Living Simply Is a Jewish Value. But When Is It Too Much?

Sirens echoed through the streets in the Ukrainian town as neighbors peeked out of windows to see what was the cause of the commotion.

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Vaad HaRabbanim

Sirens echoed through the typically quiet streets in the Ukrainian town of Vinitzia last week, as neighbors peeked out of windows to see what was the cause of the commotion. Emergency responders struggled to get a stretcher up the narrow stairwell of the shabby building, so friends & neighbors carried the limp body of R’Naftali Kirzner down to the ambulance. Rabbi Kirzner was whisked away while his three children watched weeping from the tiny windowsill which overlooked the road.

There was a tragic irony in Rabbi Kirzner being carried by his friends, as in a way they were accustomed to Kirzner carrying the community. He was a beloved speaker, teacher, and mentor for teens at risk during his 10 years in the small Ukrainian Jewish community. Upon arrival at the hospital, it was determined that Rabbi Kirzner had suffered a severe stroke & also was positive for COVID. Doctors gave him only a few hours to live, and he passed away on Sunday at the age of 41.

Another body was carried on Monday: At the funeral, Rabbi Kirzner’s 7 year old daughter clung to the ground which covered his grave, sobbing. Their broken mother, a grim shadow of herself, coaxed her hysterical children back to the car, where they returned to their shabby apartment to process.

Those who have visited the family for shiva have seen that the situation is even more tragic than they had initially imagined. The Kirzner home, while clean, is decrepit. They have no washing machine, no stove top. They live in extreme poverty. Rabbi & Mrs. Kirzner lived extremely simply and while they had learned to be happy with simplicity, they longed to give their children security and one day provide them with a more secure upbringing. With Rabbi Kirzner’s passing, however, that dream died. Mrs. Kirzner has no way of creating a better life for her kids when recovering from the shock of a lifetime.

A memorial fund has been opened to honor R’Kirzner’s legacy of carrying the community and its children, by carrying his widow & children through this devastating time. Donations go toward basics like a stovetop, utilities, clothing for the children, groceries, and other staples the Kirzners’ community had no idea they were living without.