July 9, 2024
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July 9, 2024
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Tragedy in Teaneck

Although normally the days and nights of Chanukah are a more upbeat and happier time, these past few days have been very difficult and strained for many in our community. It all started last Thursday night when we received word that two people had been hit and severely injured on West Englewood Avenue near Congregation Bnai Yeshurun (CBY) in Teaneck. Upon hearing the news, I braced myself, waiting to hear who was hurt, wondering if I knew them and their families. The double shock came a few hours later at an emergency Tehillim gathering at our shul, Congregation Beth Aaron, when I heard that the two men injured critically as they ran to catch Maariv were two special and unique individuals, Micah Kaufman and Shelly Mermelstein; both of whom I know quite well from shul.

In the first 24 hours after the accident and going into Shabbos, we heard that Shelly had been conscious and talking to the paramedics as he went to the hospital, and our initial understanding was that it was Micah who had been hurt more severely. Unfortunately, our optimism turned to despair after Shabbos when we learned that Shelly had passed away in the afternoon, while Micah was still struggling and in a coma.

On Sunday, well over 1,000 people came from all over to Beth Aaron and filled literally almost every room in the building to attend and participate in the levaya for Shelly. Our rav, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, began tearfully by stating that “we are beyond devastated…we are speechless…we are numb and unable to process the loss that we faced.”

He noted that anyone who knew Shelly would know about his tremendous emunah and bitachon and urged all present to draw strength from that. He also pointed out that Shelly was someone who was always about constant growth in all areas, and seemed to only take on more as he aged, always striving to grow and doing the right thing. “What I witnessed first hand over the past almost 20 years was an individual who was committed to not slowing down, to constant growth and no downsizing, and this extended way beyond his work schedule.” He was committed to a wide range of Torah learning and not typical subjects: Nach, Gemara, Halacha, chasidus and machshava.”

Shelly was both on the way from a mitzvah and heading to a mitzvah when hit, and Rabbi Rothwachs exclaimed that the “malach hamaves would have been unable to catch Shelly at any other time.”

Rabbi Rothwachs said that Shelly was someone who deeply loved his “beautiful and illustrious family of bnei Torah, baalei chesed, baalei avodah, representing different communities, who are much like their parents, Shelly and Fran. They have really impacted their communities. What an incredible and beautiful testament to this extraordinary individual, who together with his wife over a half century, have built a dynasty of Torah…his family represented his crown, an atara, that Shelly wore with such pride.”

Our rabbi continued by describing Shelly’s deep commitment to the shul and to tefillah, noting that Shelly’s Shemoneh Esrei had gotten longer and longer every year, and that he was the last to finish the Musaf Yom Kippur Amida by far in the main minyan. He also expressed gratitude at how much he personally enjoyed learning the halachos together with Shelly after recommending that Shelly join and lead our shul’s chevra kadisha.

After the rabbi spoke and Tehillim was recited by a number of Shelly’s grandsons, Shelly’s oldest son, Chaim Mayer Mermelstein, and daughter, Faygie Meisels, and grandson Yehoshua Mermelstein, and Shelly’s brother-in-law, Lenny Grayer, all spoke lovingly and beautifully. (Faygie’s moving and personal hesped is reprinted on page 17.)

For myself and I believe many others, perhaps the most powerful moment came right at the end when Rabbi Rothwachs stated, “I have given more hespedim than I can remember…and there is no typical script, but I have never asked anyone to be a meilitz yosher at a levaya…it’s just not what I say at levayos…but I need to make an exception today.

Because despite the age gap, Shelly was very close to Micah. It’s no surprise to any of us that he was together with Micah on Thursday night. Shelly was a fierce defender of Micah and insisted that Micah be protected and be appreciated for his tzidkus because so many people don’t know how much of a tzadik Micah is.

So Shelly, we ask you one more favor, before you leave us, before you take your seat in Gan Eden, with that same fierceness and same defense, you HAVE to demand Micah’s return and do NOT accept anything less than a yes…if there is anyone who can ask for a neis, it is you!

Shelly, be a meilitz yosher and bring Micah back to us!”

We all started crying upon hearing these words.

To view the full levaya and hespedim online, you can watch it at https://bit.ly/2MrCHhP.

Although I knew Shelly Mermelstein, z”l, as a valued and respected senior member of our shul and I had long looked up to him as a leader in our community, I did not have that close a relationship with him. That is not the case with my good friend Micah Kaufman, who as I write this is struggling to breathe and in a coma at Hackensack University Medical Center. I am proud to count myself among the people who know well that despite what could sometimes be a gruff exterior, Micah Kaufman is a very sensitive and caring individual who literally lives for going well above and beyond the norm when it comes to supporting the many organizations, causes, and people he cares about: SINAI, Beth Aaron, TBO, Renewal and Tomchei Shabbos, to name only a few.

Literally every week in shul without fail, Micah comes over to say a special and extra-warm hello to my son Zev and ask him about his Yachad shabbatonim and HASC. He always likes to ask me questions about the various issues of the day within the community and in The Jewish Link and get my opinion on different things. He single handedly pushed me to consider doing more book reviews in our paper because he felt it was an area that we were lacking, and with his approbation we now do publish many more book reviews.

If Micah sees a need or issue that he could contribute to or make a difference, he does not waste time and quickly volunteers or donates his time or money or both, and in surprising quantities of each. All of his friends are still in awe today at his matter-of-fact explanation for why he deliberately sought to donate his kidney to the oldest person on the waiting list, an 85-year-old woman he never met. He donated to her because, as he told me on more than a few occasions, “I knew that it was likely no one else would…and I have a chance to give this woman a few more years with her family and grandchildren.” This made him incredibly happy. I was really looking forward to being there and seeing him receive an award and additional public recognition for his kidney donation at Renewal’s event this past Motzei Shabbat—he truly deserved it—but alas, it was not meant to be due to the accident.

Micah, we are davening and thinking about you and are hoping you get on the road to recovery and healing soon. I am looking forward to you grilling me about the events of the day and behind the scenes at The Jewish Link, and my son Zev is wondering when he will see you again.

I invite all of our readers to have Micah Kaufman in mind and in their tefillot. (Micah’s Hebrew name is Micha Chaim Ben Sarah.)

Note: Micah’s family has set up a site for people to stay up to date on his progress and post comments that his family have been reading to him. The site link is: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/micahkaufman.��Alternatively, you can email messages to [email protected].

I started writing this article on Monday night, only a few hours after the first-ever public municipal Chanukah lighting in Teaneck which attracted hundreds to the Town Green in front of City Hall (see picture on page 22) and was organized and sponsored by Rabbi Ephraim Simon of our Teaneck Chabad (Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County). Right after the historic Chanukah lighting ended, I attended a unique meeting in the Teaneck council chambers which was organized and chaired by Teaneck’s two deputy mayors Mark (Mendy) Schwartz (my co-publisher) and Elie Y. Katz.

In the wake of Thursday night’s tragic accident and within only 24 hours, our two deputy mayors along with Councilman Keith Kaplan, convened a meeting with the Teaneck town manager, fire chief, police chief and other town officials, together with representatives from practically every shul in Teaneck, to discuss and review specific pedestrian safety issues and lighting issues around every shul in town. After opening words from both deputy mayors thanking the town officials for being present and noting that it unfortunately took last Thursday’s tragedy to bring this issue to the forefront, both Schwartz and Katz expressed their hope and desire that the forum’s results would help prevent future tragedies. Teaneck’s town manager Dean Kazinci began his remarks by noting that in addition to ongoing road improvements and annual repaving efforts, Teaneck was committed to upgrading between five and 10 crosswalks in the coming year and that he was looking to the group assembled for input, suggestions and ideas.

The floor was opened to the individual shuls and appropriately, the first shul to speak was CBY and was represented by its president Ethan Keiser and Adam Hirsch of the CBY Security Committee. After thanking everyone present, both Keiser and Hirsch noted that CBY is busy and in use from 5:30AM until nearly 12AM every day and is likely Teaneck’s busiest, most heavily trafficked shul. They began by offering ideas such as: increasing the lighting around the shul and in the crosswalk itself, moving the bus stop on W. Englewood, and possibly restricting parking on Jefferson and Grenville (the closest side streets that often have parked cars on both sides). The town manager took copious notes and pledged to review every reasonable possibility and come back with answers as soon as possible.

After CBY finished, each of the other shuls present had the chance to speak and propose or request various improvements to crosswalks, sidewalks, and lighting in their immediate areas. One issue that was raised and was deemed easy to address was a request to ensure that regular and weekly leaf removal be scheduled – specifically around shuls – to keep the streets as clear as possible in these heavily trafficked areas during the fall months. Overall, the meeting was a focused and serious meeting and all who attended are looking forward to seeing responses and follow up from our town leaders shortly.

After the meeting, deputy mayor Schwartz noted: “Our� town is fully committed to having individual house of worship reports done by our police to include speed limit reductions, curb cuts, decreased parking and many other tools at our disposal. These will be well thought-out with the input of all our departments as well as house of worship leadership.”

For more information or if you have any comments or additional thoughts or feedback, email deputy mayors Mark (Mendy) Schwartz at: [email protected] or Elie Y. Katz at [email protected].

By Moshe Kinderlehrer, JLNJ Co-publisher

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