By Shalom Goodman
As an editor at one of the world’s leading news outlets, I am used to taking bad news in stride, breaking every event down to hard and impersonal facts, figures, and action items for myself and my colleagues. Even the worst tragedy is qualified, explained, and shoehorned neatly into an article or series of articles.
Yet, sometimes things hit home in such a personal way that all professionalism is cast aside, and all that’s left is a pain so sharp it cannot be put into words.
For many of us, the past few days have been filled with torment and hope, pain and perseverance, and ups and downs, as we anticipate and thirst for scraps of hopeful news about our friend, our brother, Michoel Benjamin, Refoel Kalman Michoel ben Rochel Yetta Rivkah.
Michoel, who is 28 years old, a husband, and father to twin infants Ilan and Alexander, was severely burned on over half of his body just after Rosh Hashanah. Despite the terrible trauma his body has suffered, he is clinging to life as doctors and nurses do all in their power to save this special, caring and generous father and husband.
From the moment the word has spread that he has been in need, the world has been storming the heavens through mass Tehillim events, fundraisers, Farbrengens, and pledges of performing good deeds in his honor.
What is it about Michoel that has made everyone stop and take notice?
Rabbi Boruch Hertz, the Rav of Cong. Bnei Ruven and the Rav of the Lubavitch community in Chicago, recently told me how Michoel, who dabbled in catering, would go above and beyond for every community event.
“We have a Shabbaton each year. Michoel makes sure that the weekend is elegant and enjoyable. He literally cares about every detail–from the custom tablecloths to the gorgeous platters. This was all done without fanfare. Without wanting the acknowledgment of single-handedly making these events a reality.”
Michoel’s kindness is constant, just like his winning smile.
“We had a shiur each week for the young men in our community on Thursday evenings,” continues Rabbi Hertz. “Michoel, besides for helping arrange and push this shiur into existence and showing up with his friends each week, would make a cholent each week that would encourage everyone to come and enjoy.”
Rabbi Hertz, who has known Michoel since infanthood and just presided over the ceremony in which the name Refoel was added to his Hebrew name, concludes: “There is so much more that Michoel has to accomplish on this earth. May the merit of all the amazing deeds he’s performed help plead on his behalf and bring the miracle we are all waiting for.”
My brother and sister-in-law, Rabbi Ari and Mindy Goodman, are shluchim in Downtown Chicago, where they have hosted events for the past four years. In Mindy’s words: “I’m embarrassed to admit just how many times Michoel has given to us since we moved to Chicago. At every upshernish, bris, holiday party, he shares with our community his love, his time, support, money, advice, and his resources. Just days ago he was assisting me with yet another task. Always with a laugh, and with joy and pleasure.
“I know Michoel would cringe reading this – he never wanted to be paid for his efforts. Everything was ‘my pleasure!’ and he struggled to accept any sort of gift or favors for his generosity.”
This is the generous soul that is battling to stay in this world.
I am partial to this story. I am one of Michoel’s closest friends and have been his friend since age two. We’ve been in the same class from preschool and on.
Michoel is the one who pushed me in a way that no one else has in my entire life. It was in one of the most vulnerable times in my life, when my path in life was very unclear. He didn’t boast how he had a solid-paying job while I was living at home without any plan whatsoever for my future. He sat with me at a local coffee shop, and in his unique way, went through all the options for an occupation for someone with my specific talents and workshopped which avenues I should pursue.
I was recently looking back at texts between the two of us from years past. There was a date that he knew would be particularly difficult for me on a personal level. That day, without missing a beat, Michoel sent me a text, “Hey man. I’m thinking of you. Stay strong.”
That can’t be taught. That is an innate gift, one of caring and sensitivity for a friend.
And this generosity extended to everyone he came in contact with. His mother, Rachelle, recently shared that Michoel has been bringing her fresh flowers every erev Shabbos for the past few years.
How many young men do that? Just one that I know: Michoel Benjamin.
So please, on behalf of Michoel’s family and close friends, please continue to pray and do a good deed for Refoel Kalman Michoel ben Rochel Yetta Rivka, who so needs our prayers as he continues to battle for his life.