Blaze Bernstein Obituary
Blaze Bernstein was a brilliant teenager with a noticeably sharp sense of humor and a generous and gentle heart. He was often referred to as a “renaissance man” by his family. He loved cooking, music, art, performing, writing, and experiencing firsthand the beauty of all cultures of the world. He was known as a puzzle solver, quick witted, outstanding communicator, strategic game player, budding scientist, a thoughtful gift giver, a helper, and a volunteer whenever a problem or need arose. It has been said by those who knew him well, that he had the uncanny ability to tap both the left and right sides of his brain which he did often as an artist and a scientist.
Blaze Nathan Bernstein’s life started in South Orange County, on April 27, 1998.
His mother and father, both native Californians, attended the University of California Santa Barbara where they met in 1987 and later married in Los Angeles in 1992. His father, Gideon Bernstein, went on to become a Chartered Financial Analyst and to manage the portfolio of Leisure Capital Management in Costa Mesa, where he is presently an equity partner. His mother, Jeanne Pepper, earned her law degree in 1995 from the Pepperdine School of Law. She left her litigation practice in 2000 to devote herself completely to caring for Blaze and his siblings. His paternal grandmother, Leah Bernstein, a retired language teacher, was born in Romania in 1936 and is presently one of the few living holocaust survivors. Blaze has two siblings, Beaue age fourteen and Jay age seventeen.
Blaze was named for his grandfathers, Nathan and Chaim, and for the 17th century French polymath Blaise Pascal. The night of his disappearance, his grandfather Richard Bernstein asked him what people thought of his name. He remarked that people asked him about his name, but he didn’t remember the story behind it. He was told the meaning of it that night, when the family explained to him that Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and theologian who pioneered calculating machines and made numerous contributions to science. He smiled and was humbled by the discussion and his parents proudly told him that this was his namesake and they expected great things from him.
Blaze’s communities — both in California and at the University of Pennsylvania — knew him as a polymath, like his namesake, and in his own right.
After attending one of the best high schools for the arts in the United States, The Orange County School of the Arts (affectionally known as “OCSA”), Bernstein went to the University of Pennsylvania, where he threw himself into biochemistry, psychology, poetry, community activism and food writing.
According to the Rabbi Arnold Rachlis and quoted from Forward Magazine: “He was one of these kids that absorbed every experience and did something with it,” and “[h]e was not somebody who just went through life, he took experiences as a gift and saw them as part of the whole.” Rachlis, leader of the University Synagogue in Irvine, watched Bernstein grow up. His parents have been members of University Synagogue since before Blaze was born.
While in high school, Bernstein had many extracurricular activities, including working Saturdays at the synagogue as a madrich, or classroom aide. He also loved participating in Science Olympiad in the 11th and 12th grade and brought home a 1st place medal for OCSA in the State challenge with his participation in a Chemistry tournament his senior year. His Advanced Placement Chemistry teacher, Heather Jonson, said that “Blaze … seemed to always be looking for a place to make his mark and be a leader and to contribute.” And true to his character as a humble genius, Jonson said that “many of the younger students in [Science Olympiad] admired him and are heartbroken and that might surprise him because he was never out to impress anyone.”
Blaze read his first Steinbeck novel, Tortilla Flats, in the 5th grade and asked his grandparents Leah and Richard to take him to the site of Cannery Row when asked what he wanted to do on a vacation with them. He loved reading and writing from a young age and continued to hone his skills while in the Creative Writing Conservatory at OCSA.
“It was very clear to me that he was an excellent writer and an excellent student,” said Jamie-Lee Josselyn, Bernstein’s academic adviser. They met when Bernstein was applying to college, when he became the only high school student Josselyn knows of to have writing published in Penn’s literary magazine.
“I asked him if I could be his adviser mostly to make sure that he didn’t go too far from creative writing,” Josselyn said. “Because I wanted to keep him.”
Josselyn said that Bernstein was shy but friendly, and not known for hiding his opinions. And the influence of his opinions as a gourmet cook, writer and community activist became noticeable after he left for college at the University of Pennsylvania in August of 2016, when he began to use his great communication skills as a copy editor for both the Penn Review and UPenn’s unique foodie magazine Penn Appétit. He was elected as Managing editor of Penn Appétit for it’s next publication. He was also a copy editor for a Penn cookbook aptly named Whisk which is still in development.
He also became a community activist in October of 2017 when he wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Pennsylvania in an effort to improve UPENN’s safety and reform Campus policies. That lead to a congenial meeting with UPENN’s Vice Provost for University Life, Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, where they spoke about how to make UPENN a safer and better place for students. Swain was looking forward to working with Blaze on a continuing basis to make improvements in the policies that governed campus life.
“He flew under the radar with his really sharp sense of humor,” Josselyn said. Often working quietly in his room, his witty, charming and self-deprecating manner - not to mention his quirky way of looking at the world - was reflected in his writing and even his Facebook page where he listed himself as an “adjunct professor of Beppo studies at The University of Buca di Beppo.” This past December, he created a petition to bring the Baha Men to UPenn’s Spring Fling dance.
Blaze’s unique sense of humor and quick wit will be missed by all who knew him and adored him. His parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins in this close-knit family, grieve the loss of a family member that made every family gathering fun and entertaining. Family game night will never be the same.
Close family friend, Dr. Michelle Aszterbaum remembers that, “Blaze was up for all of the crazy adventures of the Bernstein family vacations. Whether fording The Narrows of Zion Park with full-body dry suits, hiking with crampons on a glacier in Iceland, kayaking in freezing rain in a glacier lagoon, driving until 3:00 am to the next AirBnB—he was up for it all.”
He was thought of as tenacious and, at 17 years old, he climbed to the top of Angels’ Landing in Zion National Park by himself. She recalled with fondness the trip she took with him in 2016, “in Zion National Park in Utah, Blaze hiked up to Angel’s Landing—a dangerous hiking path with steep drop offs. One-by-one experienced hikers in our group peeled off, failing to complete the trek. Blaze was the only one to complete the final treacherous portion of the hike to the spectacular viewpoint. He was quietly proud of the achievement. ”
Blaze cared more about experiencing the beauty of nature than the discomforts that came with it. On the family’s trip to Iceland’s Westman Islands, Blaze discovered a bird lookout for observing the Atlantic Puffin seabirds. Despite the freezing wind slicing through the lookout, he sat quietly for what seemed an hour, photographing and observing with binoculars. Meanwhile the rest of the group huddled in the nearby van to escape the cold.
While his family will age and grow old, Blaze will stay forever young. Blaze wrote in his college entrance essay, “As I change, [my words] change, but even after days or months or years I can still find a version of myself (a time traveler from the past, present, or future) sitting there in the text and waiting to speak to me.” So, his loved ones wait for Blaze to speak to them, “a time traveler from the past,” as they read what is left of him and his beautiful voice.