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Dutzi, We’re With You

Aryeh Ehrlich

Jews around the world were devastated by the enormity of the tragedy: an entire family — three generations — taken in an instant in a gruesome collision between a train and a minibus that stalled. Son-in-law David Tzvi Gutstein, the only surviving family member, together with the driver, were somehow spared the fate of the others, despite the van being thrown 1,300 feet after it had been flattened. In a painful conversation from his hospital bed, David Tzvi (“Dutzi”) shares his overwhelming devastation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blood-chilling dread hovered over the gloomy corridor leading to the Intensive Care Unit on the second floor of the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. We stood in the doorway of the dismal room, forgetting about joy, disconnected from optimism, feeling like the sadness creeping into our bones would settle there for good. Add to this the annoying buzzing and beeping of medical equipment, and soon it felt as if the very walls threatened to cave in on us.

An opaque curtain separates us, three close friends of David Tzvi (“Dutzi”) Gutstein, who was, up till now, an energetic, vibrant avreich. And now? A young widower and bereaved father who not only lost his wife and son, but also his parents-in-law and all their children, in the most horrendous tragedy to have hit the chareidi community for decades. Gutstein is the only survivor — injured, but alive.

We took one step forward and retreated three. The doctors standing in the doorway urged us, pleaded with us to muster our courage and enter. “It’s important for the patient. He needs friends and their moral support.”

It didn’t help. We just couldn’t bear to see our comrade lying there helpless, grappling with the terrible reality of seven horrible deaths, one more tragic than the next. We didn’t have the strength to look into his eyes and see the black death reflected in them when only three days before he had sat together with us in a daily Gemara shiur. And now, the cup of bitterness had been overturned upon him, soaking him to its last poisonous drop.

How could we approach him? What could we possibly say? Maybe we should go back to the car?

We were still outside the room, when a relative came out to us, practically pushing us inside. “Come in. Dutzi is waiting for you. He wants you to enter and can’t understand what’s holding you back.”

The light of his eyes is extinguished. He is one big block of suffering, his face bloated from the bruises of the accident.

He has no illusions. From the moment he heard the truth, he internalized it, digested it, cogitated over it, and ruminated on it. How he would like to see a glimmer of optimism in the future, but what can it hold for him when reality keeps slamming him in the face? Seven souls gone. Seven souls risen in a stormy death to Heaven. One, and another, and another, and another and another and another and another … No one left. He is the sole survivor.

“Do you know,” Dutzi says to me, his voice low and feeble. “I never went with my father-in-law for a vacation. There was no such thing. But this time he decided to take the whole family to Komemiyus. I don’t know what possessed him; it wasn’t like him. And look what came of it. It’s clearly a decree from Heaven.”

In the middle of our visit, David Tzvi attempted to open his swollen eyes fully and raise his bandaged head a bit. He peered at us directly with a gaze of bottomless suffering, as if to see how others absorbed the truth of the horrible situation, if they could begin to grasp it altogether. His voice quavered and then he sank into himself, into an infinite inner pool of misery.

“So all of them are gone?” David Tzvi asks suddenly, returning to the present. “Every single one? Really?”

The department head walks in. “What do you need, David? Is there anything we can do for you?”

“I want to go home,” says David Tzvi faintly, looking into space.

Then he turns his gaze to us. “But what home am I talking about, anyway? I have no home. I have nothing to go back to in Beitar. No wife. No child. I don’t even have my wife’s family. They’re all up There. And I’m down here. Alone.” A hot tear trickles down. It opens a watershed of tears that have no end.

“Ever since they broke the news that I’m the only survivor, I can’t stop thinking about my wife, my Mordechai Aharon, my father-in-law. I loved him very much. I was like der finfter kindt, his fifth child. And now I am left without anything. I don’t have where to go.”


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