Our hearts beat like drums.
The beat of our hearts is our rhythm.
Without the rhythm there would be no life.
Rhythm is life.”
Avi Gesundheit (z”l), ’96, led an extraordinary life full of passion in making music. Nearly a quarter century later, the memory of his melody continues to inspire generations of Milken students through the Avi Efraim Gesundheit Music Fund.
Avi took up the saxophone during middle school at Milken, switching to guitar before landing, ultimately, on drums as his instrument of choice. A member of the high school jazz band, he and his friends Mike Lewis (z"l) ’96 and Brian Posalski ’96 also had their own garage band and would fill their houses with the sounds of spontaneous jam sessions.
Susan Gesundheit, Avi’s mother, remembers her son not only for his musical ability but also for the personal qualities that made him so beloved. “He was incredibly warm and had a big sense of humor,” she says. “He enjoyed participating at Milken, whether through music or joining the water polo team, and he was extremely well-liked there.”
A few weeks after his graduation from Milken in June 1996, Avi took a summer road trip with Mike Lewis to attend a Phish concert at the Red Rocks of Colorado. They were on their way to first see the Petrified Forest in Arizona and while driving outside of Flagstaff, a storm hit, leading to a fatal accident. Both boys were tragically killed.
To honor Avi, Susan and her husband Jaime established the Avi Efraim Gesundheit Music Fund, a gift in perpetuity to provide music enrichment programs for all students and faculty in the Milken community. “Jaime and I had been deeply involved at Stephen Wise, and we were part of Milken from its inception,” she says. “We had always been personally invested in ensuring its longevity, and this endowed fund for Avi seemed like a good way both to support the school and to make sure our son is never forgotten.”
Proceeds from the endowment help create opportunities for cross-curricular music education, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of music among diverse campus constituencies. “Some of Avi’s classmates at Milken are now parents who send their own kids to the school,” Susan notes. “We hope the fund serves as an example of how they might make contributions to advance Milken’s mission – and, at the same time, that it allows students to connect with how powerful music can be.”
That power has been prominent in the lives of people whom Avi touched. “Our daughter Daniela, Avi’s younger sister, was moved by his loss to become seriously focused on music as a career. She’s a cantor and a prominent indie music performer,” Susan says.
Whatever their personal or professional paths, Milken students who benefit from the Avi Efraim Gesundheit Music Fund continue to channel Avi’s spirit and celebrate his memory. “He’s really missed,” Susan says, “and we’re so pleased to have a forum that brings people together in his name.”