by Abbi Levine
On September 21, 2004, the world lost a tremendous young man, friend and inspiration. He touched more people with his shining personality and acts of kindness during his 23 years than most people do in a long lifetime.
Gabriel "Gabe" Oderberg of Denver was born March 10, 1981 to Bonnee and Nate Oderberg. Gabe was buried at Mt. Nebo Cemetery on September 23, 2004, surrounded by hundreds of family members and friends.
Gabe attended Herzl Jewish Day School and Rocky Mountain Hebrew Academy (RMHA), which provided him with a base in Jewish values and customs. His formal education was enhanced by his family's commitment to the Jewish community. It was important to Gabe to incorporate Judaism in many aspects of his life. In the eighth grade, Gabe was instrumental in creating a minyan with a group of friends at RMHA; there Gabe also formed friendships that endured throughout his life. After Gabe's Bar Mitzvah, he traveled with his Zaidie to Poland, visiting the house where his grandfather grew up, and then to Israel to spend time with cousins who live in Tel Aviv and on a Moshav south of the Dead Sea. From an early age, Gabe was fascinated with Israel and Middle East Affairs. He could sit and talk for hours with people about world politics and history, especially mid-east politics.
Gabe attended George Washington High School and later Thomas Jefferson High School, playing football for both. His prowess on the football field caught the attention of CU Boulder Coach Gary Barnett, who recruited Gabe for Barnett's first recruiting class in 1999 as a defensive lineman. He was switched to the offensive line in 2000, where he played 11 games on special teams until he injured his back in the first game of the 2001 season. The injury continued to give him pain, leading to back surgery in January, the following year, but after working hard in Colorado and a special rehab facility in Arizona, he attempted a comeback. Eventually the injury required a second surgery and Gabe's football career was cut short in 2002. While Gabe spent much of his life in cleats and garnered awards for his excellence on and off the field from high school through college; though not enamored with the politics of football, he loved the game. More important to the former CU Buffalo, were the camaraderie and teamwork. Gabe's commitment to the players, even after he stopped playing, brought him to a coaching position for the team. Said Barnett to the Denver Post, "He was appreciated by everybody here, everybody that played with him and everybody that coached him."
Gabe received his Bachelor of Arts in communications and history from CU in December, 2003. Upon graduation, he returned to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip called Oranim. He loved experiencing the beauty and learning about the history of the Land. "Gabe observed that in many respects the Arabs and Israeli's got along better than the media portrayed and he longed to see peace without the political turmoil," said his parents.
The Jewish Sages teach that when parents name a child, there is an element of Divine Prophecy which gives the parents insight into the Hebrew name that best reflects the essence of their child's soul. Gabe's Hebrew name, Gabriel, has many meanings, including "strong man of G-d." It was very clear to anyone who met Gabe that he was physically strong. At 6'5 and 285 pounds, Gabe was a giant, but he used his muscle to help, protect, and support others and as big as Gabe was, his smile was bigger. He was also a giant in thought -- understanding complex issues quickly and always having something interesting to say. Gabe was a giant in heart and soul, too. He took on others' problems as his own and he was always around to cheer someone up, to listen, and to give advice. Gabe's priorities were people - he wanted to be known for being a good friend rather than a good athlete. He looked out for everyone. One friend wrote, "As we became friends, I would think, 'Gabe is so kind to me, he must really think I'm special.' As time went on, I started to realize that Gabe thought of everyone as special." He expressed compassion for and a deep understanding of others' situations and issues. Gabe was a role model to hundreds of people in multiple and diverse communities. He saved the lives of young adults in crisis and had an extraordinary gift to reach people in ways that were well beyond his years. He taught by example in his acts of kindness and good deeds and was adamant in his resolve that we are all obligated to love and support one another, always.
Gabriel was also the name of one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition who serves as a messenger from G-d. So many people called Gabe an "angel." Gabe's compassion was not blind. "He truly understood what it took to create a community," wrote a friend. "He created worlds by devoting time to catching up, story telling, stopping by friends' houses just to say hello." Not only did Gabe create worlds, he was the center of so many worlds even if he did not know it.
Days before his death, Gabe went hiking with his friend Oren Hershkovich and discussed plans for the future. He mentioned that he wanted to go back to school to become a teacher. By continuing his education to obtain a teaching license, he would then have the potential to help our young individuals succeed in life. He knew he had a gift. He spoke of his time spent with his cousins in Arizona and how much he enjoyed helping them with their schoolwork. He continually impacted the people around him and made a difference in the world, and always seemed to be aware of the moments when he could make a difference. Gabe was a teacher, even without a teaching degree.
Gabe taught us so many things just by being himself. He taught others how to live. Gabe lived so much and so fully that it is hard to imagine him not living. He was always smiling that beautiful smile of his, with those hazel eyes so full of life. It is said that we live on after death through our deeds. Even though Gabe is no longer with us physically, he is still alive. He touched so many lives and left this world better than when he arrived. The world is different without him; Gabe made us feel like we were not alone - that someone cared. Gabe made us breathe easier about our own problems because he was with us, breathing with us, carrying some of the load. Gabe gave us so much with his blessed breath. Now that he is gone, we will have to breathe without him. We all imagined that Gabe would grow old and we imagined that he'd live to be 120 because we wanted him to live to be 120. We will not see him again as we have seen him for these too few years. We will not run to him for advice and seek solace from him, a huge loss -- not only to his family -- but to his hundreds of friends.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen eulogized Gabe, saying, "It is so hard for us to believe that this extraordinary young man with his energy, dedication, kindness, and huge personality and heart, is no longer here to brighten the hours for us and to enchant us with the radiance of his presence." The light that shone when Gabe lived was no ordinary light. Even though his absence makes us feel the world is dimmer, the light that brightened so many worlds for 23 years will stay bright for many more years because Gabe's light represented eternal truths, the reminder of the right path, and love. He was a great presence. He had a beautiful soul. He was wise. Gabe renewed life for so many."
Gabe is inexpressibly loved and missed by his parents Nate and Bonnee; brothers Adam and Eli; grandparents Melich and Hania Oderberg, Sol and Evelyn Shafner, his aunts, uncles, cousins and many, many friends around the world.