We are Jews. We are. And never are we more reminded of that than when one of our own is killed.
It was about four years ago. It could have been more. I received a quick-paced phone call one morning before school from Rabbi Mordechai Rindenow. It seemed his son Shlomo Zalman missed his ride up to school in Monsey and since I was going anyway could I please take him. Mornings are bad for me. Call it my inner-culture, call it too much carpooling to far-flung schools, but driving other people’s children around, even if I’m going, is not a mitzvah I’m into.
“So you’re going. So you’ll take him. Right?” Rabbi Rindenow asked. He must have sensed my hesitation. I cower today remembering this.
“Sure,” I said. “Of course, ” I said, as if I was a mitzvah person like the good rabbi. I picked up Shlomo Zalman. What we talked about, I have no idea, but that we did talk the whole way, I do remember.
That kid. THAT KID!!!
I remember thinking I should call his father, perhaps I even did, to tell him what an amazing kid he had. I remember thinking, “Did I just make a true friend of a 16 year old?”
I remember thinking, “Those Rindenows are really something to raise such a son. A real mensch, polite, talkative and truly interested in others, the kid put me at ease in my own car.” I recall thinking, ‘This is no ordinary person.”
How could he be ordinary? Just look at his father, Rabbi Rindenow.
While watching the funeral on You-Tube, I couldn’t help but be struck by Rabbi Rindenow’s presence of mind. He held people’s arms as they spoke of his son, he ushered speakers in and out. He held papers in his hands from which he read. At times he cried, and he smiled, too, at humorous refl ections. When his friend Rabbi Merkin spoke he stood off to the side, out of sight, but I could hear him crying. And then he was back in view, reflective, swaying his head from side to side. His behavior could only be accomplished with a great presence of mind.
At the funeral, Shlomo Zalman’s sister Yocheved described him as a ‘majestic being.’ While driving him that morning, several years ago, I must say, that’s what I noticed.
Shlomo Zalman was buried on the 12th of Tammuz.
From HaYom Yom: “ This date marks the birthday of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1880. On this same date in 1927 he was informed of his impending release from the exile that followed his imprisonment, which came in the wake of his efforts to buttress the study and observance of the Torah.”
—HaYom Yom, from the written writings of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
Also from Hayom Yom: “In the famous letter that the Rebbe Rayatz addressed to his Chassidim in anticipation of the fi rst anniversary of his release, he emphasized the collective nature of the celebration. “It was not myself alone that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud Beit Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and observe its commandments, and so too ‘all those who merely bear the name Jew’—for the heart of every man of Israel (irrespective of his particular
level in the observance of the mitzvot) is perfectly bound with God and His Torah.” It goes on further to say, “The ripple of Yud Beit Tammuz spreads out to influence the entire Jewish people. Furthermore, just as the significance of the event is boundless in scope, so it is boundless in time…”
I make mention of this last if it could be any comfort. The boy in my car was an auspicious person, boundless in scope. And that he should be buried at such an auspicious time for the Jewish people, a time associated with geula, has to somehow be significant.
After the news of his passing I can’t help but feel truly and deeply the unity among all Jews. Guf echad b’lev echad. We are one body. With each death this gets knocked home more fully. Less than a month ago we received the news that Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a 13-year-old dancer from Kiryat Arba, was killed in her home by a terrorist. We share one body, and whether we knew Sergeant Shlomo Zalman or Hallel doesn’t really matter. We are Jews and we don’t need to know one another anymore to share in each other’s lives. What’s becoming clearer and clearer is that when a Jew is taken, the body that is Israel feels it.
On a day like today we bow to what we don’t know. What we can’t explain. Tears come, heads fall down on chests and our breath is hard to find, because we are, truly, one body.