By Yoel & Shany Hecht and Sara & Chaim Liechtung
As Sukkos ended, our family completed a year of kaddish and aveilus for one of the pillars of the Far Rockaway/Five Towns community, our father, Rabbi Yechiel Hecht, zt’l. As we start the Torah anew, we also celebrate his birthday. Interestingly, due to the war, he never really knew when his birthday was, so he chose parashasBereishis as his beginning as well.
On the first day of Sukkos last year, at shekiah, while the sun was setting, this community lost one of its treasures. With grandsons singing Hallel and favorite nigunim at his bedside mere minutes before his petirah, and with Rabbi Feiner’s divreiTorah in his ears, Zaidy left this world surrounded by kedushah, in his bed at home.
R’ Yechiel Hecht was born in Poland, the son of R’ Yisroel Hecht, who was the shochet in Sanz. During the war, the family was banished to a work camp in Siberia and remained there for the duration. After the war, they discovered after years of struggle that they actually were better off than those left behind in Poland.
As Rabbi Feiner mentioned at the levayah, Hashem also wants a sweet-smelling esrog so He took this tzaddik on Sukkos. As grandson Rav Yitzchok Menachem Hecht said at the levayah, “Zaidy was 100% European and 0% American.” To see Zaidy was to see the shtetel. He was a simple man, steeped in Torah and kedushah, whose only desire was to serve Hashem and KlalYisrael. He had a booming voice, was an exemplary ba’alk’riah and ba’altefillah. His Torah knowledge was vast and he was happiest at home or in shul, sitting at the table, with a sefer in hand.
Almost 30 years ago, our parents moved to Far Rockaway where our father became the shammas of his beloved White Shul. Prior to moving to Far Rockaway, he served as the shammas in the Talmud Torah of Flatbush. Although he had tried a number of professions, he ultimately was the quintessential shammas and was happiest serving the klal.
During shivah we heard over and over again: “Your father loved everyone; but he loved me the most—I was special!” He made everyone feel special and really connected to every Jew, those who were observant and those who were not yet observant. It really didn’t matter. When he asked how you were, he really wanted to know. He felt your joy and shared your pain.
He had the z’chus of serving under three rabbanim,shlita, all gedoleiTorah for whom he had the utmost respect and admiration. Each rav had much to say at the funeral and/or the sheloshim.
Rabbi Pelcovitz emphasized his total dedication to the tzibbur which took priority over his personal needs. Rabbi Pelcovitz’s feelings can perhaps best be summed up in his one statement: “The White Shul has lost its neshamah.”
Rabbi Flaum emphasized his middah of chesed and love for every Jew, which was the ultimate purpose of creation and the way to connect with Hashem.
Rabbi Feiner recalled his amazement at how our father had amazing patience and empathy for each person while at the same time carrying the ol malchus Shamayim and ol ha’tzibbur, 24/7/365.
He believed in yashrus. Do what’s right and what Hashem expects of you. After every meal, Zaidy would brush the crumbs from the table and pop them in his mouth. “Zaidy what are you doing? We will clean up.” And he would say “What I would have done for a handful of crumbs in Siberia.” These lessons he taught were lived, not just taught. How lucky we were to live near Zaidy so our children could grow up in his shadow and learn from his actions.
We recall as soon as the Yamim Nora’im were upon us, he enlisted the help of his grandsons to change the Torah mantlach and tie lulavim and eventually to change the mantlach again after Simchas Torah. These are life lessons and skills that they will never forget. They learned about kedushasbeisha’knesses from a very young age and have fond memories of standing with him on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when their father was away in various communities serving as shaliachtzibbur. They learned from his example and each one is serving the klal.
Zaidy always had a simchas ha’chaim. He had a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye no matter what was happening in his life. Throughout his nisyonos, even after his debilitating stroke 5½ years ago, he never asked, “Why me?”
Our father wanted to be at home; he would say “ashrei yoshvei veisecha”—and until his last breath, we fulfilled his wishes, as difficult as it was. We could not have done it without the help of his many doctors who came when we called, day or night. Words are not enough to thank those who helped us, including the wonderful Hatzalah volunteers who always, always treated him with great care and respect.
Special hakarasha’tov to Rabbi Feiner, Mr. Fred Shulman, and Mrs. Gitty Neufeld who helped us throughout yom tov to deal with the many halachos and arrangements, particularly complicated over a three-day yom tov. A special thank you to Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of Achiezer for all his help navigating the system. You knew just what to do and we will be forever indebted. We are so lucky to have community resources like no other. To the wonderful neighbors on Dorian Court: We will never forget the sight of you standing outside on yom tov waiting silently in front of your houses to be melaveh our father. Thank you.
Needless to say this has been a humbling experience and we have learned a few lessons that we would like to share. We should all realize that we have so many lonely, elderly, and infirm people in our community. Find out who they are and go visit. When a person is bedridden, they spend their days looking at the same walls day after day, hour after hour. Visitors help to pass the time. The mitzvah of bikurcholim is for the patient, not the visitor. Even if it’s uncomfortable and the conversation may only flow one way since the patient may not be able to speak or does not want to speak, know that they are listening and value the time you take to brighten their day. Thank you to his handful of regular visitors. You gave us chizuk and brightened his day. He always knew you came even though at times you may have thought that maybe he wasn’t aware you were there.
If you know of a shivah house that needs a minyan, make it your business to go. Often in the morning, the aveilim are the only ones in the house and have to scramble for help to put together a minyan. When we had trouble completing the minyanim during shivah, we said, “Who can we call?” Who doesn’t remember seeing Rabbi Hecht, zt’l, sometimes in tallis and tefillin, standing outside the White Shul to divert mispallelim to a shivah house?
Zaidy needed little, but he had one dream. He always wanted to write a sefer Torah. After the stroke he expressed this wish to us. We arranged for a sofer to come to the hospital to meet with him, but he decided to wait until he was better so he could dance with his Torah. Imagine our joy when Rabbi Feiner informed us that the White Shul wanted to partner with us to write a seferTorah in his memory to be used every Shabbos. They had no idea that this was his ultimate wish. What a fitting tribute.
To participate in the seferTorah campaign in memory of our parents, please contact the White Shul. There is a link on the main page at whiteshul.com, or call the shul at 718-327-0500.
May R’ Yechiel ben Yisroel be a meilitzyosher for us, his family, including his newest great-grandson Yechiel ben Yisroel Hecht, his beloved community and all of klal Yisrael. We live in very difficult times, Zaidy. As you always said: Mir vartin far Mashiach.