By Yosef Katzman for COLlive.com
I’m hurt, I’m shocked; I’m devastated, I have a new hole in my heart. As I’m struggling with my anger and sadness of Nosson‘s tragic passing, I reflect on life’s journey alongside the Deitsches.
It starts with my very youth, in 1963. We moved onto Crown Street, right across the street of the Deitsches. With Reb Sholom and his wife Mirel, and their wonderful six children.
I remember being somewhat envious of the Deitsches. Reb Sholom was a man in his forties, and he had both his parents. Something that we, the first post holocaust generation, were mostly not privileged to have. My father A”h lost both his parents to famine in Samarkand in the early forties, and by the time he was Bar-Mitzvah, he was fully orphaned. I had no paternal grandparents.
My mother, may she live and be well, thank G-d had both her parents. However, in my early years they lived far away, in France.
So knowing a family that had their full family intact, with very elderly grandparents nearby, was the envy of a little boy.
The first thing that I learned about the Deitsches, was when I heard from my parents of the days of yesteryear in Tashkent, and the stations that followed. I heard of a family that was there for everyone. In Tashkent, Reb Mendel had the big soup kitchen (long before anyone figured out that this was a good fundraiser), where everybody and anybody can find a meal whenever they needed one.
In those days when typhus reigned supreme and all other diseases nested comfortably on the bodies of the hungry and destitute, Reb Mendel and his family would take them in, bath them, and redress then in some form, so they can have their life and dignity restored.
When the Deitsches got lucky, amongst many hundreds of Anash, to flee Russia after the war, they like everyone else, landed in the D.P. camps in Germany. My mother related, how the Deitsches’ children were shocked to see in Frum Jewish homes, small pots to cook in. “These pots are not Kosher” they exclaimed, “a Kosher Jewish Home must have large pots only”.
They knew that Jews are allowed to use only Kosher pots. And Kosher pots meant large pots! This was all that they saw in their own home for so many years, because Bubbe Hinda was forever cooking meals for hundreds of people. So how can a Jew have small pots at home? “This is just not Kosher” they felt.
In any case, I grew up on Crown Street, Davening with Reb Sholom in Rayim Ahuvim, where Reb Sholom was always the Chossid who brought life and warmth into a Shul full of survivors from Poland and Hungary.
When the Rebbe made the Gezeira on drinking Mashke, Reb Sholom complained that he has a traditional Kiddush in his Sukkah, every Shemini Atzeres before Hakofos. He was worried that if the Oilom won’t be able to say L’chaim properly, the spirit of this Kiddush may be somewhat subdued, and perhaps many won’t show up.
The Rebbe related to this problem by saying, that in your Sukkah, there is no Gezeira. Obviously all Anash were thrilled to be able to come to Reb Sholom for a good pre-Hakofos L’chaim, and the entire community of residents and guests, would all stream to Reb Sholoms’ Sukkah for this annual Farbrengen.
Being that the Sukkah served well for the L’chaims, it turned out too small for the Ferbaisen (food after L’chaim). So we were privileged to share our Sukkah, as a station for the Ferbaisen. First everyone would go to Reb Sholom for Kiddush and L’chaim, then, they would cross the street for some Ferbaisen. Oh, what an honor for a young boy to attend to so many Chassidim, who came to us in honor of Reb Sholom.
We also ended up having the two best baby sitters, Alta (Schwartz) and Rochel Lea (Schusterman) Z”L. We couldn’t wait for the opportunity of our parents going out for the evening, so we can hear a story read to us by these two greatest baby-sitter-storytellers.
And so we bonded. When my father A”H would stay in 770 on these long Shabbos afternoons, when there was no Farbrengen (and in those days they were 3 out of 4 weeks in the month), and he would Daven for many hours, Zalmen would be there to walk me home, through the frightening Crown Street between Albany & Troy, and like a big brother he would encourage me “Yosele, hob nit kein meire (Yosele don’t be afraid)” he would say, you’ll be safe, come with me.
The images keep flashing by. In 1967, Reb Mendel passed away at a ripe age of about 90. Reb Sholom took the Omud in Reyim Ahuvim. He would light up the entire Shul with his warm Chasidishe Davening. He Davened slowly and loudly, that even those who were rushing off to work, couldn’t help, but wait till he finished.
Even though he Davened a different Nusach to most of the Mispallelim, nevertheless nobody complained. And towards the end of Davening, one of his favorite announcements was: “A Vailinke, A Vailinke, zogt a bisele Tillim un chapt arain noch a Kaddish noch Mishnayos (wait a while, say a little Tehilim and catch another Kaddish after Mishnayos)”. Who could refuse such a heart-melting request?
Our neighbor, who had a television, allowed us in once in a while, to watch popeye or sometimes the three stooges, as a treat. Once when I was 10 years old, Reb Sholom came to visit, to learn Chitas with this neighbor. Yosele, he proclaimed, “vos kookstoo television, kum lernen a bissele Chitas (why are watching tv, come learn some Chitas)”. And so I became part of his trio-Chavruso, to learn Tanya and Chumash on a daily basis, for two years.
Suddenly, a little while after Zalmen got engaged, Reb Sholom suffered a heart attack, and to our sorrow, he left behind a young family orphaned. My little heart broke. I was devastated, my Chavruso died. I didn’t know how to handle death. This was the first time I knew someone who died, and so suddenly.
My heart went out for Avromeishe and Tzivia, may they live long sweet and healthy lives, they were young; why do they deserve to live without a father, I cried. It was too much for me to handle.
I remember my sisters thrill at the opportunity to put on a new dress, so that Tzivia could wear it for Shavuos. We were so eager to help ease their pain somewhat.
On Shabbos Shiva I remember walking into the Deitsches home, there I saw Zalmen sitting by the table with a Sefer Hamaamorim, deeply engrossed in a Maamar, totally oblivious to the surroundings and the tumult that took place all around him. To me this was the best thing that could happen. I remember thinking in my young mind, that if this is what a Chossid does in his time of grief, right after he lost his father just as he became a Choson, and he finds solace in Chasiduss, then this must be something very special. It really calmed me down somewhat.
During that summer in 1969, I went to camp. And guess what, Yeisef Deitsch was my counselor. It was obvious to me that Yeisef was very saddened by the recent passing of his father. But while he Davened for the Amud, he was also a great counselor who always tried to keep us, his campers, happy. My favorite and only bunk song that I still remember, is the one Yeisef wrote for us, a song about being B’Simcha. This to me was amazing, how a new Yossom can bring out in him, and in us, happiness and joy.
Alta and Rochel Lea got married, flew away on Shlichus to California, and life goes on.
Suddenly Alta passed away while dancing at a wedding of a Baalas Teshuva. It was devastating, Alta left behind seven little orphans.
At a consequent Farbrengen the Rebbe made a Siyum on Maseches Kanim, where the Mishna describes a sheep with a sentence that “when he is alive he has one voice, but when he dies, he has seven voices.” The Rebbe went on to explain that when a parent dies, they continue to live in the seven voices that they left behind. We all knew exactly what the Rebbe was talking about.
When Rochel Lea passed away, we all noticed how Zalmen and his brothers took on to care for all his orphaned nephews, it was amazing to watch how all the children bonded with their uncles and aunts, like one big happy family.
We all took it for granted watching how the Deitsches were forever there as an address for Tzedaka and Chessed. All the projects that were dedicated in memory of the sisters became part of the scene of Lubavitch worldwide.
When Yeisef was struck with a devastating illness, he never lost his charm. Forever full of Simcha and Bitachon, and he made us feel that all is a-ok.
The Year 5766 marked 100 years since the Rebbe Rashab said his famous Hemshech Samech Vov, which the Rebbe said over a period of almost three years. This Maamar is known as one of the most fundamental books of Chassidus, I decided to give it a shot, to learn this Sefer from beginning to end, thoroughly.
There Zalmen came to the rescue. On many occasions I would Daven in the Sosnovtzer Shul on Crown Street. There I would find Zalmen crouched over a Samech Vov, and I would get my chance to have him help me out with all my difficulties in understanding Samech Vov.
That summer, Zalmen was taken from us so suddenly, followed only in one week, by the passing of Yeisef. It was so shocking and painful. Oh, Hashem, how much can we endure?
At that time Nosson came into my life. A young vibrant Bochur, full of life.
When he Davened for the Omud, the whole Shul was ablaze. You couldn’t help but get dragged into his Chayus and start Davening warmly yourself.
I have no clue what he found in me. His brothers ask me justly, what was your connection to Nosson? I have no answer, other than saying I feel very lucky that we bonded. However, if I ever thought that I had a special privilege, now I know that there were hundreds like me.
Some of my children, may they live and be well, are his age. Still we became friends. We Farbrenged together, we cried together, we said L’chaim, and we talked and texted on our cellphones.
I discovered a boy who lived first of all for the Rebbe. He lived to live a life of Chassidus. He lived to do a favor to another Jew, sometimes physically and sometimes spiritually. His passion for Chassidus was one of a kind. And while he was the star of the show, he never wasted any time, and he was very punctual with his learning schedule.
Nosson would light up any Farbrengen, and he would turn on your envy of his knowledge of Tanya Baal Peh. This rare combination of a fun guy, who is as serious as they come, was something to marvel at.
I guess that being that I was older, I got to hear a little of his anxieties. And I know that he was many a time suffering from the circumstances.
Nevertheless, he would collect himself, and with much Bitachon, he would burst out with a Niggun or a Gut Vort, which would reignite the spark of life and joy, to continue doing the right thing.
His love for his family, and especially for his brother Levi (may he have a speedy full Refuah, to live many happy and healthy years), was astounding. He was so excited to go visit and help on Yomtov and other occasions, that he would come back with such stories and renewed energy, that reassured you that all will be well.
Whenever we spoke, whether he was in California, Virginia or Florida, he was always excited about what he was doing. And when he visited New York, he always made a point of doing some catch-up, and when we spoke face to face, the radiance that came through, put all that you heard over the phone, into a motion picture, except in real life.
I was lucky to have a friend in Nosson Deitsch.
Then on Lag Baomer, as we were marveling over the great parade, and we enjoyed watching the children having fun at the carnival, the news came like a ton of bricks. I went into shock.
Tell me this is not true, I cried. But sadly as the hours progressed I realized that this is not a just a bad dream.
Nosson, Nosson, how could this be?
Over the next hours, throngs of Bochrim and friends came from all over to pay their last respects, and to cry their eyes and hearts out, over this unbelievable tragedy. I felt that I’m not alone.
Knowing that I was friendly with Nosson, my son sent me a text immediately, which said it all: “What should I say… Boruch Dayan Hoemes…. Knowing Nosson, there’s no sofek in the world he wants us to be mesameiach bsimchas horashby. He’s surely doing so himself.”
How poignant, how succinct; one sentence that says it all about Nosson.
The pain is aggravated by the long beautiful history and trials of the Deitsch family. I have a problem dealing with this situation. I know that many share these sentiments just like I do.
What can we say? What can we do?
I don’t know. Period.
I can’t imagine overcoming this one. Nosson helped me getting over Zalmen, but who is the Nosson who will help me get over Nosson?
I can only compare Nossons passing to that of Nadav V’Avihu. The two holy children of Aharon Hakohein. Who perished in the Mishkan on the day of its dedication.
Let me try some of the parallels.
The dedication of the Mishkan was a day of enormous joy. Lag Baomer is a day of great joy.
Nosson was a boy of happiness who made everyone else happy.
Nadav V’Avihu left no children.
Nosson left us without any children.
The response of Aharon their father was one of silence.
The passing of Nosson threw everybody into shock and silence. There are no words to utter.
Hashem told Moshe that the entire nation of Israel will cry over the fire that G-d ignited by the death of Aharons children.
The entire Lubavitch community is crying over the passing of Nosson.
What can I say? I spent Monday night in the presence of Nossons classmates at a memorial Farbrengen. If I may, I will call them my little brothers, since Nosson was my little brother, and they are his brothers too.
Briderlach, I heard your cries, I saw your tears, and I felt your pain and cracked at your broken hearts. Bochrim should never have to face death of a friend, let alone a brother like Nosson. It hurts, and it really breaks us.
If I may, watching you for those few hours, I saw true brotherly love. I saw you wandering together in a jungle full of wild beasts. Perhaps I can share with you a word or two.
First of all, just as it was the case by Nadav and Avihu, where the entire Jewish nation was commanded to cry for them, so too here and now, it is our obligation to cry for Nosson. Don’t be ashamed, it is healthy for you and it is commanded by Hashem. Let’s also take note, that for family it is said that one cries for three days, then you eulogize for seven, and Aveilus goes on for 30 days. However when the entire Jewish people cry, it says that they cried for 30 days. Don’t try to suppress your feelings.
Secondly, Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook of Hanochos B’Lahak, related a story, that once they submitted a Maamor for the Rebbe to edit. The point of the Maamor was to explain how a Jew can overcome the pain of Golus while suffering from it, and still be B’Simcha. The answer was in the fact that we know that in the future it will be good, therefore we can overcome our present pain. At the final review, the Rebbe crossed out that entire piece, as he commented frustratingly: “Yiden Darfen Hoben Yetzt Gut (Jews have to have it good now [and not wait for later])”.
The Rebbe basically voided the point of an entire Maamor, because it would explain away and perhaps justify Yidens pain and suffering. The Rebbe didn’t want to stand for the Golus and its pain, for one more minute.
In the same vein the Rebbe explains, that even Moshe Rabbeinu, after all the explanations that he received from Hashem about the concept of death, still Moshe had a hard time accepting it. And the Rebbe explained on the day of the Shloshim for the Rebbetzin, his wife, that even if one may find some intellectual solace, nevertheless, you can’t expect the heart to accept it just because the mind understands.
It is legitimate and acceptable to cry. It is proper to ask why, and not to expect a satisfying answer. There is no answer! We must cry and cry and cry until Hashem hears our cry, and He turns the situation around to bring Nosson back.
Chevre, you are the only ones who will carry on Nossons life. Nosson will continue living in you. Based on what I heard from you, and of your relationship with Nosson, you are serving as his children.
The Gemara in Sota says on the Posuk “Uvo Sitbokun (and you should be connected to Him)”, how can one be connected to Hashem? We must connect to his ways, be kind, bury the dead, and visit the sick. Do what Hashem does.
We will keep Nosson alive and we will be connected to him, by doing what he does. This way we will keep connected to him, and he will live on through us.
Inspired by Nosson’s knowledge of the entire Tanya Baal Peh, I decided to find a Chavrusa with whom I’ll study Tanya in depth, to know it thoroughly. I wish I can say that I’ll learn it by heart like he did, but I don’t know if I can commit.
I think that we should all find ways in which we can become fluent in Tanya. If you can do it by heart, even better. Let’s start encouraging the young fertile minds of the children, and incentivize them to study Tanya Baal Peh. Let’s bring back those great projects to the children. Let’s all learn Tanya inside and out. At the end of the day, it will simply change our lives for the better.
We can’t be comforted. The pain is too much to bear, and is as senseless as can be. All we can do is look for some words of comfort in the teachings and behavior of the Rebbe.
One story: When I was young, I remember in 1970 there was a rash of Levayas for six weeks in a row. Every Sunday there was another Levaya. No, it wasn’t tragic; all of the departed were elderly men and women. Nevertheless, such an epidemic was something Crown Heights has never experienced.
That Purim in middle of the big Farbrengen, when all were rejoicing at the Simcah of Purim, the Rebbe called upon all the mourners, and he handed each one a bottle of Mashke. This was accepted by me (and I later heard it from many others as well), as a sign of Chizuk, that the Rebbe took note of those who were perhaps feeling out of place at this Simcha of Purim, due to their personal mourning. And the Rebbe wanted to give them a boost, to get into the mood of Simcha as well. Kind of saying, I haven’t forgotten your pain in middle of my joy. One can imagine what such a gesture did to all the Avelim at the time.
Another story: I remember the exact week that Reb Mendel Deitsch passed away in Teives 5727, at the age of 90. Only two days earlier, a Bochur of 19 suddenly passed away. That Bochur, Yaacov Dovid Kotlarsky, was known to be a big Oived and a very Chasidisher Bochur (the sound of his Davening, still rings in my ears, though I was only a very young boy). During the Shabbos of Shiva, the Rebbe called over his father, and he gave him a bottle of Mashke, telling him: “Er zitst in Gan Eden un hert Chassidus fun dem Shver (he is sitting in Gan Eden and is listening to Chassidus being said by my father-in-law, the Frierdiker Rebbe).” A statement that shocked everybody with its clarity.
The only solace I can think of, is, Nosson is definitely up there hearing Chasiduss from the Rebbe, who is surely showing off his pride of a Bochur to all the other Rebbeiim, especially the Alter Rebbe, whose Tanya Nosson studied so much, inside and out. And knowing Nosson, he is unquestionably taking advantage of the moment, crying for us all: Rebbe, Ad Mosai!
And how can you not reward a boy who knows the entire Tanya by heart.
Moved me to tears.
Moshiach Now!!! No more glolus!!!
oy va voy
thank you for sharing your heartfelt words
Yossel I hope your heartfelt words bring some Nechamah to this family of giants. They are four generations of unbelievable inspiration to all of Anash and Shluchim.
From now until Moshiach may that inspiration continue with gezunt Arichas Yomim and Simcha for every one of them.
Vehokitzu veranenu soichnei ofor
I remember going to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Springfield. I participated in many weddings, bar mitzvahs, brissin, etc. But never would I have imagined participating in a Levaya. May we all daven for techiyas Hameisim and for the coming of Moshiach asap.
My dear Yossi, Your artixcle was really a masterpiece. I was very touched by your deep feelings and very moved by your words. Only a week has passed, yet this has been an incredibly confusing week. Last Sunday when we were at the levayah for the mother of Yankel Goldstein, we heard the shocking news of Nosson Nota’s tragic demise. We were stunned and I could not believe this dreadful accident had really happened. There was an air of unreality about this situation. That night I did not sleep well and when I awakened in the morning I felt groggy… Read more »
Yasahr Koiach – I can’t beleive you remember the dresses I wore for Tzivie…………..May you use your talent for writing happy memories.
52 chaverim to memorize- one for each perek then at the shloshim the whole tanya could be recited by heart 52 = ben, nosson was a ben talmid chochim, a cherished son in chabad, the rebbe’s a kint
Deitches you are special people. You have great kochos.
Wishing you only simcha and nachas from now on.
one word WOW .
How can such difficult nisyonos come to such a pure family???? My heart is broken, but I took to learning tanya, and encouraging my son to learn 10 lines per day by heart….;we need Moshiach now….
i didnt know nosson but im crying… ad mosai?????????????
Is it not a bit discouraging to be the best when it always seems like it is the best who are taken from us?
beautifully written. the deitches are a beautiful family who have suffered way too much- may the only have simchas from here on.
im very touched. im crying for the dietch family EVEN tho i never knew them.
we NEED moshiach NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Emotional and inspiring. He was a friend of my son, a classmate. I heard so much about him. May his mother find Nechama in the legacy he left
thank you so much – you can feel a true heart thru the writings
who was the author? what a beautiful job connecting the generations of the special special Deitsch families.
i’m crying so much
i will encourage my kids and students to memorize more tanya!
After speaking with the kids about what happened and how Nosson loved and knew the entire Tanya b’al peh, they readily agreed to study lines by heart. they have so far sudied approx. 18 lines by heart – including the girls! we’ll encourage them to do some more this week too IY’H.
Just can’t stop crying….
Very nice to see
i am going to make sure my community will do tanye in order that nossons neshomo should have a aliya
DVARIM HAYOYZEI MIN HALEV NICHNASIN MOSHIACH NOW!
Every event in life is Hashgocho Protis and for sure we see the fifth Aliya of this week… and there is a Sicha on chelek alef
seif ches about 3 places in Tania talking about Kabolas Hayisurm B’simcha. All of us should take a look and learn Leilui Nishmas.
May we hear only besuros tovos specially about the Geula NOW!
Very Inspiring. Thank you for sharing.
wow cant stop cryng..thanks for writing
Thank you very very much.
I will also bli neder start learning tanya weekly leiluy nishmas Nosson Deitch.
i read the whole thing with wet eyes
beautiful thank you