Clevelanders hearts were broken as 2 lights of the community returned their souls to heaven after their plane crashed shortly after takeoff from JFK last Thursday.
Over the past few days, I have joined countless other community members in attending the funerals of 40 year old Boruch Taub Z”L and 45 year old Ben Chafetz Z”L.
You can view the levaya of Ben Chafetz here and Boruch Taub here.
While I didn’t interact with Boruch personally, I heard my Hebrew Academy elementary school classmate Shimshi speak poignantly about his only brother at his funeral this morning. The stories that came out from leaders in the community and from relatives were astounding.
- The Chevra Kadisha‘s van broke down a couple weeks ago and needed a specialized repair. Boruch spent all night working through the recent polar vortex making sure it was back in service for the next morning. When the Chevra Kadisha asked for how much was owed, Boruch simply smiled back and said, no, how much do we owe you.
- Ben also served as a team leader of the Cleveland Chevra Kadisha and took his position there very seriously. It’s painful to think about how they would both need their services at such a young age, but incredible that both helped contribute to their invaluable work.
- When Boruch’s old business building was demolished, the demolishing company came ahead of schedule, before Boruch had a chance to remove the mezuzos from the doors. Boruch hired a crew and worked with them to recover several of them from the rubble for proper burial. When he couldn’t find all of them he walked into the Judaica store down the block from his store to underwrite the cost of mezuzos for people to borrow or have when they couldn’t afford it. One person had just walked into the store before him to ask about the possibility of borrowing mezuzos for a new home and the store owner caught him in time to let him know of the sudden availability of them.
- When Boruch saw a sefer torah with beautiful handwriting, he quietly worked to have a similar one written for a shul, but without his name being publicized as the impetus or sponsor of the project.
- When one of his daughters had to go on a special diet that was hard for her, Boruch decided to take on those same food restrictions and would go for a walk with his daughter around the block when a food she liked, such as cholent, was served.
- His childhood rebbi and neighbor, Rabbi Drazin, spoke about how Boruch was always there to build and expand their sukkah and to fix anything that was broken, even arranging for a 15 passenger van and tow truck in middle of the night when their car broke down an hour away when driving back from the east coast. He pledged to continue learning with Boruch’s son, to help him prepare for bar mitzvah lessons, and even to be there when his daughters need driving lessons.
- Boruch didn’t go into a profession that would require years of schooling so that he would be able to spend more time learning Torah. He learned continually with Rabbi Drazin and opened his mechanic shop in between 2 shuls, so he would never have to miss davening with a minyan. If the shuls ever needed more parking, he offered that they could use his business’ lot.
- Shimshi spoke about a turtle that his brother Boruch loved as a child and that he was tasked for watching for just a few short moments outside. Shimshi managed to lose the turtle, noted that he never heard the end of it, and apologized and asked for forgiveness for it today.
- JJ was in Cleveland for Tishrei and noted that the pond in front of Ben’s house was open to the community for Tashlich, where JJ also noted Ben’s turtles. My parents lived across the street from Ben and often found his turtles in their driveway.
My cousin is a plumber and he shared with me that his truck needed a specialized repair, and everyone knew that Boruch was the one to help with those. Boruch quoted him a very fair price told him that he would bump him to the front of the line, even though he was backed up. After all he said, you need this truck for your own parnassah (livelihood) and to help others fix their problems.
Both Boruch and Ben were incredibly charitable to a multitude of causes. They used their businesses as tools to help others.
I shared many anecdotes about Ben previously, but also learned how he set times for himself to learn Torah every morning and evening. That’s no easy feat when you’re trying to run your own business and having time to be devoted to your family. Ben only started learning like that at 42 years old, but that in and of itself is what’s so impressive. Changing one’s habits at that age isn’t something that comes easy.
And as was said at Boruch’s funeral today, even if you only do something for a short period of time before your time is up, if you do it consistently with set times, the merit of that continues as if you had done that eternally.
My thoughts on Ben Chafetz’s insane generosity pic.twitter.com/7gsGqiK3PH
— Chaikel (@ChaikelK) January 22, 2023
I previously noted the incredible calmness in Baruch’s voice as his plane was failing him and that is being noticed by mainstream media as well. He was a passionate aviator who loved to share the beauty of flight and the open skies with others.
Ben had a heart of gold and warmly greeted everyone (bear hugs, not handshakes!) to make their day. He merited to be able to send his love and goodbyes to his family in his final moments on this world. I learned that he actually wound up sending the texts via Whatsapp to his shul night seder group as well as to his wife. The Rabbi of his shul, Rabbi Abrin, deleted the messages as he thought they were sent unintentionally, but not before they spread like wildfire.
Rabbi Abrin noted that we’ll never know if he intended for the texts to go public. Did he just want to forward the request for tehilim to the group and wound up forwarding all of the messages? However, Ben would be the first to say that G-d rules the world, and if He wanted the world to see those texts, and we’re left with a snippet of his legacy, it’s fitting that it’s I love you and I love the kids. It’s a lesson that we can all take to heart, that family should come before everything.
This is all a very bitter pill to swallow.
Our Rabbi at Bais Dovid was out of town for the week, so the speech fell on me.
The rest of this post is what I spoke about on Shabbos, based on talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe,
“Last week’s parsha ended off with Moshe asking G-d, למה הרעתה לעם הזה, why have you harmed these people? Since I have come to Pharaoh, he has harmed them and you haven’t saved them.
G-d answers in this week’s parsha, that he appeared to his forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. Our Rabbis explain that G-d is telling Moshe that they underwent many tests and didn’t complain like this.
Moshe surely knew the approach of the forefathers, and he alone experienced the revelation of G-d at the highest levels of anyone. Clearly, Moshe had perfect Emuna in G-d and in his ways. And yet, he still asked G-d למה הרעתה לעם הזה, why have you harmed these people?
The Alter Rebbe explains in Likutei Torah that the forefathers correspond to the emotions of Chesed, Gevura, and Tiferes, while Moshe corresponds to Chochma, wisdom and intellect.
On the one hand we have G-ds response to Moshe. That even during a time of tragedy, we need to accept things with kabalas ol, and accepting the yoke of heaven without questioning. When you work on your emotions as our forefathers did, you can attain such a level of emuna.
But on the other hand, we are left with Moshe’s question to G-d. למה הרעתה לעם הזה, why have you harmed these people? We find ourselves in the darkest part of exile, where light and dark and good and evil are confused. Yes, we need to have emuna that things will improve, and ultimately everything is for the good as specifically through great darkness can come the ultimate light and redemption. But from an intellectual perspective we also have to learn from and channel Moshe Rabbeinu and ask Ad Masai. Until when will this pain continue?
And that’s not a contradiction, from an intellectual standpoint, as we can learn from Moshe, we are allowed to ask G-d למה הרעתה לעם הזה, why have you harmed these people? But we also need the emuna of our forefathers that G-d knows what he is doing and pray for Moshiach, when we will be able to ask for answers.
I just went to Ben’s levaya and they said that his daughter in Israel had the decision about whether to hold the funeral just before Shabbos in Cleveland or to wait for Sunday when she could make it. She said that her father would have wanted to be laid to rest as soon as possible, so please do it before Shabbos and do it without her. Now that’s true kabalos ol and mesiras nefesh, or self-sacrifice. And it speaks volumes about how Ben raised his children.
Ben and I first interacted when he was on an El Al flight a few years ago that was delayed on the tarmac for several hours. When it became clear that Shabbos would become an issue, the passengers demanded to be returned to the gate, agreeing to forfeit their tickets. But while the pilot agreed to that, he tricked them and took off anyway.
Ben wanted to counteract the story that El Al told the media, that charedim onboard rioted and caused the plane to divert to Athens. He spent extensive time with me reconstructing every announcement from the pilot and people onboard to prove that there was no violence. The airline had to land as part of its agreement to not fly on Shabbos.
There was no WiFi on El Al flights back then, so Ben said that he saved the kosher breakfast they served onboard, in case he would need it for Shabbos.
But rather than paraphrase, I’d like to read an excerpt of what Ben wrote about that experience, and the powerful lessons he took from it.
“When it was clear that we were landing in Athens and we would begin our descent we returned to our seats. Many of us tried to separate our Muktza items and to make sure our Tallis and Siddur were easily accessible.
After the plane landed and we stopped we disembarked on one of those rollaway staircases to get onto one of several shuttles. I was one of the first people onto the shuttle and I watched as dozens of more Yidden came off the plane with no other thought than, to stay on the plane would be chillul Shabbos, and getting off the plane was the best chance of keeping Shabbos. Chasidim got off the plane, men with black hats, colored shirts, in t-shirts, in suits, women with sheitels, snoods, no sheitels, in skirts, in pants; everyone coming off the plane was united in one thing – We believe in Hashem, and his Torah, and Shabbos was our gift and our inheritance and we would keep it.
As the first shuttle was full and started towards the airport (there were more shuttles behind us) everyone broke into a song for Shabbos Kodesh.
Once we got to the airport we were met by a women from El Al who was very sweet and took the time to explain to us that we were would be staying across the street (literally) at a hotel and they would take us as soon as the other shuttles arrive.
As they led us into the hotel it was very chaotic. There were four hotel clerks and people started surging towards the front desk. At that point, one Rabbi, whom I later learned was Rabbi Akiva Katz yelled above the crowd and explained to everyone that we would need to create orderly lines in order not to overwhelm the clerks. He also let us know that they had set aside a place for davening and that Chabad had prepared food. This helped reduce the stress in the room and the process became more orderly as people were focused on getting to their rooms and ready for Shabbos in the 40 minutes we had left to Shkia.
Walking into Kabbalas Shabbos (I was late) was beautiful. The room was full of 60 or 70 men and about 10 women and everyone was singing. Rabbi Jesse Horn from Yeshiva Ateres Kohanim led Kabbalas Shabbos. We were all so happy to be able to keep Shabbos, and the davening and level of simcha was very high. I think we must have danced four or five times during Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv.
After Kabbalas Shabbos we walked through the hotel to the dining area and I can tell you with 100% conviction that what I saw was beyond anything I could have imagined.
85% of the dining area was reserved for our Shabbos meal. The tables were set beautifully with bottles of wine, grape juice and challah rolls. Where the hotel usually displayed it’s salad bars, and assortment of cold meats it was now filled with platters of gefilte fish, 6 or 7 large bowls with a variety of salads and dips, it was as if this had planned for weeks in advance. There was plenty of fleish for the main course and an assortment of side dishes to accompany it.
The Seudah was beautiful and everyone sang zemiros and niggunim and there were many Divrei Torah. Several people had stopped at the Duty free store to get bourbon and scotch for the Oilam, and it was very leibdige and the singing went on for quite a while.
I woke up several times during the night as I was still on NY time and every time I went downstairs to the lobby there were people learning together or talking about the Parsha.
Shacharis was another beautiful davening and it was interesting to see how it was a mix of Nusach Sefard, Sefardi, Ashkenaz.
After davening several people went to the kitchen to help Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel (the Chabad Shluchim in Athens) prepare for seuda.
There were also two shiurim being given, one in Hebrew, and one in English by Rabbi Yossi Baumol.
After the Shiurim we went to the dining room where like the previous night there were copious amounts of delicious food, a wonderful meat kugel wrapped in pastry, brisket, a large assortment of salads. Unlike the previous night, where everyone sat next to people who were closest to them hashkafically, the seating during the Shabbos day Seuda was heterogeneous. Chasidim sat and schmoozed with Tzionim, Modox sat with black hats… I only use these labels so you can visualize the seating, but there were no labels at this Seuda, we sat in true achdus.
The rest of Shabbos and the subsequent trip back to the airport and our return flight to Israel was unremarkable in that I don’t need to bore you with the details.
First I would like to thank the following people.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Sorotzkin who had the foresight before the plane took off to have his organization contact El-Al and Chabad and put pressure on to make this Shabbos happen.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Hendel, the Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin based in Athens, Greece. They got the call at 11am Friday morning and by 4pm that same afternoon they had prepared a beautiful Shabbos for 150+ adults which was not lacking in any way.
My 150+ new friends and passengers who gave me an experience and Shabbos I will never forget.
Now a quick note to to El-AL.
Hi El-Al, I don’t know who handles your marketing and social media program but you wasted a huge opportunity. Next time this happens, here is what you do. You make sure you get the same hotel and that Chabad sets up a beautiful Shabbos. You hire a Greek photographer and video guy, you video the amazing Shabbos – and then you promote it as an El-Al sponsored Shabbos Unity. If you need more advice feel free to call or email me, or just send me some tickets as a thank you.
I would like to leave off with a few thoughts having just spent one of the most amazing Shabbos of my life.
1. 150+ Jews from all backgrounds and hashkafic orientations, wearing every outfit possible walked off a plane with one thought – We will keep Shabbos, even if it means sleeping in an airport.
2. Unlike our Great Grandparents, who were fired if the did not work on Shabbos (USA), or where were ostracized, and possibly incarcerated for keeping Shabbos (USSR). How often do we get a chance to be moser nefesh for Shabbos? This was a tremendous gift from Hashem to us that we had the chance to show Hashem how much we love him and his Torah, and we ALL took it.
3. Every parent in that hotel who was not able to be home with their children that Shabbos taught their child a lesson that they could not have taught them in a 100 Shabbosim at home. They showed that Shabbos means so much to Mommy, Tatty, Ima, Abba, etc that they would walk off a plane in the middle of a foreign country with no guaranty of food or a place to sleep.
4. Yom Tov in the Beis Hamikdash was probably like this Shabbos. Jews from all over coming together for Hashem and his mitzvos.I hope to see all of my fellow passengers this Pesach bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash.
May we be zoche to see Mashiach and the return of the Beis Hamikdash.
With much love,
Ben didn’t stop there.
He wanted to pay back Chabad of Athens for their kindness and spearheaded raising money from the passengers from the flight to help build a mikvah in Athens.
Rabbi Hendel shared that Ben was very instrumental is making that mikvah a reality.
As Moshe taught us, it’s ok for us to ask G-d, למה הרעתה לעם הזה, why have you harmed these people? May Ben and Baruch go up to G-d and ask him Ad Masai! How long will we have to wait until the promised redemption, when we will all be reunited?
May we have the emuna and may it be G-d’s will that it will happen as Ben said, with us bringing korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash together on this upcoming Pesach.”
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