Rabbi Levi Wolff yblch”t, Chabad of Bondi, Sydney shares some thoughts after the passing of his cousin, Rabbi Benny Wolff of Chabad of Hanover, Germany due to Coronavirus.
This past week was incredibly challenging for our family. As I have shared, my first cousin Rabbi Benny Wolff, Chabad rabbi in Hanover, tragically passed away at the young age of 43 from COVID-19. He left behind his wife, Sternie, eight young children and a devastated community.
Everyone is suffering.
But when it hits so close to home, it hurts infinitely more.
As boys we shared a similar vision – we wanted to throw all our energy into helping Jewish communities wherever needed. Yet there was an irrepressible dimension to Benny that I admired greatly and he made the courageous decision to return to the country from which his namesake, our great-grandfather, escaped – Germany. His plan: to breathe new life into a land filled with so many burnt ashes.
Last Sunday, along with thousands of others, I watched his gut-wrenching funeral online and sobbed as I heard his young children recite Kaddish over the freshly dug grave. I saw his wife’s eyes deprived of sleep and overburdened with tears.
The darkness couldn’t possibly get thicker.
We all felt weighed down in the heaviest way – he was a young, selfless, active parent, husband, rabbi, mentor and all round extraordinary spiritual leader. Bereft.
And then a glimmer of light shone through.
Family in Israel began researching arrangements for a burial in the Holy Land. After all, many reasoned that no one would really want to be buried in Germany, with its soil forever drenched with so much Jewish blood and tears.
Focus shifted to his dear wife Sternie – would she pack up the family and move back to Israel? Were flights even available during these trying times of coronavirus lockdowns?
Sternie’s grief knows no bounds and yet, simultaneously she needed to tackle a thousand new unknowns almost immediately. Amidst all of this and more, Sternie uplifted us all! She announced that her husband, was going to be buried in Germany, in a city where a rabbi hadn’t been laid to rest since the Holocaust.
Her rationale? Benny had been sent there by the Rebbe with a vital mission and as far as she was concerned, his mission was not over.
For that matter, neither was her own. She decided to remain in Hanover with her children to continue the life-changing work within their community.
A captain never abandons ship.
Even when the sea is choppy.
The years to come will bring unknown new challenges her way, balancing raising her children and leading her community, yet Sternie is brave and resolute.
In fact, just yesterday while sitting Shiva, she found the strength to reach out to a young boy scheduled to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah and facilitated arrangements for the celebration to go ahead as planned.
The Jewish world took its collective cue from Sternie’s decision and, moved by her determination and courage, has thus far raised significant funds for her shlichut to continue, donated by friends as well as perfect strangers around the world who have been inspired by her determination and courage.
It is a powerful ray of light amidst a murkiness that threatened to envelop us all. It has taught me such a fundamental lesson.
Dear friends, the virus has caused us all to be hurting, yet despite the greatest pain we can rise up and lead, to help another, to make a difference.
In Benny’s memory and inspired by Sternie, I encourage you to evaluate your world, find a corner that may benefit from more light and set it ablaze.
May it be a week of good news and good health for us all. Amen.
Rabbi Levi and Chanie