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Hurricane Irene: 72 Hours in the Eye of the Storm

Mishpacha Staff

Mere hours after bentching Rosh Chodesh Elul in shul on Shabbos morning, I took a glance out my home window. In front of my eyes, the trees were shaking ferociously as Hurricane Irene barreled mercilessly towards the New York/New Jersey region. It didn’t take long for the symbolism to sink in. Throughout the generations, yidden would say that when Chodesh Elul –the period of teshuvah and Heavenly judgment- approaches, “afilu di bletlach tzitteren,” even the leaves quake.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Less than 24 hours after shuls throughout Klal Yisrael announced the approach of Chodesh Elul and with it, the first stirrings of the Yamim Noraim, the New York Jewish community was thunderstruck by the passing of two precious neshamos caught in the cataclysm that was Hurricane Irene.

These twin losses, suffered only hours apart, turned the haunting words of U’Nesaneh Tokef — “who by water and who by fire,” — to be intoned in little over a month from now, into a devastating reality. 

In the first of these tragedies, Monsey resident Moshe Reichenberg was driving and had reached the intersection of Merrick Drive and Union Road in Spring Valley, when he spotted a boy who was apparently writhing in pain and badly burned after having touched a downed electrical wire. Mr. Reichenberg leapt from his car and rushed to pull the child away from the line, but as he did, he was electrocuted, giving his life in an act of mesirus nefesh.

Medics arrived at the scene within minutes, but were unable to extricate him because he was still in contact with the power line. Only when personnel from Orange and Rockland Power arrived to shut down power, were they able to remove his body.

Misaskim volunteer Heshy Margareten was at the organization’s garage just down the block from the scene when, hearing screams, he ran to trace their source, only to be confronted with the horrifying scene. He sprang into action, eventually coordinating the efforts of some seventeen other Misaskim volunteers; first at the accident scene and then at the Reichenberg home, where they brought the family a generator to restore power that had been knocked out by the storm and attended to the family’s various other needs.

The injured boy, Chaim Reuvain Dovid ben Chava Leah, was rushed to a trauma center with severe burns and at press time is in great need of our tefillos.

Late Sunday afternoon, more than 1,000 people accorded Mr. Reichenberg his final honor at his levayah at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach, where he had learned.

Rav Naftoli Reich, a rebbe at the yeshiva gave a hesped, and afterward, shared his fond, personal recollections with Mishpacha.

“Moshe personified, above all, the attribute of temimus, possessing unwavering faith in Hashem’s goodness, which, uncannily, is a mitzvah that appears in this week’s parshah. He lived a life of great challenge, in regard to health, parnassah and other areas, yet this could not deter him and his exceptional wife from living joyously,” said Rabbi Reich.

Rabbi Reich said that just a month ago, Mr. Reichenberg visited him at his home for a monthly get-together of Ohr Somayach alumni where Mr. Reichenberg recounted the story of the night — some twenty years ago — when his house burst into flames.

An Ohr Somayach rebbe brought Mr. Reichenberg and his wife to Rabbi Reich’s home at 3 AM. The next morning, Mr. Reichenberg, who had escaped the fire with only his nightclothes, was provided with a suit that was perhaps five sizes too big, yet he insisted, neither he nor his wife had ever experienced a day of such sublime joy as that day.

The Reichenberg’s home was furnished with only the barest necessities. Mr. Reichenberg wooult start his day with a 6 a.m. shiur given by Rav Yochanon Wosner, with whom he was very close. He was described as an extremely hard working man, who felt a deeply ingrained responsibility to provide for his family and to support himself from his own toil.

“Moshe died as he lived — focused on doing for others. We’ve lost someone exceptionally special,” said Rabbi Reich.


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