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  • This is a story I wrote nearly one year ago, but didn't have the courage to publish. I approached this text tonight anticipating merely re-reading it, or maybe making some edits. I quickly realized I had done myself a great disservice by keeping this in its digital prison on my laptop.

    I really hoped this wouldn’t happen, but today feels like a ton of bricks. Every year I hope getting through this day will be easier than the last year, and every year I’m wrong.

    This year, for the first time in five years, there’s no body to identify, no lawyers to talk to, and no administrative documents to process with Hudson County. This is the first “anniversary” – a creepy version of one, anyway – where there is nothing distracting me from my sadness and grief. It comforts me to know how much all of my friends loved Seth, and love me, and share these thoughts with me today. At the same time, I’d trade all of it for one more moment with Seth…one more bro-hug, one more phone call. Hell, I’d even settle for another angry email pointing out (probably correctly) some stupid mistake I made.

    You all know how much of an impact Seth made on your lives, and of course, the impact he made on mine. Today, I think about (as I think about on most every other day of the year as well) what kind of impact Seth would have made over the last five years. How would all of our lives have been different, and how would his life have been different? What changes would he have made to his life after his near-certain departure from Bear, Stearns during the October 2008 crash? Would he be married by now? Where would he be living, and what would he be doing?

    I think about these things because I feel Seth was cheated out of the best parts of his life, and we were cheated out of sharing those moments with him. I really believe the best was yet to come for him, and was quickly on the horizon in January 2008. This was one of the many reasons I sued Applied Housing, the City of Hoboken, and Hudson County for wrongful death. All three entities share a part of the blame for Seth’s entirely preventable death. The laws of my home state don’t agree with me, unfortunately.

    The ceiling of Seth’s apartment had more than 12 inches of dead space between the drop tiles and the floor of the apartment above, which I believe was a building code violation. There was no fire escape outside his window; when I lived in an Applied Housing apartment in Hoboken, I had a fire escape, so why didn’t he? The smoke detectors inside his apartment may not have even worked, and they certainly weren’t connected to the fire department or a third-party monitoring system. His drunk, deadbeat roommate, Adam Hess, who didn’t even have the courage to give a thorough interview to the police and hid behind his mother’s protection, in all likelihood left a lit candle burning in his bedroom before he went out to the bars that night. When 1203 Washington Street was renovated after the fire, the city and county allowed Applied to reconstruct the building without adding fire escapes to all the apartments! Even after the death of a young man, all parties involved did what they could to spend as little money as possible on the safety of the building’s tenants.

    I present this information to all of you now because I can, and because I think you should know if you don’t already. I settled the lawsuit out of court, against my own desires, because my legal advisors indicated we just didn’t have a very good case. I was able to get some money for my parents and siblings, though it wasn’t even the maximum amount called for in Applied’s insurance policy.

    I urge any of you who are attorneys or who are involved at any level of government in New Jersey, in the words of the ending of Seth’s Torah portion Ki Teitzei, “Lo Tishchach” / “You shall not forget!” There is nothing I could do, apparently, with my lawsuit, but please believe I fought as long and as hard as I could. There is no reason for building owners and municipal entities to be totally absolved of upholding even current building codes and safety standards, let alone (God forbid) trying to implement new ordinances that will make New Jersey’s aging apartment buildings safer for the residents.

    I have exhausted all legal recourse in pursuing justice for Seth. I know enough about governments, property owners, and attorneys to know that I probably had the best shot of anyone at getting someone to take responsibility for Seth’s death. I don’t expect any of you to do anything more than what I tried to do. But I will leave you with a message from Pirkei Avot which emphasizes the essence of Seth’s life and the hope I have that we all can continue to keep his memory alive. It is a message about our struggles to identify with ourselves, to better ourselves, and to will ourselves to be more than what we are. In the words of our great Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"
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