I live far away from Cleveland, Ohio—a 5,984-mile flight away, to be exact. So you wouldn’t think news of a two-passenger plane crash would impact me here, in Be’er Sheva. But it did. I heard about two tragic deaths and the young widows and orphans they left. I heard about men who held up their communities with humility, taken too soon.
Through stories and links shared by friends, I learned about Baruch Taub, who ran his business with intense honesty and recently stayed up all night fixing the Chevra Kadisha’s van, free of charge. How he was always ready to help his neighbor and full of thought and consideration of the other’s needs. People spoke about his extreme empathy, love, and care for his children. I learned how Baruch built his auto shop between two shuls so that he would never miss a minyan.
Ben Chafetz never turned down a tzedaka organization. I saw a photo of him arguing because he wanted to donate more than allowed. I heard about his hakaras hatov, which led him to help crowdfund a Mikva for the Chabad of Athens after being stranded there. I learned that Ben never shook hands with his friends and community—it was always a big meaningful bear hug. How Ben, in his busy work schedule, had set aside time to learn Torah every morning and evening.
We lost two hearts of gold, lights that shone so strongly.
It’s an eerie feeling when you only learn about giants once they’re gone, and you’re in the void they left behind. It’s that gut-felt pang when you see a community mourning deeply, and while you’ll never understand the true depths of their pain, you join them. That’s how we are, though. In the Jewish nation, a tragedy in one community is a tragedy for all of us; tears wept in one home are tears felt in every shul.
Perhaps it’s part of our secret of survival, for all these millennia, going way back to Egypt. When Hashem called on Moshe to lead Bnei Yisrael out of slavery, the very first thing He did was show Moshe what it meant to feel another’s pain. Hashem appeared to Moshe from inside a flaming thorn bush, and Rashi comments that it was to say, “Imo anochi btzaro – I am with them in their time of distress.” While Moshe had grown up far removed from his brethren’s suffering and was now in distant Midian, Hashem demanded that he stop and feel their pain.
The Jewish way has never been to try and justify suffering but rather to sit with the pained and share in their distress. And in that shared pain, we remember our deep love for our nation, humanity, and goodness—and we wonder what we can do to ensure that no one suffers anymore.
That true empathy leads us to stand up for each other, support our communities, cheer each other on, create incredible chessed organizations, and give tzedakah beyond measure. It’s while we hug and comfort our friends that we decide to build a better world. It’s after we mourn together as one nation that we turn to the darkness in the world and say, “enough!” We don’t want this anymore.
In that journey, as we pause to feel each other’s sorrow, we also merit to feel each other’s joy. Today we’re mourning the loss of two bright pillars of their communities, and our hearts are broken for their widows and orphans. Soon, may we merit to dance in equal joy at their simchas and celebrate their greatest triumphs.
Until then, from one side of the globe to the other, Imo anochi btzaraheim.