2018-04-25 / Home

Siblings honor camp counselor killed in Parkland shooting with benefit run

Siblings Jake and Mia Zaretsky are pictured at their home on race day.Siblings Jake and Mia Zaretsky are pictured at their home on race day.Scott Beigel is pictured at Starlight Camp. Scott Beigel is pictured at Starlight Camp. By JAYNE JACOVA FELD

Voice staff

Preparing for their upcoming B’nai Mitzvah, Mia and Jake Zaretsky were at an impasse over trying to come up with a meaningful joint mitzvah project when news broke about the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland FL. The Cherry Hill siblings knew that Scott Beigel, a beloved staffer at their overnight camp, was a teacher at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School.

As media reports unfolded, their phones were “blowing up” with texts from fellow Camp Starlight campers worried about Beigel, Jake, 12, recalled. The camp’s chat group was flooded with inquiries and prayers as it became known that Beigel was a victim and had been taken to a hospital. In time, they learned that the unthinkable had occurred. Beigel, 35, who had spent every summer since he was seven at the Wayne, PA overnight camp, would not be returning.

He was one of 17 people--five of them Jewish--killed by a former student who snuck on campus with a loaded semi-automatic assault weapon.

The reports that emerged next did not surprise the Zaretskys at all; Beigel, known for his humor and caring, had died saving others. A geography teacher and track team coach, he was shot after unlocking his classroom door to let in students fleeing from the gunman.

In their grief, the siblings were united. It was Jake who first suggested they do a mitzvah project together to honor Beigel’s memory. Mia, 13, came up with the plan.

“Since he was a runner, I thought, ‘let’s do a run,’” said the Beck Middle School seventh grader, a runner herself.

And that’s how it came to be that on Apr. 22, a brilliantly sunny and crisp spring day, some 100 sneaker-clad children and a smattering of athletic adults gathered outside the Zaretsky’s Short Hills home for a benefit run. The three-mile course took them through their neighborhood, across Evesham Road, and into the Lost Tree section of Voorhees before they followed the route back to the Zaretsky home. Runners were treated to Mr. Softee at the finish line.

“It just snowballed into more than anyone anticipated,” said Lisa Zaretsky, Mia and Jake’s mother, noting that participants were mostly local families with a few Camp Starlight friends in the mix. “It was just a beautiful event.”

With money still coming in, Mia and Jake have raised more than $4,000 for the Scott J. Beigel Memorial Foundation, created to send kids to Starlight Camp who otherwise could not afford to go. In June, the Beth El congregants will have their B’nai Mitzvah in Israel.

For Mia, who has helped organize numerous donation drives since she was in kindergarten, raising money for the cause was unlike any other project she has taken on to earn her nickname “Mitzvah Mia.”

“It felt for me more special,” she said.

Jake agreed, noting that the uplifting event was a perfect way to honor someone who always made others feel better about themselves and loved camp so much.

“If he didn’t pass away he would have been my division leader in like two years,” Jake explained. “We were all looking forward to our senior year with him. He was really funny but would be serious when he needed to be. He was always doing special things with the seniors.”

Reached at her Long Island home, Linda Schulman, Beigel’s mother, said she was overwhelmed with gratitude when Lisa Zaretsky contacted her about the mitzvah project.

“I adore them, not because of the money they’re raising, but just because of how wonderfully caring they are,” Schulman said. “They shared a video of speeches from those kids (before the race.) I just don’t have enough to say.”

In the months since her son was murdered, she said that the outpouring of love and support by people all over the world has helped her in this difficult time. Both those who knew him and strangers have reached out to her with messages and contributions to the fund, which has raised more than $120,000 for camp scholarships so far.

Many have organized fundraisers both big and small, from fancy galas to neighborhood runs like the Zaretskys, to honor his memory. In addition, she has sat for several media appearances and an organization in Israel has even offered to fly her to the Holy Land to accept an award on Scott’s behalf in June. She is trying to fit it into her schedule.

“There is so much going on; it keeps him alive,” Schulman said. “I am in the best place of denial in the whole world right now.”

She noted that it is a little disconcerting how her son has been lionized since the massacre. He was “a normal kid” whose gift was making people feel special. He loved camp so much that it influenced his decision to become a teacher, she noted. At first, he loved teaching so much because he wanted summers off to continue on at Camp Starlight. More recently, especially since taking the job at MSD High, he seemed just as excited about teaching as he did about camp.

“He was very happy and content being a teacher, and so humble,” she said. “I just hope wherever he is, he realizes how much people really did love him.”

For more information about the Scott J Beigel Memorial Fund, visit http://scottjbeigelmemorialfund.com. 

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