Responding to Tragedy

Thursday, 1 January, 2015 - 1:56 am

On Sunday morning, after Shacharis, I got a phone call from my neighbor, David B. Devastated, he shared me with the horrific news that his niece, Danielle Bessler from Rhode Island and her friend James Golik from Toronto were tragically killed in a car accident while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Stunned, I asked him if he would like Chabad to become involved and provide assistance - David said yes. I called the Chabad rabbi of Cancun, Rabbi Mendel Druk. After telling him about the tragic accident in Puerto Vallarta involving Danielle and James, Rabbi Druk informed me that the nearest Chabad house to Puerto Vallarta was five hours away, and gave me the number of the Chabad Shaliach from Chabad Lubavitch of Guadalajara, Rabbi Avraham Srugo. 

I was on the phone for over an hour trying to reach Rabbi Srugo. No luck.

Finally Rabbi Srugo called me back. He felt terrible but he did not know what he could do to help. He had a huge amount of things to take care of over the next few days, and he was a five-hour drive away. All the hotels in the area were fully booked. There would be nowhere for him to stay.

But when he heard the plea from Danielle's family, there was nothing else to do but to help. "Yidden are waiting for me. I am going to go."

Rabbi Srugo drove five hours and made his way to the Eternity Funeral Home in Bucerias. There he recited tehillim, psalms, by the side of the bodies.

In the hours following, Rabbi Srugo spent every second in touch with Danielle's and James' families and the State Department in an effort to make sure that the bodies could be flown back to their respective families in Rhode Island and Toronto.

There were many bureaucratic obstacles that stood in their way, and there were only a few flights that could fly the bodies back to their families. The rabbi's concern was that because of the upcoming New Year's, the delay would be even greater. Nonetheless Rabbi Srugo tirelessly persisted. 

Finally, yesterday evening I received a text message from Rabbi Srugo that the bodies had been shipped. 

I called Danielle's father and left a message for him, expressing my pain and sorrow over his daughter's death, and to tell him that Rabbi Srugo had recited tehillim by the side of his daughter, and that her body was being flown back home.

I then called James' mother to let her know the same about her son.

Both families were devastated, their lives torn apart in one second.

At 12:30 am, I received a call from Providence. It was Danielle's father. It took a few minutes before he was able to formulate a sound. Choking with tears, he told me that "there is no one else in the world with the same mesirut nefesh, the same self-sacrifice, as Chabad. I will never, ever forget this kindness, this commitment, that has been shown to me." 

He asked me how he could repay Rabbi Srugo.

I told him that this is what the Rebbe taught us: when it comes to helping another Jew, NOTHING stops you from running to be by his or her side. This mandate - to reach out to every single person in need, no matter how difficult - is the driving force that keeps each Jew connected with the other.

May we only share good news.


Comments on: Responding to Tragedy

debie greenberg wrote...

I have known Danielle's mother for over 30 years and was at the hospital a few hours after she was born here in N.Y. I hope I never know the tragedy of loosing my son but after driving up and back to the funeral you have no idea how appreciative the family is of all your help.. .. and the help of Rabbi Srugo. as I am. Our family is still in shock over this tragedy. We never thought that the last time we would see Danielle was at Ben's bar mitzvah three years ago. It should have been a wedding we were driving to not a funeral. May HaS comfort all of us Danielle be a gitten beiter for all of us. Debie Greenberg, rego park, ny