Editor’s note: We are grateful to the Morris family for sharing the powerful words they spoke at Donny’s levaya at Yeshivat Sha’alvim, which took place on Sunday,
May 2. The hespedim by Donny’s mother, Mirlana, and aunt, Shira Kronenberg, appear on pages 72 and 74. Aryeh, Donny’s father, begins his hesped below by addressing his two other children.
My dear Gabriella, my dear Akiva, I love you both so much and, honestly, while I’m about to talk about Donny now, I can probably go on and on about you even longer. But for now, we need to pause.
On the plane I prepared a speech and I don’t even know anymore. I also did a little math, as many of you know I’m a numbers person. I don’t even know what this means: 6,975. 6,975, the amount of days that you got to be here. I’m sure there’s something in gematria. Rav Moshe Tzvi, I’m sure we’ll speak this week and I’m sure you will give me some insight.
You made the most of your life. You were always looking to do more, to be more, to grow more. You were born three weeks early. It’s unheard of. Everyone’s first baby is always late. No, not you, you were early, you came right before Pesach. Your first mitzvah was having a Seder with us. It was a quick Seder but you were there. I even put a little wine in your mouth. As you continued to grow, most babies like to be swaddled, not you; standing up, facing out, seeing the world. Walking very early, eight months old, you were buzzing around the table. We couldn’t keep up with you.
You knew exactly how to get everywhere. I remember my father-in-law was babysitting you one time, and you wanted a cookie. He said, “I don’t have any cookies.” You took him by the hand and you walked him all the way to the bakery. You were probably two, but you knew how to get there, you had an excellent sense of direction. You continued to grow, always doing things first. Anything you put your mind to, you did. You’re a child of two minds. I remember, if you were coloring—if the green marker or crayon was by your left hand, you would pick it up with your left hand and then if you wanted red and it was by your right hand, you would pick it up and use your right hand. It took us a little while to help you focus on one but eventually you got there.
Then you started getting a little more sophisticated; I know we talked before about your love for shul. Our Shabbos morning walks were so precious to me. We didn’t say much often. More often than not we’d get up in the morning, quickly check the morning paper, see what happened in sports, break it down a little on the way—you’re excellent at that. But it was the most purist simplest time, walking through the streets at 7 o’clock in the morning, no one’s out, it was quiet, we’d hold hands and talk. I loved taking walks with you.
As you continued to grow in your learning, you were always excited to learn, you would show me things, it didn’t matter what the subject was, you were excited. If something was wrong, you would tell me why you got it wrong, you would tell me why the teacher made a mistake. It didn’t matter, you were always right. It was hard to win an argument with you. I always felt a balanced life was really important for you, not to push you too hard one way or another, to make sure you always had a good time. You always loved baseball, you loved it so much, you loved golf. I remember when you were a baby and one time you were watching a video and it stopped and it was so quiet, we didn’t know what was going on. Ten minutes later, I went in and checked on you to see what was going on; the video stopped at the regular program and you were watching golf. I don’t know why. A few years ago we got you golf clubs and you kind of stuck to it.
That’s just the little things. I’m humbled by what I’ve learned that you became this year. I had no idea what you had accomplished. They don’t have parent teacher conferences at this age. I was always curious, we talked about how I would come this year a few times. How I would get a chance to learn with you, spend time with you in yeshiva. The idea was I could come here for a week, two or three times this year. I would get an apartment nearby and spend time with you learning in the morning and then go back and work in the afternoon. It wasn’t meant to be. You developed this desire to learn over time. I need to take a moment to thank those who got you there: R’ Goldman, R’ Russ, R’ Rothwacks, our dear beloved Rabbi K, who I know is waiting to welcome you with open arms, R’ Kessel, R’ Axelrod, R’ Richter, R’ Cohen, R’ Koenigsburg, our beloved Rav Neuburger, R’ Yammer, R’ Waxman, they’ve all guided you so far. They were such positive influences in your life.
I had no idea you had such a schedule, I had no idea how hard you were learning this year. I really didn’t know. Most times when we would talk you would talk about the food, for better or for worse. You would break down Mets games with me, for better or for worse. You were really nervous about the draft, I don’t know why. I don’t even know how you kept up with it, you were so busy; I don’t know how you were focusing on some of these things that we always talked about. Maybe you just checked up on it because this is what we always talked about. When I think back to last year, the world was shut down, you and I did something a lot of fun. Every night at 6 o’clock before Pesach, we would get on a Zoom with Dovi Neuburger and Elchanan Dulitz and a few others, we would get on a Zoom together and we would learn Torah, we would learn Tamid. And we each made a siyum on it before Pesach. You needed to and I wanted to support you. And we actually did it two different times. People came to the front lawn each time.
We were able to help people. That was one of the most beautiful things we ever did. Donny, next Sunday, I’m going to start up Tamid again. I’m going to sponsor neilas hachag, and I’m going to make a siyum then. It’s the last serious thing we learned together, and I want to learn it again for you. I want to chazer for you. You brought me so much joy, so much pride. This past Shabbos I went to shul for vasikin; I couldn’t face the world, I sat upstairs by myself. I davened maybe, I don’t know. I cried the way there, I cried the way back, I cried during davening. I don’t even know what happened. I’m so sad I don’t get to walk with you anymore. We spent a week here last year when visiting yeshivas, trying to figure out the right place for you. Visiting the yeshivas was most important, but we had such a good time, we explored, we walked the streets, we had inside jokes. I can’t even repeat them cuz only you and I would get them. But in my heart, I will be making them with you forever. You have a job now, you get to join thousands of holy Jews on Har Hazeisim and get to watch over Har Habayis. To watch and to wait for the shleichim and the geulah. I’m going to come and try to visit you as much as I can, as often as I can, and I’m going to go there and walk with you and we will talk. And we will talk. And I’m going to still talk with you on my walk to shul on Shabbos, and Akiva and I will talk with you. Soon you’re going to enter Shaarei Shamayim and you’re going to see some people that we talked about for years that you never met. They’re going to love you. You have your rebbi, Rabbi K., there, he is waiting to greet you, he loves you. It’s so hard to say goodbye. It’s the hardest. So I’m going to talk about one final walk in the Old City, those walks that we loved; we walked to vasikin and the Kotel, those were great walks.
Thank you, Donny, thank you for being part of my life.
Thank you for those 6,975 days.
I know that being a father isn’t always easy; sometimes we have to make decisions you don’t like.
I hope you forgive me for anything I have done to you. But know any argument we had was out of love, it was that I wanted the best for you. I truly believe that you were the best you could be.
As I look out here at this massive crowd, 34,000 people online, I don’t know how many people at our shul, this is a levaya that’s fitting for you. I truly believed you accomplished in these 6,975 days what you were supposed to accomplish in a lifetime, you just did it quickly, too quickly.
Levayas are not held in yeshivas for bachurim, they’re not in shuls; levayas in shuls are reserved for rabbanim, levayas in yeshivas are reserved for rosh yeshivas. You’ve attained that status. I don’t know how you did it, in 19 years, but you did it and I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of everything you’ve done. Nachman Daniel, it’s a beautiful name. I hope that some of you, as you develop your own families, if you’re looking for a name, it’s a good one, don’t retire it. Keep it going. We’re not putting it up on the rafters. Keep it going.
I can see why Donny loved being here. I recognize this field, this is where your sukkahs were. Sukkos, it didn’t exist in Sha’alvim, it probably never had, and suddenly had to be invented this year. I can see why you wanted to be here. You were never coming home, Donny. This is where you belong. I know you were going to go to shana bet and then YU; I knew that was never happening. You were a lifer. You were never going to leave this place. I’m staring at the building you spent countless hours this past year and I can’t think of a better place for you to have spent them. Oh, Donny, alright, let’s go take that final walk. I love you.
By Aryeh Morris