We Have No Words but Must Have a Reaction

Can there be words to describe the sudden and horrific deaths of a chassan and kallah who were, only hours earlier, making plans for their chasunah? Words to describe how such a tragedy could so horribly jar a Chol Hamoed, a time of great simchah? Words to capture the pain of families who had been celebrating Pesach and their children’s engagement finding themselves making arrangements for levayos?

No, words fail here. The shock and pain must remain uncaptured in language. But they must be captured in hearts, those not only of the families and friends of Yisroel Levin, z”l, and Elisheva Kaplan, a”h, but of all members of Klal Yisrael.

Yisroel’s parents, who live in Flatbush, are mispallelim at the Mirrer Yeshiva and Agudas Yisroel Snif Zichron Shmuel. Elisheva’s, who live in Far Rockaway, are noted oskim b’tzorchei tzibbur in their community.

The levayos, which took place at Yeshiva Darchei Torah, were attended by hundreds of mourners. Along with all of Klal Yisrael, we offer our deep, humble condolences to the bereaved mishpachos.

Engaged only a week, the chassan and kallah were on the way back from visiting a grandfather when they were tragically killed in an automobile accident early Wednesday morning when five cars collided in a chain-reaction crash on the Nassau Expressway in Lawrence, just outside of Kennedy International Airport. The couple was trapped in their car, which had caught fire. Two people were arrested, one of whom was charged with drunken driving and being under the influence of drugs. Homicide charges are being considered.

The accused, a 25-year-old woman named Zakiyyah Steward, who had burglarized a business four times and had illegal substances in her pocket when she was arrested, pleaded not guilty. Her father, Ntchwaidumela Bui, claimed that the crash was the victims’ fault.

There is much that many will understandably focus on here. The scourge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the safety of cars, the incredible impudence of the father of a criminal who may well have caused the deaths of two people, trying to defend her by blaming those who were killed. And the fact that a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, it was reported, had opted to reject prosecutors’ recommendation of a bench warrant for the arrest of the woman, who had missed two court appearances.

But what we need most of all to focus on is the tragedy itself, and the fact that it was only the most recent of several fatal deaths due to fire in the observant community in recent months and years. In 2015, we all remember, seven children of the Sassoon family perished together in an early morning house fire, and this past Chanukah, a catastrophic fire took the lives of Aliza Azan and three of her children.

A believing Jew doesn’t just endeavor to share in the pain of the bereaved in times of tragedy. He also engages in soul-searching and endeavors to look inward, to try to see what aspects of his own conduct can use rectification and chizuk.

And when it is not only a single, isolated calamity but a series of them, particularly when they share something in common, the introspection becomes all the more important.

The einei ha’eidah have not shied from stressing areas in which the community would do well to improve. This is not the place to list them. But each of us knows his own shortcomings, and all of us know that the emergence of Klal Yisrael as a nation we just celebrated on Pesach, makes us responsible for one another. And so, whatever else we do in response to the recent tragedy and those that preceded it, prime among our reactions must be introspection.

B’Nissan nigalu, b’Nissan asidin liga’el (Rosh Hashanah 11a). In Nisan our ancestors were redeemed, and in Nisan will we be redeemed, in the ultimate redemption of our people. May we all merit that geulah, bim’heirah.