Rabbi Yehuda (Leonard) Blank MS, BCC
Director of Programming, Chaplaincy Commission and External Affairs
Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim
Thursday May 26th, 2022, Iyar 25,5782
Though Lag B’ Omer has passed, many who hold the minhag of mourning for the talmidim of Rabbi Akiva until before Shavuous. I am dedicating the following article to a wonderful colleague of mine, Rabbi Ira Kronenberg whose grandson died in the Lag B Omer Meron tragedy. This week a Sefer Torah was dedicated in memory of Donny. Rabbi Kronenberg is a retired Military Chaplain in the USA Army with the rank of Colonel, a Healthcare Chaplain and Social Worker LCSW. Rabbi Kronenberg and I are recipients of awards from the Rabbinical Council of America where we are both members. He was awarded the Military Chaplain of the Year and I Healthcare Chaplain of the Year The following article by Rabbi Yechiel Morris “Donny Morris z” l (page 48 vol 5 No I HaMizrachi.) “Remembering the Meron Tragedy.”
“I have a favorite picture of my nephew, Donny Morris z’l though it is not the famous picture that many have seem. The more well-known picture is of him hovering above the dancing masses in Meron. It depicts his sweet, shining, and angelic countenance, and has captured the attention of thousands. That picture reflects the elevated and sanctified level of deveikut with H that Donny that achieved with H that Donny achieved in his remarkable life.
I certainly cherish that picture, but the one that I love the most was captured a year earlier. It was taken in front of MetLife Stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey. In the picture, Donny is standing in between my brother, Aryeh, and my nephew, Akiva. All three were wearing winter knitted sports hats. Aryeh and Akiva’s hats have the New York Mets emblem on them, while Donny’s remained hat has the MTA Lions emblem, his high school alma mater, embroidered on it. With broad smiles, the picture was taken moments before they entered the stadium. But they were not there to cheer on the New York Giants or Jets; they were there, together with over 90,000 Jews, to attend the 13th Siyum HaShas.
The reason why I love that picture is because it explains the exalted picture from Merom. Since Donny’s tragic passing last year on Lag Ba Omer, family, teachers, and friends have recalled Donny’s love of Torah learning, his acts of kindness, his affinity toward the Land and State of Israel and his all around kind and pleasant nature. What is remarkable is that all of these descriptions are absolutely accurate and true. Bur what is also true is that Donny wasn’t born that way. Each one of those qualities were imparted and modeled for him, most directly by his loving parents, Aryeh and Mirlana, but also by a larger caring support system. His grandparents, Rabbi Joel and Malka Morris and Rabbi Ira and Fagie Kronenberg, helped raise and inspire Donny. Loving members of his extended family along with a wonderful community, with rabbis, rabbeim, teachers, family friends and a large network of personal friends and peers, all reinforced and modeled the values that Donny would ultimately internalize and embrace. They all passionately and thoughtfully passed along a mesorah of Yiddishkeit to Donny. To his eternal credit, Donny learned from all of them and then made those teachings his inner essence.
When speaking to students and children about Donny, I always remind them that my holy and exalted nephew was a regular kid, just like them. He too loved sports, played video games, got into an occasional fight with his siblings, and had qualities that would sometimes frustrate his parents and teachers. But at the very same time, he strived to better himself and grow in his avodat H. He took davening seriously, he diligently worked to strengthen his Torah learning and comprehension, and he made a concerted effort to be kind and caring. Yes, he loved sports- but he also loved Torah. He certainly concentrated when playing video games but davened with intense kavanah. He may have worn a sports hat to the Siyum HaShas, but he also dressed like a mensch in the beit midrash and at shul.
To me, the picture of Donny in front of MetLife stadium is a lesson to all of us. It depicts a normal child. But even more so, it depicts a someone we can all strive to become. Like Donny, we can all learn from, and then emulate, our parents, grandparents, rabbis, and teachers. We can be normal, but also achieve greatness. We can root for the Giants, but also work to be yirat shamayim. We can tap into the inspiration of day yomi inside a stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey and then utilize that moment to soar and grow in Torah and Eretz Yisrael. That is Donny’s legacy. That is Donny’s crowning achievement. And that is Donny’s eternal message to us. (Rabbi Yechiel Morris is the Rabbi of Young Israel of Southfield in Southfield, Michigan).”
Yiddishkeit is not a cookie cutter of how we look and act. Whether one wears a white shirt or colored shirt, a black suit or a blue suit or jacket, a black hat, cap, knit hat or just a yarlmuka. What kind of a yarlmuka? – velvet, knit, cloth. What is the ikur and what is the taffel. Everyone should be proud who and what they are. What is important is to be a Yiras Shamayim. To have Ahavas H, Ahavas Torah. To do gemilus chasadim. To be mekadeish H and not Chilul H. To have emunah and trust in the Ribono shel Olam. Each of us has a position in this world in our avodas H. How? There are millions of ways. To start off with is to recognize we are all in the image of H with abilities and capabilities H gives each person. To be respectful of others no matter what their background might be or who they are. A Yid should always try to be kind and caring to others. There is a famous quote from the Alter of Slabodka “All people are precious because they are all made in the image of G. When one showers others with Kindness and Respect, one honors G Himself.” If Hakodosh Boruch Hu is full of compassion, how much more so should we with compassion caring for others.
From Nishmas Song of the Soul by Yisroel Besser Artscroll Mesorah Publications, Ltd
(Page 46) “Uveriyosawv Berachamim- And His creatures with mercy. The Chovos Halevavos teaches us that pure rachamim, perfect compassion, can be found only by the Creator. When a wealthy person sees a pauper and has mercy, giving a generous donation, that is human compassion, but it’s essentially selfishness. The wealthy person is uncomfortable with the sight of the pauper; it troubles him, and therefore he wants to help so that he, himself, doesn’t feel distressed. And that emotion itself, explains the Sfas Emes, is a result of how H made man, with the capacity to feel for another, to be disturbed when another is in pain- so H is called the Baal HaRachamim, the Master of Compassion, because the middah emanates from Him and Him alone.”
For the lay person, those who are not familiar with the interpretations of the Torah, with the Sages, of the true meaning of chesed, having a good heart, empathy, compassion, and feelings for others can still fulfill many virtuous deeds with sincerity. But to do so with the knowledge of what and how H wants from us only enhances the strength and the meaning of how to emulate the Ribono shel Olam. The same with having faith, hope, emunah and trust in H. Our Torah is the blueprint of how our lives should be. The gadlus of the rabbi, the rebbetzin and the chaplain is being able to convey that love, H has for us, not just with emotions, but with understanding and with wisdom.
“For H loves one who loves the Jewish people, and the more a person loves his fellow Jew, the greater the love H showers upon him.” (Mesilas Yesharim 19)
“From there you will seek H your G, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” Devorim 4:29
“Trust in H and do good; dwell in the land and nourish yourself with faithfulness.” Tehillim 37:3
I want to acknowledge Chaplain Rabbi Fred Klein on receiving the Keter Shem Tov
award from Neshama National Association of Jewish Chaplains.
There are so many things occurring in our world today, so many uncertainties we wonder what messages H is giving us. There is no doubt how much we must trust in Him and be mispallel for Shalom al Yisrael, for His protection, for His guidance and for His blessings. Sincerely, Rabbi Yehuda Blank