mind. You see I’m the father of two daughters, one who loves the mountain and I hope will grow up to be a lot like Katie. I’m an elder at our church, First Presbyterian of Portland, and like Katie’s family, look to my faith to try to make sense out of the senseless, for at least to console me when no sense can be found. I am writing for two reasons. One is to reaffirm that there are literally hundreds if not thousands of people, strangers, but nevertheless neighbors, thinking of Katie and her family, praying and wishing them well. That fact mainly says good thinks about Katie. Every Mt. Bachelor employee I encountered, even those simply running the chair lift said thank you to us in a very moving way, even after a week after the search had started. The number of rescue units and searchers in this case is unprecedented. It’s rare to have more than one or two teams on a search let alone a dozen from several states. It seems everyone who knew her, like her co-workers on the mountain and the members of the Mt. Bachelor ski patrol, went to extraordinary lengths to help and their enthusiasm and commitment spread to the rest of us. I did not know Katie, but she must have been a special person to have touched as many lives as she did. The second reason I am writing is that yesterday, for no good reason I did an internet search on Katie’s name. Only one site came up, it was Beth Or. org and it talked about your Czech Torah. It read, "Were you with us on Mt. Scopus in 1993 when Rabbi Marx celebrated the arrival of this holocaust Torah in Jerusalem? We were told we carried it there on behalf of those to whom it once belonged but were now dead and were denied the opportunity of coming to Jerusalem. If you were there, you also were with us when we read it on the top of Masada for the bat mitzvah of Ashley Tecklin, Chrissy Miller, and Kate Svitek. Many of the prophets, he wrote, have mountaintop experiences and it seems that Katie did too. Encountering God if but briefly on the top of Masada, I cannot help but wonder whether that experience stayed with her and drove her to love the outdoors and mountain summits. I know that God feels closer, easier to touch when I’m high on a mountain in the Cascades and I know that was the case for Katie. Please convey from Portland, Oregon our family’s love to Katie’s family. We’ll keep doing all we can here. You will always be in our thoughts and our prayers. Written by a total stranger.

Mike, I want to talk about you for a minute. You were best friends. I know you’ll cry (but, I don’t want to embarrass you), but I know how much you Mike have loved your sister, respected her. I know how close you were and how you appreciated her reaching out to you in Vermont and bringing you in and giving you a home, when you were looking for that sense of belonging. I know that you will always remember your times together on those mountains, skiing and snowboarding at Stowe, remembering driving cross-country, bicycles sometimes on the roof of the car and other times not. You said something that touched me very deeply and I want to use your words – your words not mine – to comfort your dad.

Frank, I love you from the bottom of my heart and I know that you are not only suffering from profound loss, but also with regret. I know you question yourself and you doubt whether or not you parented her well. Whether you were there for her. Mike said it best and I’m quoting. "Some parents raise their children to be scared. You raised us to embrace life." You didn’t raise a scared kid. You didn’t raise a dependent kid. You raised a young woman who knew how to embrace the world and do so with courage and strength. And it would be a double tragedy, Frank, if you blame yourself – because this is not your doing. This is the chaos of life. You taught her how to deal with the chaos of life and you did everything you possibly could have done to find her, every day searching, calling, and doing.

And Ellen, my love for you has grown only deeper. You have shown such strength. You have shown such humanity. I don’t know how you packed up her apartment that day. I don’t know how you went through her things together with Nancy and Jill, Mike and Frank and me and Sam. But you did. You said to me that you’ve been robbed. You said to me what about my grandchildren, what about the weddings, what about my future, what about my Katie? I asked you where you saw her. I asked you if you saw her in heaven and you said to me, no I still see her in the snow. My heart aches for you. I pray as everyone in this room does that you see her in heaven. And in the Torah portion for this past Shabbat, Moses went up to the top of the mountain and he was there for 40 days and for 40 nights communing with God. When he did not come down, Children of Israel lost their faith and they returned to idolatry. You have more faith, you have more strength than all the people in this room combined. I pray that you don’t lose it now. I pray you don’t lose your joie de vivre. I don’t want to see it this week, or next, or this year, but you have so many unique gifts, don’t lose your faith, don’t lose your hope, don’t lose your courage. If there’s another snowfall this year, I ask that we go outside and I ask that we see Katie’s face in the snowflakes. I ask that we hear her voice. I ask that we pray that we find her. I ask that we pray for comfort for wonderful family who has endured so much. May she rest in peace. May her family know comfort speedily. And let us say, Amen.

This time I would like to call upon her grandfather.

Bob Clair

Three weeks ago today my son Frank called to tell me that Katie was missing on a mountain in Oregon. After the initial shock I started to think about how strong and well trained Katie was for the outdoors. I felt confident that if anyone could survive, it would be her. Every night I waited for a call from my family to get an update on the search, and as days passed into weeks, I learned about the conditions and the enormity of Mt. Bachelor. I then was forced to accept the horrible fact that Kate had died instantly.

I knew I had to be strong for Hope and hide my emotions, and at the same time be available to Ellen and Frank for my opinions. My salvation was to walk outside and stand near my boat the “Micatie” and look into the sky and tell Katie how much I loved her. The first time I did this, I started to remember the time in Cape May, when we bought our first boat and we were trying to come up with a suitable name. My sister Joan and good friend Marv came up with the name “Micatie” for Michael and Kate. We all loved the idea, but unfortunately Katie and Mike thought it was corny. By the time they had a chance to give their vote, the name was already on the back of the boat. I love the name so much that I use it everyday as my screen name for my computer. I am so pleased that everyday when I turn on my computer and each time I get a call on my marine radio, I will see and hear “My Katie, My Katie” come in, then I will answer, “this is Micatie, this is Micatie – over”, then I will look to the sky and see my smiling Kate.

Kate, you made Nan and Pop very proud of all your accomplishments and we were particularly pleased that you were so happy with your life in Oregon. Luckily, I saved your last birthday card to remind me how happy you were. I also have the little blue box that you gave me many years ago that was full of your love for me. I followed your instructions to never open it, because your love could possibly escape. Now I have it forever. Katie, Nan and Pop love you so much and will cherish you and cherish your beautiful memories forever. Thank you.

I’d like to call upon Nancy Clair.

I’d like to read a poem that was written for Kate from Bob Cohan. Bob I hope you can hear us.

For Kate

Far horizons were your starting point
Each summit your new base camp
Distant places were your heart’s desire
No cave’s dark reach escaped your lamp.
To make the earth and its variety
As familiar to you as your hand
To go where very few have gone
And be intimate with each land.
Dear Kate, we’d rather you be here
Close to our love’s embrace
Not packing up for just one more trip (And I can relate to that)
To some distant or exotic place.
But we knew you’d always heed the call
That bid you leave, go far afield
To trek a new trail, ascend a great height
With no thought you’d fail or have to yield.
You made these goals your life’s work
Your limits were not to be found
Now you’re free to roam God’s universe
Your spirit at last unbound.
Ellen, Frank and Mike, I love you with all my heart.

Rabbi Marx

There have been many friends – friends who have done wonderful things, courageous things, like Sam – going out there and being with the family and searching, caring, and bringing them comfort. I’d like to call upon two such friends. Jessica Weisbein and Debbie Harris.


It is difficult for me to express in such brevity how I feel about Katie. I think that no one here will ever forget her hysterical laughter, her brutal honesty, her sense of adventure, her compassion, her loyalty to her friends or her love of life. Those of us who knew her well, knew that her strong exterior surrounded the softest and most gracious of hearts. Perhaps the best way for me to describe Katie would be to read a quote that she had written to me for our high school graduation by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child or a redeemed social condition, to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived, this to have succeeded. If this is the definition of success, then Katie certainly succeeded in every possible way. I could not have dreamed of a better friend and I believe that my life is better for having been touched by such a beautiful soul.


Some of my most healing moments during the past few weeks has been recalling memories and telling stories about Kate with Jess and with other friends. I have come to realize just how much Kate has left for us to remember and to laugh about. I would like to share a quotation that I feel fortunate to have come across about a week ago. It has helped me to find some sense of peace.

"When I part from my friends, I grieve not.

For that which I love most in her may be clearer in her absence.

As the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain."

Rabbi Marx

Please rise.


God of our ancestors, God of all life, to you we turn with sorrow of our hearts. Where can we find comfort except in the shadow of your presence, the shelter of your infinite love. Hidden are your ways oh God, purposes unknown. You send us the noon day brightness and yet also cause the dark clouds of grief to cast their shadows over us. Sustain us oh God. May your light not leave our hearts. May your mercy not be taken from us. Though the cherished life of Katie has been cut short, we treasure each and every one of the precious days so few in number though they brightened our lives. May her memory endure in the sanctuary of her parent’s hearts, preserved there forever. Source of our strength and our comfort strengthen this grief-torn family and aid them to rise above their pain. Grant that they may continue to share their love with those who need them now more than ever, to feel their grief. Ease their bitterness, oh God, lighten their darkness. May their faith in you be renewed for you are our comfort and our consolation, source of strength. Amen.

I ask that you remain standing and join together in support of the family in the recitation of Kaddish to be found in our prayer leaflets.


Source of peace grant peace to all who mourn, comfort to all who are bereaved wherever they may be. Amen.

Please be seated.

On behalf of the family we would like to thank you for the outpouring of love and support that you have shown through these past weeks. Your e-mails, your cards, your letters, your messages have brought Ellen, Frank and Mike tremendous support, and I know that they would want you to be thanked. We pray that your presence will continue to be with them. The family will be observing Shiva through Wednesday evening. Minyan Services will be conducted tonight, Monday night, Tuesday, and Wednesday night at 7:00PM. We respectfully request however; that for today only, that you allow the family some private time immediately following this service. We welcome you to their home for the observance of Shiva and with the Minyan at 7:00. We ask you not to come before 6:30. If you choose to make a donation, the Sviteks respectfully request that you do so to Congregation Beth Or. On behalf of the family, I thank you for attending services here today. Please remain seated.