Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5765 - June 22, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Meis Mitzvah

by B. Rom

This is fiction, but based on a true story. The names, of course, have been changed.

It was a gorgeous spring day at the beginning of Nisan. Although the early morning hours were still chilly, the sun came out in the afternoon and you could feel the fresh spring air challenging the remnants of winter.

Malka Baron walked slowly up the street to the bus stop. Her hands were filled with packages, since she had just finished the bulk of her pre-Pesach, non-food shopping. She went over the list in her head to be sure she hadn't forgotten anything: stockings, kippot, hair ornaments, tsitsiyot, and a few dishes to complete the Pesach set.

Her eyes glanced at the posters tacked to the side of the bus shelter. Clothing sales, apartments for sale. . .holiday rentals. . .

One poster stood out from the rest:

"The body of a 25-year-old man has been found in Nachal David. Description: Tall, broad-shouldered, dark hair. Found with a butterfly net and a guide to insects.

Anyone with information about a missing person fitting this description please call Magen David Adom immediately at. . . ."

Malka read the poster a second time, more carefully. "Anyone with information about a missing person fitting this description. . . tall, broad-shouldered, dark hair. . . with a butterfly net. . . ."

The bus screeched to a stop, bringing her out of her reverie. She cautiously picked up all her packages and made her way onto the crowded bus. But the poster came along with her. "Tall, broad-shouldered. . .butterfly net. . . guide to insects. . .anyone with information. . . ."

"Doesn't that sound like Danny?" she said to herself. "But actually. . . ." she admonished herself. "How can we say that Danny is missing? Maybe he's home already? Why should I have such thoughts about Danny? Why should I think that he's dead, G-d forbid? And in such a horrible way. . . how terrible of me to even think such things!" she reproached herself.

But as much as she tried to push these thoughts away, they had grabbed hold of her and filled her entire essence. "As much as I would like to deny the reality," an inner voice said, "We've known for a long time that Danny disappeared. And the description fits him to a `T.' He's tall and broad- shouldered with a dark mop of hair and always goes around with a butterfly net and a guide to insects. But how can I possibly even consider that such a tragedy befell him?"

As soon as Malka walked into the door she told her husband about the poster. The pain on Eliyahu Baron's face as he heard the shocking description was discernible. But he didn't understand what his wife was getting at by quoting the poster.

"What does that have to do with us?" her husband asked. "I haven't heard about anyone missing."

"But Eliyahu," Malka said, as she looked at her husband with visible grief, "what about Danny?"

"Danny?" Eliyahu didn't understand. "Which Danny are you talking about?"

"Danny. Your Aunt Zahavit's son, from Tel Aviv."

"Oh, I see." Eliyahu finally understood. "That's who you're talking about? How would I know anything about him? Did someone tell you that he was missing? What made you think of him all of a sudden?"

Malka was quiet for a moment, as she tried to calm down and organize her thoughts. She had been asking herself these very same questions for the past hour. But at any rate, an inner voice kept telling her that maybe, maybe it really was Danny.

"I don't know what to tell you," Malka tried to explain herself. "I'm also asking myself why I suddenly thought of him. On erev Shabbos your mother told me that Danny hadn't called home for a long time and his mother is very worried. Maybe you wouldn't mind calling your mother and asking her about Danny?"

Eliyahu didn't mind at all. He understood that his wife was greatly disturbed, and he wanted to calm her down at any price. If a call to his parents would help, there was no reason to refuse to do it — and perform the mitzvah of honoring one's parents in the bargain.

"Hi, Ima," Eliyahu greeted his mother in a friendly tone of voice. "How are you? Tell me Ima, how is Zahavit, Aunt Zlatta's daughter?"

Malka didn't hear her mother-in-law's answer, but it was enough to read her husbands' facial expression to know what was being said on the other end of the line.

"Don't ask. Poor Golda — I mean Zahavit. Danny hasn't been in touch for over three weeks. She is beside herself with worry. She doesn't eat, doesn't sleep, doesn't answer the phone or listen to the news. She just sits alone all day. Doesn't even bother to take her pills. Alon, her other son, works long hours and hardly comes home. And she is so worried. She just sits and waits for Danny to come home . . . And Danny — do you remember him? Kind of a loner. Spends his days in the mountains catching insects. Uninterested in anything except his butterflies and his bugs. He honors only his mother, and when he finally finishes his wandering in the mountains. . . Nu tell me, what good did it do her to leave Yiddishkeit? I feel so sorry for her. She has it so bad in this world and can expect no better in the next."

Eliyahu didn't remember how the conversation ended. He keenly felt that he had been thrust into a special Heaven-sent situation whose end was unknown. A regular avreich kollel, the last mystery he solved had been when he was eight years old. He and some friends had decided that the Arab worker at the nearby greengrocer was a suspicious character and they tried to follow him. This adventure ended in punishment and harsh words from both his parents and also his rebbeim.

Since that disastrous failure, Eliyahu hesitated to mix in things other than his learning or family matters. But no . . . Now he felt that he was about to plunge into a very complicated matter. And who knew how it would end?

"I think that we need someone to help us decide what to do in this matter," Eliyahu said, trying to take a practical approach. "I don't know anything about such things and I don't know where to begin."

"You could ask Moshe Levy, from across the street," Malka suggested, as she closed the local phone directory. Although she already had the phone number in hand. She understood her husband's hesitation and didn't press him.

"Moshe Levy is a Hatzoloh volunteer," she urged. "He knows about such things. Call him and ask him what to do."

Eliyahu got up and headed towards the door, saying, "You know, I think it would be better if we met face-to-face. The whole business is so complicated and uncertain. I don't even know what to ask."

Malka found it hard to concentrate on her cleaning tasks. But she didn't have a choice. There was so much to be done before the night of the seder. She went into the kitchen, rolled up her sleeves, and continued to clean the cook- top.

The sound of the front door opening made her spring into the living room. Her husband and Reb Moshe Levy, the neighbor from across the street, stood in the entrance.

"Malka," Eliyahu said, "Reb Moshe Levy wants to hear from you what makes you think that the person in the poster could be Danny."

"The description really fits Danny as I remember him," Malka said. "The last time I saw him was two years ago, at a family wedding. Also, on this past erev Shabbos, I heard from my mother-in-law that there's been no word from him for two weeks."

Reb Moshe listened carefully to what Malka had to say and then asked permission to use the telephone.

"I think I should call headquarters," he said, straight to the point," and in order to speed things up I'm going to call one of the top guys, who happens to be a good friend of mine. He'll know what's going on."

He raised his eyes from the Palm Pilot he pulled out of his pocket and looked at Eliyahu, who had turned pale and did not respond.

"I haven't even considered the fact that you must be in total shock," he said, smiling. "I apologize for not realizing this sooner. You probably have no idea of what's going to happen now. Come, let's sit down and I'll explain to you the little that I myself know.

"I understand that we're talking about a relative of yours," Reb Moshe said.

"My second cousin," Eliyahu answered. "We hardly know him. My mother is in close contact with both his mother and his grandmother, her aunt."

"Look," explained Reb Moshe," I belong to Hatzoloh, but Hatzoloh and Magen David Adom work together, and our tasks overlap. I'm going to call one of the heads of the organization and give him all the information that we have. I'm sure he'll check it with the information that he has and will want to get together with someone close to Danny — a brother, parent, or a close friend."

"There's no way you can talk to his mother about this," Malka said. "She's completely hysterical."

"I also don't think that's a good idea," Reb Moshe added. "If she's not up to it, let's keep her temporarily out of the picture."

"As far as I know, the brother doesn't have much to do with him," Eliyahu said, "and I don't think that Danny has any close friends. He always was a loner."

"I think we can begin with the information that we have now," Reb Moshe said, as he picked up the telephone. "But later, someone will have to come to the forensic unit at Abu Kabir to identify the body. And it has to be someone who has seen him lately."

Chills ran up the backs of both Eliyahu and Malka upon hearing those words. But Reb Moshe didn't notice. He was on the phone with his friend.

"Shalom, Reb Aryeh. This is Moshe Levy. Boruch Hashem, all is well. Listen, Reb Aryeh, I'm calling from my neighbor's house. They saw the poster about the body found in . . . Yes. They are afraid that the description fits one of their relatives who has disappeared. Why don't you speak to him yourself? And let's hear good news."

"Reb Eliyahu!" Reb Moshe said, handing him the phone. "Reb Aryeh wants to speak to you."

Eliyahu picked up the phone with trembling hands. "Hello? Yes. I have a cousin. No, actually his mother is my mother's cousin. He lives in Tel Aviv and I think he's about twenty- five. He's a real loner. He's fascinated by nature, especially by insects. He always carries around a butterfly net and a guide to insects. Yes, he's tall and broad- shouldered. He has dark hair. I haven't seen him for over a year, so I don't know how long his hair is. But unfortunately, he's not from a religious home. His mother left Yiddishkeit in her teens. No, he has no father, and his mother is depressed. She has no interest in politics or the news. My mother told me today that his mother hasn't heard from him in over three weeks, and she's very worried."

"Listen, Rev Eliyahu," said Reb Aryeh on the other end of the line. "The body was found ten days ago. The police want to bury it in an anonymous grave since no one has claimed it until now. I can get a short extension, because of this new information. But you have to come today to identify him. Tomorrow morning at the latest. The police are very strict about these things. At any rate, it would be best if someone who has seen Danny in the last year comes. A lot can change in a year. . ."

"I'm not sure that there is such a person," Eliyahu muttered. "I can try to reach his brother, Alon, but I don't put much hope in him. He's a busy man. He's not interested in things like this."

"But he is his brother," Reb Aryeh noted.

"Yes," Eliyahu said, "but Danny never really acted like a brother. He was always such a loner and never had anything to do with anyone except his mother, to whom he always listened. I don't know if Alon will cooperate. It's a difficult situation."

"Try to get hold of him," Reb Aryeh urged. "Maybe Hashem will help, and open up his heart. Keep me posted. Good luck, and let us hear good news."

"Thank you so much," Eliyahu said. "Really, thanks so much!"

"Now we've got to get hold of Alon," Eliyahu said in a tired voice.

Malka went into the kitchen. "Coffee," she announced. "That's what we need now."

"Identifying a body is not a particularly pleasant thing to do. Poor Eliyahu. Alon probably won't have anything to do with it." Just the thought of it made her shiver.

The coffee restored their spirits somewhat. Eliyahu Baron, Reb Moshe and, of course, Malka felt renewed strength surging through their veins.

"Okay," Eliyahu said. "I have no idea where the guy is. But maybe I can ask my mother to ask Zahavit, Danny's mother?"

"I don't think that's a good idea," Reb Moshe said. "I don't want her to get suspicious. At least not yet. We've got to find another way."

Malka felt that her presence was superfluous. The matter was in the capable hands of Reb Moshe. She had so much work to do. After all, Pesach would be here in a few days.

"Maybe we can find him through work," Reb Moshe suggested.

"That's a good idea," Eliyahu answered, "but where does he work?"

"Maybe your mother would know," Reb Moshe offered.

"Malka," Eliyahu called his wife," do you know where Alon works?"

Malka came into the living room, wiping her hands on a towel.

"Alon? I think he works at a restaurant on Dizengoff. But I don't know which restaurant."

"My mother wouldn't know which restaurant, either," Eliyahu added.

"Okay," Reb Moshe continued. "That problem is not insurmountable. We just have to find the right restaurant."

"How do we go about that?" a bewildered Eliyahu asked. "There must be hundreds of restaurants on Dizengoff."

"Oh, that's no problem at all," Reb Moshe said with a smile. "Anything is possible in these hi-tech days. I have a friend who volunteers with me in Hatzoloh who has Bezek software on his computer at home. I'll call him and see if he can help us."

The telephone sprung into action again.

"Shalom, is Reb Yisrael there? Shalom, this is Moshe Levy. We're dealing with an emergency. I need the phone numbers of all the restaurants on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. Can you do it? I have to find someone who works in one of them urgently. It's a matter of life and death. Okay, I'm writing . . ."

Eliyahu looked at Moshe, stunned. It was so easy! One mere phone call and all the information is at hand?

Less than five minutes had passed when Reb Moshe hung up with a list of all the phone numbers.

"Reb Moshe," Eliyahu said, excitedly, "we are so grateful for all of your help. I'm sure you must have plenty to do at home, so close to Pesach."

Reb Moshe dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "You can thank me when this business has a happy ending, Reb Eliyahu. We have a lot of work ahead of us and so little time left. I have experience in these matters and we must keep our cool. Let's get to work."

He explained the plan of action. "I'll use my cell phone and you use your home phone. We'll go down the list and call all the restaurants until we find him. What's Alon's last name?"

"Yardeni; Alon Yardeni," Reb Moshe said. "He's about twenty- eight years old. As far as I know, he's unmarried."

"Okay, let's get to work," Reb Moshe said. "Good luck!"

The living room turned into control room. Eliyahu sat on one side of the table with the phone in front of him, with half of the list. Reb Moshe, who had become a partner to the goings-on from the goodness of his heart, sat with the other half. Malka peered in from time to time to see what was doing.

"Shalom, does someone with the name of Alon Yardeni work for you? Oh, sorry, I must be mistaken."

Conversation after conversation. Until. . .

"Does someone by that name work there?" It was Eliyahu who found the lost brother. "I'm a relative. . . ."

Reb Moshe stopped dialing and listened.

"He's there now? Can I talk to him? Thanks!" Eliyahu took a deep breath and his face paled. He looked at Reb Moshe, who was busy reciting Tehillim. Malka stood in the doorway, anxiously waiting to hear what would happen next.

"Shalom, Alon. This is Eliyahu Baron, the son of Zelda, your mother's aunt."

"Yes, I know who you are," Alon said in a monotone. "But what do you want from me? I heard from a friend who works at the restaurant across the street that someone was looking for me. Was it you?"

"It's very possible," Eliyahu admitted with embarrassment. "We've gone to a lot of trouble to find you. I need your help . . ."

"You need my help?" Alon was surprised. "How could I help you?"

"It has to do with your brother, Danny," Eliyahu said.

"What do you have to do with my brother Danny?" asked Alon, suspiciously.

"What's with him? Do you know where he is right now?" Eliyahu asked.

"I don't understand what you want," Alon answered. "Danny has been busy for three weeks on one of his regular field trips. And anyhow, I really don't have time to spare for any of his bugs. Why don't you tell me what you want already?"

"Listen," Eliyahu stammered. " We. . . we saw a poster with a description of someone who could very well be Danny. . . and someone has to go to identify him. I don't know him as well as you do."

"Listen, Eliyahu," Alon said. "I really don't understand what's come over you, and I have no time for this kind of stuff. Maybe you need to see a psychologist? Why are you telling me about a description of Danny? What is such a description doing on a poster in the street?"

"Alon, there's someone here who will be able to explain the whole thing better to you," Eliyahu said. "Here, talk to him."

"All right, but it had better be fast," Alon said, impatiently. "I've got a lot of work waiting for me here. I really don't have time for this!"

"Shalom, Alon," Reb Moshe said, with an authoritative tone to his voice. "My name is Moshe Levy and I'm a medic with Magen David Adom. The police have found a body in the Nachal David area that has yet to be identified and claimed. The body is in the forensic unit at Abu Kabir, awaiting identification. The Barons think that the description of the body fits your brother Danny, and would like to hear your opinion."

Alon, holding the telephone receiver in the restaurant, was stunned. In his wildest dreams, he never expected a phone call like this. At work, yet.

"Listen," Alon said, coming back to reality. "My brother is tall and broad-shouldered, with dark hair, sort of longish. He doesn't wear glasses. He carries a butterfly net and a guide to insects wherever he goes. That's all I can say for sure. He doesn't wear any particular clothes or sport a particular backpack. Do you need more than that?"

"Would you be willing to come to Abu Kabir to identify the body?" Reb Moshe asked. "Or do you know of anyone else who could do it?"

"Me?" Alon was startled. "You want me to go identify the body? There's no way I could do such a thing!"

"So is there someone else who knows him well that we could ask to do it?" Reb Moshe asked.

"We sure can't ask my mother," Alon answered. "She's simply incapable. Other than her, I can't think of anyone."

"Listen," Reb Moshe said, softly. "You won't go alone. Both Eliyahu and I will go with you. It just seems like there's no other way."

"Hm. . . ." Alon tried to think. "When did you want to go?"

"As soon as possible," Reb Moshe said. "The police want to bury the body already."

"So let them," Alon seized the moment. "What do I care?"

"Listen," Reb Moshe tried to explain. "We're talking about your brother. It's important to know if he is alive or, G-d forbid . . . It's also important for your mother to know."

There was silence on both ends of the line. Alon stood transfixed, holding the receiver, and thinking.

"Listen," the silence was finally broken. "I understand that you must be religious . . . but. . . I don't care. Okay, let's set a time, and finish with this whole business."

It was eight in the evening when Eliyahu Baron and Reb Moshe Levy set off in Reb Moshe's car towards the entrance of the city to pick up Alon.

Malka stayed home and continued with her cleaning, as if nothing had happened. An observer could, perhaps, reveal her mood by the dogged, relentless scrubbing of already clean pots.


Alon waited there, at the entrance to the city. He looked just like Reb Moshe had imagined. A shock of curly hair, jeans, and a colorful shirt. He was no less nervous than the two men who picked him up.

"Yes, this isn't the first time I've met death face to face," Reb Moshe said, thinking out loud. "Unfortunately, I've been in many worse situations. But here we have a unique case. We have actually felt Divine help all along the way."

Eliyahu Baron seemed to be in his own world. He held on to his sefer Tehillim as if it were a life raft for a drowning man.

"Whoever it is, Danny or another Jew, it was a horrible way to die. The only possible thing I can do for this poor person is to say Tehillim for his soul."

Alon sat in silence, biting his fingernails. He didn't want to think about anything. What was he doing with these people? What brought him to leave work in the middle of his shift? Who pushed him to say "yes" to an unknown religious Jew to go identify a body that some relative of his thought might be his brother?

Shimon, a Hatzoloh volunteer from the north, awaited them at the entrance to Abu Kabir. He shook hands with Reb Moshe and greeted Eliyahu and Alon. They followed him into the building on trembling legs and ushered them into one of the offices.

"I understand that you want to view the body and finish the story as quickly as possible," he said, looking straight into Alon's eyes. "But I'm sorry to have to disappoint you. The young man, it seems, according to the tests we have conducted, fell into an abyss. The body was in the wadi for a long time in this hot weather, and the days it spent in the morgue here didn't do him any good. And the state of the body is such that it is unidentifiable."

Alon didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. All of a sudden the identification of the body had become very important to him. To know whether or not it was his brother.

Eliyahu looked at Reb Moshe, to judge his reaction. There'd got to be another method of identification. They just had to know if the body was that of his cousin Danny.

"So what do you suggest?" said Reb Moshe, practical as ever.

"There are a number of methods of identification," Reb Shimon explained. "We need to obtain DNA tests, or X-rays of bones or of the jaw. When there is no other way, we do hair testing, but this is a very long, complicated and expensive route to take."

All eyes were on Alon. It was his place, as the brother, to obtain the necessary information.

"What do you say, Alon?" Reb Moshe asked in a quiet tone. As a Hatzoloh volunteer, he could understand Alon's present situation and try to help him. "Do you know which Kupat Cholim Danny was in? Which doctor could help us with the information that we need?"

Alon came out of his dreamlike state.

"What? Danny? He never went to the doctor in his life. As far as I know, he was as strong as an ox. Even if he were to feel sick, he would rather die than go to a doctor who might tell him what to do."

"Are you sure that he never even went to a dentist, for instance?" Reb Aryeh asked.

"A dentist?" Alon tried to remember. "You know, once he had a very bad toothache. It was years ago. I convinced him to go to the dentist who lives near my mother. That was when I still lived at home."

Reb Aryeh perked up. "Can you remember the dentist's name?"

"It was Doctor . . . Greenfeld? No, Dr. Gelbard? Oh, I remember! Dr. Greenberg! That's it!"

They found his phone number within seconds. Alon dialed, and . . .

"Shalom, this is Alon. Zahavit Yardeni's son. Yes, everything's fine. Listen, I have a problem. I need my brother Alon's dental X-rays. He was once your patient, six or seven years ago. I sent him to you. No, we need them to identify a body that might be that of Danny. I see. I'm not sure that there is another way, but we'll try to manage without. Anyhow, sorry for bothering you."

Alon looked at Eliyahu with a sad expression. "He says that all the X-rays of former patients are in the storeroom, and X- rays more than five years old are thrown out. There's no way . . . " he said with bitterness.

Everything was so complicated and scary.

"Try to find what you can," Reb Moshe said. "X-rays or blood tests. Take my cell phone number, and if you find something, be in touch. You have three days and six hours left before the police remove the body for burial. Those are their procedures, not ours," he said, apologetically, as he gazed into Alon's irate eyes.


Eliyahu let himself in his apartment, exhausted and disappointed. Malka could tell how he felt from the look on his face and didn't dare say a word. Eliyahu was silent all evening, occupying himself with Pesach cleaning.

Alon went straight back to his apartment. He needed some peace and quiet. All his plans for the evening were put off for better times. He sat down by the telephone. He called the Kupat Cholim that his mother belonged to, but found out that Danny was not a member.

He called the other sick funds — maybe Danny was listed with them? But no one had ever heard of him. He tried to call X- ray clinics, labs, but came up empty-handed. Only then, for the first time in many, many years, did he burst into tears. He cried and cried until he fell asleep.

A ringing telephone jarred him from a troubled sleep.

"Shalom is this Alon Yardeni?" said the voice on the other end of the line. "This is Dr. Greenberg, the dentist. Listen, Alon, all evening I was very disturbed by your story. Around two in the morning, I picked up and drove to my office and went into the storeroom. I finally found your brother's X- rays. If they are still needed, you can come get them."

Alon was at Eliyahu Baron's house at seven in the morning, with the valuable X-rays in his hand. Ten minutes later, the two of them were in Reb Moshe Levy's car on the way to Abu Kabir. Reb Shimon was waiting for them.

Events proceeded at a dizzying pace. Reb Shimon and the other workers efficiently took care of the identification process. Reb Moshe took care to break the news to the family with utmost tact. Alon and Eliyahu arrived at the funeral home in a chevra kaddisha van, accompanied by Reb Shimon, along with Danny's body.

Danny and Alon's mother was completely apathetic. Her aunt, Eliyahu's mother, never left her side. Reb Moshe was there, too, but Alon couldn't calm down.

"Tell me, Eliyahu," he asked his cousin, as they left the cemetery. "What reason did you have to become so involved in all of this? What relationship did we ever have? What did you ever have to do with Danny? And what about all those people — Reb Moshe and Reb Shimon — who bent over backwards to help us? What pushed them to go to so much trouble on our behalf without any thought of payment? I just can't understand it. Do you live boring lives, or what?"

"Listen, Alon," Eliyahu Baron said. "Those are good questions. There are good answers to all of them. Now you have to sit shiva. We'll talk about them when the shiva is over, okay?"

It seemed like Alon couldn't wait.

"All kinds of troublesome thoughts are disturbing me," he said to his cousin. "Maybe, if you don't mind, that is, I could be with you for the night of the seder and we could find some time to talk during the holiday?"

After all that had happened Eliyahu felt close to Alon, and graciously agreed to his suggestion.


Alon became a different person after Pesach. The change was sharp and uncompromising. But that's a story for another day.


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