It’s been one year since the disappearance of now 26-year-old Jenna Van Gelderen. To mark the occasion, her parents, Roseanne and Leon, along with their son, Will, held a prayer vigil Aug. 19 at Congregation Shearith Israel. About 100 people from the community attended, including close friends of the family.
Jenna was reported missing on Aug. 19, 2017. She was house-sitting at her parent’s home in Druid Hills while her parents were vacationing in Canada. Her brother came home to find Jenna’s 2010 blue Mazda gone, the house locked, the TV on and the cat not fed.
The prayer vigil was led by Rabbi Ari Kaiman. “Today we gather to stand in solidarity with the Van Gelderen family to return once again to the soul of the community and know that they are not standing alone through this impossible journey.”
Also in attendance was Rev. Markel Hutchins, who led a prayer, and DeKalb County Police Chief James W. Conroy.
Both Roseanne and Leon made speeches to the community at the bima. “Life has moved forward, but I am in a time warp regarding Jenna,” Roseanne said.
She expressed gratitude to the community for its support, from forming search parties to handing out missing person flyers.
“Every day I feel sad. Every day I feel anxious not knowing where Jenna is and wondering what else I can do to find her,” she said.
“Do I talk about Jenna in the present or do I speak of her in the past? This is the awful ambivalence we live. I choose today to speak of her in the present.”
Leon has been an attorney for 32 years and said he is now Jenna’s advocate. He expressed frustration with the police proceedings of his daughter’s case and relayed his family’s efforts in finding Jenna. “I leave to all of you, Chief Conroy and G-d to figure out what needs to be done here.”
Conroy addressed the community and Jenna’s family. “DeKalb county police department stays committed to finding Jenna and we will exhaust every lead until she is found and until we find and determine the circumstances surrounding her disappearance.”
The one-year anniversary “brings a renewed focus and renewed attention and renewed hope in finding Jenna,” he said.
Conroy called for continual community involvement, which includes posting flyers online and around Atlanta and reporting any tips or information to DeKalb county police. “Encourage everyone you speak to to come forward,” he said. The reward is set at $25,000.
Kaiman announced his pledge of $1,000 to Jenna’s reward fund and asked for the community to contribute money, for furthering search efforts, to a desired amount of $36,000. This amount is significant because, in Judaism, “36 is double chai. Double life.” He welcomed donors to come to the synagogue and talk to him directly about monetary contribution, which he considers a “community obligation.”
Margie Osheroff has been a long-time friend to Roseanne and has helped get the word out about Jenna’s disappearance. “This is the worst kind of pain a family can have. It’s different than a death because you’re straddling both worlds and you don’t know what to adjust to.”
Linda Weiskoff, a close friend to Roseanne and Leon, said “this is the most horrible thing that could ever happen.” When asked how she lends support to Roseanne, she said “I call more than I used to and we stay in touch. We share happy moments and we share difficult moments.”