May 17, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
May 17, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Passaic’s Binyamin Gonsher, z”l, Inspires Chesed & Mitzvot

This month marked the first yahrtzeit of Binyamin Gonsher, z”l, the 14-year-old son of my close friends and Passaic residents Carol and Ronald Gonsher. Eight months after being diagnosed, Binyamin died of a glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive type of brain tumor.

The impact the illness and death had on the greater Passaic community was and is astounding. A WhatsApp Tehillim group for Binyamin was started when he was first diagnosed, but the 300-member limit was too small and a second group was formed. The two groups spanned continents and completed daily recitations of Tehillim—the whole book was said dozens of times per week.

The community’s other acts of charity to merit Binyamin’s speedy recovery included challah bakes and learning initiatives in his name. Binyamin made sure that these projects were not only for his recovery but also for other cholim in the community. People would announce they were taking on new mitzvot and giving donations to different charities in Binyamin’s name. I spoke to multiple people a day answering questions for support ideas, gifts and chesed for the family. Everybody wanted to help in some way.

The Clifton Cheder, where Binyamin attended school, was heavily involved as well. The school held several school-wide Tehillim gatherings, special learning sedarim, and a massive Mishnayot campaign. Classmates would visit Binyamin, Clifton Cheder rebbeim would sing for him on Shabbat, and his eighth-grade rebbi, Rabbi Motti Koval, would learn with him in Binyamin’s home every evening. The school sent him gifts and get-well cards, and Binyamin made sure that each person who helped was thanked because he didn’t want anyone to feel that they were not appreciated.

When the family needed help with meals, the Gonsher’s refrigerator was filled. When Binyamin could no longer walk, a ramp was magically installed by the community for Binyamin’s wheelchair. Surgery, treatment and rehab were grueling and time-consuming. Throughout it all, Binyamin never complained.

Sadly, on June 20th, 2021 (10 Tammuz, 5781), Binyamin died. The funeral the next day was enormous. Following the burial in Israel, the acts of chesed continued when a close friend opened her home in Ramat Beit Shemesh for one day of shiva, and people provided rides to and from the airport and cemetery. (It was during COVID, and we were only allowed to be in Israel for 24 hours.) Beautiful hespeds were given by rabbis, and people came from all over Israel to be menachem avel.

After the shiva, the Gonshers looked for ways to commemorate Binyamin and to give back to the community that had done so much for them. They launched numerous chesed opportunities through a program they initiated at the Clifton Cheder.


Achim Big Brother Program

Carol and Ronald wanted a program that promoted relationships and growth for boys, and the Achim Big Brother After-School Program, inspired by Binyamin’s giving nature, had just that goal. Under the supervision of Rabbi Simi Hollander, the program paired seventh- and eighth-grade boys with boys in the second, third and fourth grades.

The structured program included learning, games and activities promoting those goals while also being fun, with raffles, prizes and a grand banquet. Achim offered older boys the opportunity to be in responsible leadership roles and gain confidence. The younger boys benefitted from the special one-on-one attention they got from the older boys. The Clifton Cheder ran the seven-week sessions during the past school year, and it was so successful that it will run again this upcoming school year.


Binyamin’s Recess Closet and Library

Binyamin didn’t like sports. When sports were played during recess, he found other activities to do. Binyamin’s Recess Closet was developed for like-minded boys. It’s filled with activities such as Rubik’s Cubes (Binyamin was an expert), Boggle, Mastermind, playing cards, chess and checkers, mini air hockey, Perplexus and other games.

Binyamin was a voracious reader, so a new middle school library was a natural fit. The library and Recess Closet are a beautiful built-in unit in one of the extra classrooms. The eighth-grade boys raised and donated to the library $6,000 in sponsorships for their learning seder over Purim, so the library is now filled with Jewish novels, biographies and nonfiction titles. The Cheder boys can borrow any book.


Binyamin’s Buddy Bench

The Gonshers donated a special bench to the Clifton Cheder pre-school so a child who is feeling left out can sit on it as a signal for others to invite him or her to play. The Buddy Bench is a worldwide initiative to build sensitivity to others in young children and to teach the importance of including others. The Gonshers plan to offer Binyamin’s Buddy Bench to other yeshivot in their community and beyond. Friends of theirs generously donated two benches to the Torah Academy of Boca Raton. To order Binyamin’s Buddy Bench for a school, contact [email protected].

Binyamin may have only been on this earth for 14 short years, but he had such a profound influence on all who knew him or knew of him. He united a community and because of him, so many mitzvot were performed and continue in his memory. He made this world a little better by inspiring those around him. May Binyamin Yisrael ben Shlomo HaLevi’s neshama have an aliyah.

Amy Kotliar is a social worker in private practice and a long time resident of Teaneck.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles