To her friends at UC Santa Cruz, Annais Rittenberg, a fourth-year Porter student, will be remembered for her fervent joy of life, her appreciation of beauty in the natural world and the compassion she showed to people around her.
Rittenberg, 21, was killed on July 8, when a large oak tree fell just outside a Yosemite National Park camp’s dining hall where Rittenberg sat. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, she was serving as an arts and crafts counselor at Camp Tawonga, a Jewish residence camp.
“She was a great friend and a beautiful person,” said fourth-year and friend to Rittenberg Adam Odsess-Rubin. “We will miss her, but we’ll try to carry on her big smile and her love of nature.”
Originally a New York City native, Rittenberg arrived at UCSC after graduating from LaGuardia High School. She was pursuing a degree in environmental studies, a decision that enabled her to explore her passion for nature.
“She was in such wonder and awe of the natural world,” said a friend of Rittenberg’s who asked to be called by their nickname, Frog. “Nothing would make her more excited than seeing the miracles of nature.”
Bryanna Whitney, a fourth-year Porter student and close friend to Rittenberg, reiterated Frog’s sentiment when retelling a trip they took to the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave Desert. After climbing to the top and rolling down hot sand, laughing among friends, Whitney and Rittenberg shared a special moment at the peak of a dune.
“You can see for miles — miles and miles of desert,” Whitney said. “We’re laying there and she just looks at me, and it’s so cheesy, but we’re looking into each others eyes and we just start laughing and crying at the same time. It was one of those moments where you are so blissed-out you could cry.”
Rittenberg would later tell Whitney what that moment meant to her.
“She said that it was the happiest moment of her life, which I definitely shared with her,” Whitney said.
Brent Buvick, a fourth-year Porter student and friend of Rittenberg since spring of their freshman year, noted the impact Rittenberg had amongst their peers.
“It has been beautiful to see our group of friends and the light that we carry that was started by her, as well as this incredible openness that we have with each other,” Buvick said. “Something I’ll always remember about her was her openness to new experiences and to life happening.”
That level of openness and communication was something that was natural to Rittenberg and something she likely inherited from her parents, Whitney said.
“She would always say that Dr. Seuss quote, ‘be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind,’” Whitney said. “That thought pops into my head all the time.”
Her friends agreed that her ability to make others laugh was a trait that drew others to her.
“She was so funny, she was hysterical,” Frog said. “She could make anybody pee their pants. Her humor had no boundaries.”
Since Rittenberg’s passing, a memorial service was held in her honor at UC Berkeley, where friends and family came together to remember her through stories and songs. With roughly 200 people in attendance, according to an article in the Daily Californian, it was clear Rittenberg will be missed.
“She would have gone on to do amazing things,” said fourth-year and friend to Rittenberg Adam Odsess-Rubin. “She was really into photography and she was a really good artist. I think she could have gone on to work at National Geographic.”
Whitney said her and friends intend to further honor Rittenberg’s memory by returning to the Kelso Dunes to spread some of her ashes. They plan to go in April, one year after their initial trip.
“In her living will — she wrote one for a class — she said, ‘Don’t you dare throw me a super sappy funeral,’” Whitney said. “She said, ‘Please have a party and dance on tables and remember me because I was fun and not boring.’”