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Years of Plenty

Shlomi Gil, Vinnytsia, Ukraine

His parents in the Ukrainian town waited for years to have a child. Yet when they perceived the spiritual gifts of their only son, they sent him far away to maximize his Torah. Five years ago, Alec and Nella Greenzayd saw their son Gedaliah for the last time. The next time they would meet would be at his funeral.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The freezing February air didn’t deter the dozens of Jews in this remote Ukrainian funeral procession. Community members made their way to the cemetery with plodding, heavy steps — and not only because of the heavy snow that covered the frozen earth. They had come to take leave of the young man on whom they had pinned their greatest hopes, the scholar who was about to show the world that from here, from the faraway town of Vinnytsia, a great talmid chacham had emerged who would come back to light up the Ukraine with his hard-earned Torah. Instead, they came to bury 25-year-old Gedaliah Greenzayd z”l, who was leaving his family and his community amid a torrent of tears that seemed to scream, “Hashem, help us understand Your hidden ways!” It’s been three months since that bleak winter day when Avraham (Alec) Greenzayd buried his only child — a boy wonder who from age ten already showed signs of Torah greatness, eventually following a path that led him to yeshivos in Ukraine, Eretz Yisrael, Monsey, and Morristown, to a siyum on Shas and rabbinic ordination… and ultimately to his untimely death on an early morning street in Crown Heights, where he was killed by a garbage truck making a right turn into his crosswalk. Alec Greenzayd has one weapon to somehow contain the pain in his heart. Every day, he throws himself into lovingly cleaning and polishing every shelf in the little shul in Vinnytsia, where he’s been gabbai for three decades. When I went to visit him in this town after the shloshim, he was busy wiping down the ancient wooden tables, scrubbing some invisible stain off the corner of the embroidered cover on the bimah, cleaning out the candelabra, sweeping a few crumbs off the floor. “Gedaliah, my only son,” he sighed. “How can I live without your smile, without the Torah that you taught all of us here in our little town? We ask why it happened, but we have no answers. All we have left is our faith. Our faith is strong, but it is still very difficult for us. Since you left, our lives are empty.”

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