To honor the life of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein, the Kelly Writers House will host a memorial on campus on Feb. 18.
The goal of the memorial, which was planned in collaboration with Bernstein’s friends and other Penn administrators, is to memorialize Bernstein in a way that would be most fitting to who he was, said Bernstein’s pre-major advisor Jamie-Lee Josselyn.
“When we thought of Blaze as a group, and this was very much led by his friends, we didn’t think about a formal service. We thought about just getting some people together,” Josselyn said. “And, of course, eating."
Bernstein went missing a month ago on Jan. 2. A week later, his body was found dead in a park in Orange County, Calif. A suspect has since been arrested in connection to Bernstein’s death, which authorities have confirmed to be a homicide. More recently, reporting from ProPublica has found that Samuel Woodward, the 20-year-old who has been charged with Bernstein's death, had close links to a neo-Nazi hate group.
As investigations into Bernstein’s disappearance and homicide have unfolded on the national stage, Penn students, staff, and faculty who knew the College sophomore have found various ways to mourn his loss here on campus. After his death was confirmed, Writers House held an intimate vigil for him on Jan. 10. The University also hosted a support group for the entire Penn community in Houston Hall the following day.
On campus, Bernstein was involved in the University's food magazine, Penn Appetit, and had just been elected to be the managing editor prior to returning home in December 2017. He was also a copy associate for the literary magazine, Penn Review, and was about to start his term as a copy associate for 34th Street Magazine.
The official memorial for Bernstein has been scheduled for Feb. 18 so that the student's parents, Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper, could be in attendance.
“We want to celebrate Blaze’s memory with his Penn family. Penn was Blaze’s pathway to greatness which was being paved by KWH, Penn Appetit, and Penn Review amongst other organizations and activities," Gideon Bernstein wrote in a statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Our family wants to help to bring closure to all of Blazes friends and colleagues who mourn his loss with us. We look forward to hearing stories about Blaze, and sharing them as well."
College sophomore Amy Marcus, one of Bernstein's closest friends on campus, is helping to organize the memorial. She said the Writers House was "by far Blaze's favorite place on campus," and that they are planning a memorial "that honors his amazingly quirky self."
"We're trying to combine everything he loved in life for a moving ceremony that honors everything we loved about him," said Marcus, who is also a writer for 34th Street Magazine.
The format of the memorial will be communal and will start with a lunch provided by the Writers House, Josselyn said. Guests will be encouraged to bring side dishes and desserts, and Josselyn said some have already begun thinking of ideas of what to make.
Josselyn said someone plans on baking a “spiced rum and plum upside down cake,” which Bernstein made on New Years Eve, and someone else has decided to make cranberry cake, which the College sophomore made for Thanksgiving at the Writers House.
Marcus said she decided she would make snickerdoodles, since every time she got sick, he would bake them for her and bring them over.
"In a symbolic way, we all want to cook the foods that Blaze used to cook for us because if there was anything Blaze loved more than cooking, it was sharing his food with his friends and family," Marcus said.
Bernstein used food to bring people together, Marcus said, who recalled numerous times where Bernstein would show up at her door with food he just made and say, "We’re eating. Here’s what we’re doing: I made this food, and we’re gonna eat it."
Their ultimate goal, however, is to make sure the memorial does justice to who Bernstein was. Currently, the students, Josselyn and others are planning to incorporate certain elements that might be "quirky and irreverent" and that "may be a little funny and seem a little weird for a memorial services, but the kinds of things that Blaze would have wanted."
Most recently, Marcus said she and Josselyn had discussed getting temporary tattoos of La Croix, a brand of sparkling water that Bernstein always used to drink, since Bernstein had joked of getting a tattoo of La Croix over break.
“Even though of course there’s a lot of sadness, we want his energy and his humor to be reflected in that day, which is why we’re thinking about this as more of an informal gathering than a formal ceremony,” Josselyn said.
After the lunch, there will be a section for Bernstein’s parents and friends to speak. His parents will also play a memorial video, which was created for the service at home in California, after which any of the attendees who wish to speak will have the chance to do so.
Penn Hillel will also be working with the LGBT Center to open up a space in Hillel's building on Feb. 18, LGBT Center Director Erin Cross said. The event, which will start at 3 p.m., is meant to provide space “for those affected by Blaze’s loss and its aftermath," Cross explained.
Josselyn acknowledged that the impact of Bernstein's death has extended beyond just those who knew him personally.
“I know that this situation is one where a lot of people have felt it even if they didn’t know Blaze,” Josselyn said. “I just hope that anybody who feels like having some community around this will feel comfortable attending, and our doors are open.”
Marcus added that this memorial will be different from the funeral and memorial in California.
"I think what we’re looking to do here is more of a celebration of his life and all of the quirks and all of the personality traits that all of us came to know and love so much over the last year and a half," Marcus said, "and to show his parents the Blaze that we all knew and loved."