Samuel Forest Ozer, 17, was killed on June 21 when his bike was struck by a car on Henry Avenue in Roxborough.
Ozer, who had just graduated from AIM Academy in Conshohocken, was bound for the University of Vermont, where he intended to study mechanical engineering. He was buried on June 24 at Har Jehuda Cemetery.
Ozer was described by those who knew him as a loving, intuitive person, keenly aware of the needs of others and bursting with energy. In ninth grade Latin, “he was total trouble,” Anne Rock, an English teacher at AIM, recalled.
He was “an explorer, in body as well as mind,” said Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom Synagogue, who worked with Ozer as he wrestled with his understanding of Judaism, especially around his bar mitzvah. Jacob Bender, executive director of CAIR-Philadelphia, said that he was an “extraordinary kid.”
Mindy Maslin, his mother, described him even more succinctly.
“He had shpilkes,” she said, and laughed.
Ozer struggled to make friends growing up, she said, but that began to change in high school. Ozer was an avid biker, hiker, skier and general outdoorsman. An only child, he adopted many of the interests of his parents. His father, Sid Ozer, is a contracting officer for the Environmental Protection Agency and a founding member of the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia; his mother works for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Ozer took his relationship to nature seriously; at the time of his death, Rock said, he was “already becoming a steward of the outdoors.”
Two days after his death, hundreds of mourners joined Sid Ozer and Maslin for a silent memorial bike ride up and down Martin Luther King Drive. Ozer, who led a cycling team at AIM, had been fixing bikes at the Trek Manayunk bike shop on Main Street this summer.
Ozer had attended AIM since he was 10, entering the school when it became clear that his dyslexia would necessitate greater individual attention in school. He found success there; in addition to biking and academic activities, he was an enthusiastic member of the robotics team. He briefly found blue hair, and vegetarianism.
He also found Lily Cinquanto, 19. They attended prom together in freshman year, and were together most of the time since.
“Samuel always saw the best in me, and saw me for who I am, and loved me,” Cinquanto said.
At Mishkan Shalom, Ozer wrestled with his ideas about how a person should be, Zevit said. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a person with shpilkes, he often felt constrained by the four walls of a synagogue. And yet it did not constrain him in terms of ambition or desire to help others; Zevit, his parents and Bender all recalled his bar mitzvah project, which brought together Muslim and Jewish students for interfaith activities, including ethnic food sharing.
“Improving Jewish-Muslim relations isn’t your basic teenage project,” Bender said. “What he did came both from the social justice background of his family, but also from his own initiative.”
As Ozer grew up, he became more charismatic, his parents said. His Israeli cousins would fight to sit next to one another; his American ones were each sure that they were Ozer’s favorite cousin. He was beloved by the staff of Camp Chippewa, who took him on a transformative 18-day trip through the backwoods of Minnesota and Canada. This summer, according to Mike Endres, director of the Camp Chippewa Foundation, “he would have been an excellent mentor, leader, big brother and counselor.”
Ozer is survived by his parents and aunts, uncles and cousins. The Sam Ozer Fund was created in his honor, which will support the creation of “Sam’s Place.” Sam’s Place will house Project Bike Tech, where AIM students and community members can learn about bike repair and technology.
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