On Motzoei Shabbos before midnight, the much-feared Hurricane Irene, which meteorologists and politicians alike had warned about, arrived with a bang. We’d been warned to stay put, stock up on food and water, and not, under any circumstances, attempt to brave the winds.
All through the night, sheets of rain mercilessly pounded our windows, as gales of wind gusting up to 80 mph made contact with tricycles, lawn chairs, and anything that wasn’t tied down. The strongest part of the storm, between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., was frightening, sending floodwaters cascading down the streets amid eerie howls of the wind.
Boruch Hashem, the storm wasn’t nearly as bad as predicted. Yes, it did bring pounding rain, lots of water, and the shrieking wind; but much less-fearsome than was predicted.
In fact, the streets of Monsey looked drier than they had at the end of June, when a sudden rainstorm created massive flooding, with nearly four feet of water in the Stonehouse area of Spring Valley, washed-out basements, and impassible roads.
The media was playing games with us, I mused, resolving to write an article about all the hype and hyperbole out there. They made it sound like the hurricane would wash us away in the night.
Sure, it was prudent to take precautions, not to go looking for trouble like the foolhardy surfers who went out to the Rockaway Beach to ride the ten foot waves, as the storm was brewing. But there was a difference between reckless bravado and an overabundance of caution. Fortunately, the storm passed without incident, and all was well again. Now we could relax, chuckle at Mayor Bloomberg’s dire predictions, and go back to our normal lives.
By noon, the first reports of a horrific local tragedy, directly related to the storm, began to trickle in. A few hours later, another tragedy was announced, from upstate NY.
Hurricane Irene claimed 40 lives in nine states; two of the fatalities were shomrei Torah U’mitzvos.
The Hero of Jacaruso Drive
Reb Moshe Yosef Reichenberg, 50, who lived on Jacaruoso Drive in Spring Valley with his family, was driving past the corner of Union Road and Merrick Ave. at about 11:00 a.m., when he saw a small child engulfed in flames.
According to a source, the six year old boy, Chaim Reuvain Dovid ben Chava Leah, was walking with his father towards their home, which was partly submerged in water. According to Reb Y.F., a local Hatzoloh member and paramedic, who responded to the scene, the utility company was called the night before, when a transformer fell down. The utility company tended to the transformer, and led neighbors to believe that it was no longer live. Unfortunately, that was not the case, a fatal mistake.
The father and son, not aware of the dangers, walked through the water to go home. The instant the child came in contact with the live wire, he was electrocuted and caught fire. According to reports, his father tried to save him, and was badly burned as well.
Reb Moshe Yosef, who had a heart of gold and would give the shirt off his back to anyone, got out of his car and ran to help. As soon as he touched the boy, the electric current entered his body, causing massive internal burns.
As Y.F. recalled, “Hatzoloh was on the scene within moments, but were powerless to do anything. It was a horrible feeling, to watch the scene, knowing that anyone who touched the victim would suffer the same fate.”
Orange and Rockland were called right away to shut off the power. By the time they succeeded, about twenty minutes later, it was too late to save Reb Moshe Yosef, who was niftar of massive internal burns. The child, Chaim Reuvain Dovid, is in critical condition, and needs rachmei Shomayim. His father is in stable condition B”H.
The levaya of Reb Moshe Yosef was held on Sunday afternoon in Yeshivas Ohr Someach. Rav Naftoli Reich and Rav Leibel Lamm were among the maspidim, who spoke of the niftar’s sterling qualities and exemplary simchas hachaim.
“Mr. Reichenberg and his family lived a few houses away,” said one neighbor. “I would see him sometimes, walking up the block with his children, going to shul, etc. He said Gut Shabbos to everyone he passed, and I never saw him without a smile on his face. He was such a happy person, despite his numerous personal nisyonos.”
From Cherry Hill to Monsey
Moshe Yosef was a self-made man with rare determination and inner strength. Born in Cherry Hill, NJ, he went to the University of Seattle, and later traveled to Eretz Yisroel as a young adult. There, at the kosel, he met the legendary Rabbi Mayer Shuster, who invited him to learn in a yeshiva. The rest, as they say, is history.
After learning in Eretz Yisroel for several years, he moved to Monsey, where he joined Ohr Someach. He got married and raised a family of four beautiful children, along with his wife, who is originally from Nebraska.
“Moshe Yosef and I sort of lived parallel lives,” said Mr. Alan Stubin of Passaic, a close friend of the niftar. “We both grew up in Cherry Hill, went to University of Seattle, but never met until we were both learning in Ohr Someach in Eretz Yisroel. After several months, we began talking, and realized how much we had in common.”
Years later, when Mr. Stubin was settled in Passaic, he would speak to Reb Moshe Yosef on Fridays, as the latter was driving home from his business in Westchester.
“He was a natural salesman,” recalls Mr. Stubin. “While building a sign franchise, Moshe Yosef would enjoy going to various businesses, pitching his product. He loved people, relished interacting with them and making them smile. He was such a genuinely happy person.”
Before his mother passed away in Cherry Hill, Reb Moshe Yosef would visit her frequently, taking care of her needs and bringing her some joy. “He was such a rock, solid and dependable,” said Alan.
Although Reb Moshe Yosef energetically tried to build his business, for the past few years, parnossa was very difficult. “Yet despite the financial stress he was under, you could never see a difference in him,” his friend recalled. “He still continued smiling, seeing the good in everyone and everything. He lived for his children, and enjoyed spending time with them. It’s so tragic that he lost his life while saving a Jewish child, but that epitomized who he was. I’m still in shock; I can’t believe he’s no longer with us.”
Two of Reb Moshe Yosef’s children suffer from various disabilities, which their loving parents took in stride, with simple acceptance and good cheer. “Just a night before his petirah, I saw Reb Moshe Yosef throwing a ball to his disabled son, and cheering as he caught it. I said to my children, ‘that man is a tzaddik,’” one neighbor recalled.
Rav Abba Bronspiegel, the Rav of the shul where Reb Moshe Yosef would often daven, recalled the niftar’s rock-solid emunah, and exemplary midos. “He had a tremendous emuna p’shutah, and never questioned,” Rav Bronspiegel recalled. “If that is the halacha in Shulchan Aruch, he accepted it completely. Reb Moshe Yosef was a true mentch, who smiled at whoever he met, and didn’t speak ill of anyone. And how he loved his children!”
Last Simchas Torah, Rav Bronspiegel danced with Reb Moshe Yosef’s disabled child in the center of the circle. “His face lit up as he thanked me for dancing with his son,” the Rav recalled.
Rav Leibel Lamm, a friend and neighbor, recalled Reb Moshe Yosef’s devotion to his learning, especially to the Amud Yomi, which he learned with mesiras nefesh for 24 years straight! “He was a growing person, who always wanted to improve, to accomplish more. He recently marked his fiftieth birthday by making a siyum on a Masechta and calling friends to celebrate.”
Said another neighbor, “I heard from someone that on Thursday night, just two days before his petirah, he took his son to Tomchei Shabbos headquarters, to teach him how one Yid helps another before the storm. That was his preparation for the Olam Ho’emes.”
Perhaps this tribute, written by R.M., a friend, on Yeshiva World News, best encapsulates Reb Moshe Yosef’s magnetic personality.
“I remember the day he walked into Ohr Someach. He was so easy to get along with, never spoke poorly about anyone. At an Ohr Someach dinner he told a story about how, after Reb Meir Schuster gave him tefillin and he promised to put it on every day, as he traveled around the world, he said ‘and I put it on every day-Shabbos, Yom Kippur!’ It cracked the whole room up. No matter what troubles life handed him, he always seemed to handle them with an attitude that he understood that they were from Shomayim, and that somehow they were going to make him a better Jew.
“He was a diamond of a person, and I am sure that he never thought of the danger to himself for a second when he was going in the water to try to save the child. Moshe Yosef, you were a great friend in the years we spent together. May your petirah be a kapara for the Jewish people to save us from more tragedy.”
Please continue to be mispalel for Chaim Reuvain Dovid ben Chava Leah, the six year old boy who is fighting for his life.
Swept away in the Floodwaters
As the Jewish community was reeling from the news of Reb Moshe Yosef’s petirah, reports of another tragedy reached us, this time from Fleishmann’s, a small resort village in Delaware County, NY.
Mrs. Leah Stern, 70, wife of Rav Meir Stern, a renowned talmid chochom, was swept away in the floodwaters that enveloped the Valkyrian Motel, where they had spent the summer.
According to a witness, “At around 8:00 a.m. the motel was evacuated, due to flooding from the local brook which overflowed. Although most people left, Mrs. Stern was hesitant to leave without her husband, who was davening Shacharis. Perhaps she didn’t realize the danger she was in, since the motel was still standing on solid ground.
“A few minutes later, the entire motel was uprooted in a rush of floodwaters, and was floating in the middle of a churning lake, trapping Mrs. Stern inside. She was heard screaming for help, but the water was too deep for anyone to attempt a rescue.”
It took rescue personnel several hours to reach the motel, which was submerged in rapidly rising waters. Sadly, it was too late to save Mrs. Leah Stern, a Holocaust survivor who raised a beautiful family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mrs. B., a close friend who spent summers in Fleishmanns together with Mrs. Stern, spoke of this ehrliche Bubbe’s tefillos, three times a day, and the tehillim she constantly said for the cholim of Klal Yisroel.
“Mrs. Stern was a wonderful, loyal friend, and a true baalas chesed. She would collect money for hachnosas kallah at the Satmar Rebbe’s tziyon, and by chasunos. She spent much of her time doing gemilas chasodim.
“Just a few days before her petirah, on Shabbos, I met her at the shul. Mrs. Stern noticed a siddur lying outside, and wanted to bring it in, but there was no eruv. She worried about the siddur, that it shouldn’t be abandoned, or thrown away by mistake.”
Rav Meir Stern, a brother-in-law of the Skulener Rebbe, spent many summers in Fleishmanns, where he delivered a daily shiur in the Bais Medrash. “The Sterns really enjoyed coming here,” said a friend. “Each summer, they were among the first to arrive and the last to leave.”
Chaos and flooding in Fleishmanns
Vacationers in Fleishmanns, a small, peaceful village that is frequented by many elderly people, recall the eerie quiet on Sunday morning, the silence before the storm.
“It rained on Motzoei Shabbos, but it wasn’t as strong as we’d expected,” said Miri H., who spent Shabbos in Fleishmanns, staying at the Flagstone Motel along with her parents. “We woke up early on Sunday morning, hearing pounding on the door. My father had just come home from davening, and warned us to get out, because the nearby brook was overflowing.”
The bleary-eyed vacationers quickly got dressed and ran into the hallway, which was slowly filling up with water. “The families on the first floor ran up to the second floor, grabbing their children, taking whatever they could find. They joined us upstairs, and we tried to calm everyone down. A few minutes later, the brook overflowed, and the main level of the motel became a swimming pool.”
The terrified children began to cry, as the adults tried to find a way out of their waterlogged lodgings. Fortunately, rescue personnel showed up, and quickly evacuated everyone from the main entrance, into the nearby shul. “The water was already about two or three feet high, and rising fast,” said Miri. “Every adult took a child in their arms. Some people were still in their nightclothes, without proper shoes. It was just a nightmare.”
Fortunately, the stranded vacationers were all evacuated safely, though those on the lower floors lost most of their possessions. The children were taken to higher ground by fire engine, and the adults waded through the water. They were given shelter in another motel, where kindly neighbors shared food and lodgings.
“We were supposed to go home on Sunday, but my father’s car was completely submerged in water, and all the local roads were closed,” Miri recalled. “We were trapped, quite literally, but at least everyone was safe and sound. Most of the day we were worrying about Mrs. Stern, saying tehillim and hoping they would rescue her in time. Sadly, they got to her too late.”
Throughout the day, the normally pastoral streets of Fleishmanns were transformed into a floating river, with gas tanks, refrigerators, and pieces of furniture swimming in the churning depths.
May the two korbanos, pure and holy neshamos, be a kaporah for Klal Yisroel. TNZB”H.