The Kosher Bookworm: Kindness and bereavement


How to respond to grief with chesed and Torah learning

By Alan Jay Gerber

Issue of July 31, 2009 / 10 Av 5769

Two recent books deal with the untimely death of a close one, each in a unique and different way.  One involves the victim of an act of terror, the other the death of a young person through illness. Close relatives of the deceased wrote both books — in one, a husband, in the other, a father. Each drew from their respective loss a positive lesson that they wished to share with others. That was to be their consolation and their way of sharing and extending the life of their departed relative.

“A Daily Dose of Kindness: Stories From The Heart — A Response To Terror,” was compiled by Shmuel Greenbaum in tribute to his late wife, Shoshana, who, with their unborn child, was murdered in the bombing of a Jerusalem restaurant on August 9, 2001. Four months after the tragedy, Shmuel met with a group of friends to discuss a fitting memorial to his wife. The theme of the memorial was to revolve around what they could do to make the world a better place. From that meeting came the idea of a daily email newsletter to offer readers stories of kindness. The newsletter came to be known as “A Daily Dose of Kindness.” Eventually, an organization was formed called “Partners in Kindness.”

Over time, their efforts evolved into an anthology of short, to-the-point stories written by people whose busy lives prevented them from going into lengthy orations. Despite their brevity, each story adheres to the basic theme: how to make this world a better place. Among the many personalities inhabiting the book’s 280 pages is one of the prime founders of the Far Rockaway Jewish community: Rabbi Nachman Bulman, of blessed memory, the founding rabbi of the Young Israel of Far Rockaway.

Rabbi Bulman, a distinguished student of HaRav Joseph Soloveitchik of

Yeshiva University, from whom he received his smicha, was a gifted teacher, lecturer, writer and translator of numerous Hebrew works into English. He was a fervent Zionist whose life’s goal was to eventually settle in Eretz Yisrael, a goal which he attained for the last 25 years of his life. In Israel he was to continue serving as a rav u’manhig (spiritual guide and leader) in Migdal HaEmek in the Galil and later at the Nachliel Shul in Jerusalem, where his home became a center of Jewish learning and scholarship. Rabbi Bulman’s daughter, Toby Katz, now of Miami, submitted a story in tribute to her father, reproduced here:

Candles of Light

Excerpt from A Daily Dose of Kindness

My father was Rabbi Nachman Bulman. He taught Torah in Jerusalem for the last twenty-five years of his life, and counseled thousands of people from all walks of life.

Yesterday, when I lit my father’s yahrtzeit (memorial) candle at the onset of the Sabbath, a story came to mind that he once told me. It was a small incident, but worth remembering. About twelve years ago, when my father was the spiritual leader of a community in Migdal Ha’emek, he underwent surgery in nearby Haifa. There were complications. My father was very ill; he drifted in and out of consciousness for two or three days. My mother, or one of my brothers, stayed with him almost constantly, but late on Friday afternoon, my mother went home to make the Sabbath and my father found himself alone. As far as anyone knew, he was unconscious, but in fact, he was partly awake at times.

He knew that it was close to the Sabbath, and he was very, very depressed. He was thinking that he was all alone in the hospital and that there would be no Sabbath for him — nothing to make this day different from any other day in the ICU. While he was immersed in black and gloomy thoughts, two nurses came into his room.

One of them said, in Hebrew, “I am going to light candles in here.”

The other one said, “What for? The patient is unconscious, anyway.”

The first nurse said, “Even if he is, he is a big rabbi and spiritual leader and would want Sabbath candles in his room.”

Although his eyes were still closed, my father heard her light the candles and say the blessing. She said, “Shabbat Shalom” and left the room. At that moment his spirits were enormously lifted, and the oppressive gloom was gone.

My father recounted this story as an example of how a seemingly small act of kindness can help someone in a very big way. It was also, for him, an example of the kind of thing that distinguishes life in Israel. That nurse was not religious, though she was perhaps traditional, but she had respect for a rabbi and sensitivity to what he needed, beyond his immediate medical needs.

My father was tremendously grateful to her. He could not pray or make the Kiddush blessing on the wine on the Sabbath or do anything for himself. Without that nurse’s thoughtful gesture, he would have had no Sabbath at all.

For more information about Partners in Kindness visit the organization online at

The next book under review is “In The Grip of Bereavement: An Analysis of Ten Aggadic Legends in the World of the Sages” by Dr. Chaim Licht (Geffen Publishing House, 2009).

Dr. Licht was the devoted father of Danit, his beloved daughter, who passed away on November 15, 2000, one month shy of her 30th birthday. At the age of twelve she was diagnosed with brain cancer and she was to battle this disease with a determination that was nothing short of inspiring. In those years she was to graduate high school, serve in Sherut Leumi (national service), earn a bachelor’s degree in education and become a teacher to her last days.

The book was prepared by her grief stricken father as his tribute both to her memory and to her life’s work. Despite its title, it is not a halachic work on grief but a book of learning, a unique study as to how grief was confronted by our Sages. Profiled herein are six stories in the world of the Tannaim (compilers of the Mishna) and four stories in the world of the Amoraim (compilers of the Talmud). Among the Tannaim are treatments of the death of the son of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakai; Rabbi Eliezer’s illness; the illness of Shimon, the son of Rabbi Akiva; the deaths of children in the time of Rabbi Akiva and the deaths of the sons of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Meir. Among the Amoraim are detailed the death of the son of Hiya ben Abba; the death of the daughter of Rabbi Hanina; the deaths of the sons of Rav Huna’s neighbor and the death of the daughter of Rav Shmuel ben Yehuda.

This is not only a book that consoles by example but is a book to be learned and studied from. It is a valuable book of history and aggadita, presenting in clear and concise language events in the lives of personalities who live with us till this very day in the pages of our Talmud. In addition, this is a scholarly work containing 200 detailed footnotes that enhance the content of the text, and a bibliography of twelve pages broken down by the categories of primary

sources, encyclopedias, dictionaries, reference works, electronic databanks and commentaries. It is a veritable treasure trove and resource for every layperson to learn from and be further enriched from our people’s heritage. The author, Dr. Chaim Licht, is to be commended for this excellent work; the memory of his daughter, Danit, is well served.

Other notes: The new edition of Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought should be available in local bookstores. Back issues can also be ordered.

Also on tap is “And You Shall Surely Heal: the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Synagogue Compendium of Torah and Medicine” (Ktav, YU Press, 2009). Among those involved in this great effort is my dear friend, neighbor and fellow worshiper at The Red Shul, Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman. This too, should be available in our local bookstores across Long Island and Queens.

Expected soon: “Aspects of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Philosophy of Judaism: An Analytic Approach” by Rabbi Dr. Shubert Spero. It’s due from Ktav after Labor Day.

Related post: The Kosher Bookworm: Tisha b'Av reading