“With that chein and smile, by taking three seconds to say good morning, he made an impact that was remembered years later”
Taken just moments before the disaster unfolded, the delighted smile of Donny Morris z”l — framed by the multitudes who’d come to Meron — captures the before-and-after nature of what happened more than any other.
That smile, says Rabbi Noam Koenigsberg, his rebbi in Yeshivat Sha’alvim, was a fixture, evidence of a nature that radiated happiness. “He was such fun to talk to. As one of Donny’s friends pointed out, he even managed to smile while eating yeshivah-supplied wafers at our weekly gathering. Most people can’t do that. There was someone who had an emotionally difficult Elul who used to initiate conversations with Donny just because he knew that he’d feel better after.”
Underneath the perma-smile that he showed the world was a teen with a refined character and sensitive nature, focused on inner growth.
“At the beginning of the year, the boys were brainstorming for the four goals that we should be focusing on in the shiur,” says Rabbi Koenigsberg. “Donny stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, you’ve missed the most important one: middos. When we come home at the end of the year, we won’t be discussing Abaye and Rava with our parents, so how are they going to see that we’ve changed if not our derech eretz?’ That was voted in thanks to Donny.”
That caring nature was evident when Donny was still young, as another rebbi at Sha’alvim makes clear.
Five years ago, Donny left the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, where he’d gone for elementary school. On Friday, when the news broke that he’d been niftar, a teacher at the school happened to show his picture to the non-Jewish janitor, and the man let out a gasp.
Surprised by the janitor’s emotion, the teacher asked him, “You remember him?”
“Him?” replied the man. “Of course, I remember him. He was the sweetest kid.”
What was it about Donny that made him so memorable? Why did the janitor remember him, five years later, among the hundreds of Jewish kids who passed through the corridors of the school?
“There is no doubt in my mind,” the rebbi muses, “that it was a daily hello or a friendly smile that etched his memory in the mind of the janitor.
“This just captures who Donny was,” concludes his rebbi. “With that chein and smile, by taking three seconds to say good morning, he made an impact that was remembered years later.”
During the year that Donny spent in Sha’alvim, he thrived in Torah-learning, both in terms of hours spent and his own achievements. At the emotional levayah, watched online by tens of thousands, the story was told of how during Elul, Donny had asked his friend to wake him up for Shacharis, in an unusual way.
“Wake me up by blowing the shofar,” said Donny.
“Why do you need a shofar?” wondered the friend.
“Because I want to be woken up with a feeling of Elul,” came the touching reply.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 859)
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