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Community Provides Some Solace After the Tragic Death of a Teenager
Those who knew him well marveled at how Natan Luehrmann-Cowen always loved his synagogue. His family was a mainstay at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, where the boy was involved in junior choir and regularly volunteered to help his religious-school teachers, even after he'd completed his Sunday-school education.
His father, Ben Cowen, is the synagogue's treasurer, and was in the building on the evening of March 17 when the call came in that Natan, 13, had been hit by a truck while skateboarding near his home in Penllyn.
Natan was transported to Abington Memorial Hospital, where he died several hours later. The driver of the vehicle has been identified and police are reportedly awaiting the results of drug and alcohol tests.
The seventh-grader at Wissahickon Middle School recently became a Bar Mitzvah.
Beth Or Rabbi Gregory Marx recalled him as "an amazingly brilliant kid."
"He had a strategic mind -- this was a kid that, in my opinion, was going to invent something radical to transform the human experience," said the rabbi.
Rabbi Craig Axler, also of Beth Or, described the family as one of the synagogue's most involved, and said that the congregational community came out in full to support the child's family.
More than 500 people filled the Beth Or sanctuary for Natan's funeral on March 19, and at the shivah held at the boy's home, there was "standing room only," said Marx.
Axler described it as "a community experiencing the deepest and most significant heartbreak," and said that many in the congregation had stepped up to support the family, in addition to referring them to the grief-counseling resources overseen by the Jewish Family and Children's Service.
Natan's mother, Mia Luehrmann, described the family as "frequent flyers at the synagogue," and said that her son took to the institution from the moment that he began attending preschool there.
She said that the young teenager was actively involved in synagogue life, and during his early childhood, he yearned to be a member of the congregation's junior choir.
He and another peer would frequently be found "practically sitting on the steps to the bimah, they wanted so badly to join the junior choir," recalled his mother.
Once he entered second grade and started with the choir, he dove right in, said his mother, and along with the rest of the group, provided the music for Friday-night family services once a month.
More than just a singer, Natan was also a budding clarinetist, who apparently taught himself "Hatikvah" and performed it for his older brother Aron's Bar Mitzvah in 2006.
The family visited Israel last year in honor of the two boys becoming Bar Mitzvahs.
Natan also helped the junior choir write this year's Purim spiel.
And "he was King Achashverosh because, of course, he did not have a problem with ego," said his mother.
At the synagogue and beyond, Natan was seen as an intelligent youngster on the way to success. This past January, he took the SATs to participate in an academic summer camp, and scored a 680 on the math portion.
The 13-year-old was also involved with chess clubs and competed at a number of different chess tournaments. As far as athletic abilities; he tried out for -- and had been chosen -- for the school tennis team shortly before his death, though he never found out that he had made the team.
"His hobbies were huge," said his mom. "He was the kind of kid you had to rein in."
Many who knew him well said that Natan had his share of discipline problems -- a trait that his chess coach, Glenn Bady, chalked up to him being such a smart kid.
"He had a lot of knowledge, and he'd get bored quickly," said Bady.
He recalled the boy as "the light of the team -- everyone looked up to Natan during the tournaments," in part because the boy was always winning. He was a K-6 state champion in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The two rabbis who knew him and worked with him also stressed his talents.
"He was not a docile, 'Yes-mom-whatever-you-say' kind of kid," echoed Marx. "He was a spunky, energetic, independent, self-reliant kid."
Axler likened him to a "tremendous ball of energy," adding that "you couldn't help but notice him."