Goodbye My Friend

Dear Tzemach,

It has been just shy of a week since your passing and I am still at a loss for words? What can I say to you? Your family? The world? This is an epic tragedy! Our Rebbe would often know how to put a “Positivity Bias” on events like this. He’d know the right words to say, how it was a challenge and an opportunity, something that will generate good to make the pain worth it. But I am not a Rebbe. I am just a person who sees the fallout, the collateral damage, and I have been mulling this over and over again, and I am simply without wise words. I have no words of comfort. I, like many greats before me am left to emulate, Ahron HaKohen in his tragedy, and that is to be silent. V’yidom Ahron. I cannot explain away Gd’s behavior. I know that He is the True Judge, and that He comforts the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim but I cannot make any sense of it all.

I can talk about you a bit.

We met in 4th grade, when I graduated the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, to join the “big leagues” in Cheder in Los Angeles. You and I had history before we had history. Our mutual friend, Mendel Schwartz, my cousin and your friend, would have me over for Shabbos often, and you guys would show me around Westwood Village, and particularly the Chabad house.

I particularly remember the mikveh “barrel” that the heat could be cranked to well into the 100’s degrees. We’d dare each other to get in without getting scalded. We were a bunch of hooligans having a good time, without a care in the world. When we went to camp, first CGI and later in Montreal, I finally bonded in camp Makos. More on that in a moment.

Later when I joined YOEC, we maintained our friendship. More you, than me, as I felt the need to continue old family grudges, but you were better about that than me, and didn’t allow our differences to come between us. That in itself is a great lesson for me about you.

Back to camp. I am going to guess we were about 10 or 11 years old, and we were in overnight camp in Montreal. There was a “select” group of boys who were not particularly good at following the rules, to be mild. There was a group of 10 boys, and some bright mind, decided to quarantine us, so that we wouldn’t infect the others, so they named us Camp Makos – Camp Plagues. Since there were 10 of us, each of us was named for a specific plague. The problem was that I had not misbehaved enough to qualify for membership – originally. Eventually, I earned my street-cred and I was initiated. You all had a good friendly laugh at my expense.

While certainly unconventional, at that time and even today, there was some merit in that segregation system they implemented, as they motivated us, with special trips and prizes, to be our best, and I think we did get there. I hope.

Point is, you were a fellow “Makah,” and the three of us, you, Mendel and I were the representative California boys, and we had a special bond there.

We were the envy of the other kids in camp, simply for the friendship-bond that we shared. It was as if we were Chabad kids, like the rest of the camp, but in a league of our own, as children of Shluchim, as well as kids from across the country. That bond never left.

Throughout our Yeshiva years, our paths crisscrossed, time and again. At times were in Yeshiva together, at other times we were not, but always maintaining the friendly connection and West Coast bond.

When we both married girls from Morristown, NJ, we would see each other every so often, and still, you continued to reach out and keep the relationship going. (That is to your credit.) You would even call at random times about some project you were working on, always holy and Moshiach-centric in nature. You never complained, even as I recall one time you were sharing some extreme challenges you were having in your Shlichus, I don’t recall if it was financial or otherwise, but it was weighing on you, and you shared a bit. Perhaps it was just to share with a friend, or bleed off some of the pressure, but you shared and shared… and suddenly you stopped. You caught yourself and then you said, “but Moshiach is coming, and this will all be unimportant. The main thing is that we get the job that the Rebbe wants us to do, done.”

You always shared updates about the books/seforim in Russia and how they were going to be released imminently; you had faith, more than most.

You were a young man, you are a young man.

***

So where do we go from here? For a wordsmith, I remain without words of explanation and real comfort. I am normally a person with endless ideas, never short on what to say, but Gd, you really leave me without any brilliant thoughts.

Hamakom Yinachem Eschem…. That is what we are told to say, even when it doesn’t seem to answer any of the questions. Perhaps questions are good. The moment we make peace with things that are difficult, we make them acceptable.

***
Perhaps this will be of help to some…

I recently saw a TED talk where the woman explained that she had been married to a man, and had a child and then her husband died. She then got remarried and had three more children. She was still grieving the first spouse and was constantly being told to “move on.” Forget about what was, and invest in what is now.

She rejected that notion, explaining that who she is now, is a result of what was, of what had happened to her. All the challenges and tragedies made her the person that she is today. It made her the person who was capable of marrying her new husband and having 3 more children with him. She was able to go forward in her life, specifically because of who she had become. Her past experiences formed her into who she now is.

Her point was, in a sentence, you don’t need to move on, you need to move forward. In fact, you cannot move on, because we are who we are as a result of what has happened to us. We cannot move on from that.

We can however move forward.

Tzemach, we won’t move on, we will do our best to move forward. May Hashem protect your family and keep them safe.

***

To those who read this and want to help out, please consider making a donation to help Tzemach’s family move forward.

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