| Family First Editor's Letter |

Mishpacha in Mourning

Two weeks ago, Ahava penned these words: “Saadya, you are the most positive person who ever walked the face of this earth"

"Your Mishpacha mishpachah.” It’s the way we sign off mazel tov notes and pre-Yom Tov letters to our staff. It may sound a little corny. A touch cliché. But here’s the thing — it’s true.

Workplaces often become a family of sorts, and when you’re working with a strong sense of mission — and under tight deadlines — the sense of connection is palpable. There’s sibling rivalry, good-natured teasing, the bickering and bantering that are part of family life.

It’s not just the office staff that’s connected. Although we’re separated by many miles and time zones, our writers and photographers, editors and proofreaders, form a web of family across the globe.

That whole family is mourning right now, mourning the loss of a special young man who was optimistic and independent, loving and determined.

Ahava Ehrenpreis has been sharing her poignant writing with us for years. She has the unusual ability to face reality, never whitewashing or denying, yet also find the beauty, the silver lining, the nuggets of goodness hidden in the difficulty. Her gentle humor and wry observations never fail to inspire.

She wrote a number of essays about her experiences as a widow (her book On My Own is a must read for any woman living alone — and for anyone who knows and loves such a woman). The lion’s share of her pieces, though, were about her son Saadya, an upbeat young man with Down syndrome.

Through her eloquent description, we’ve watched Saadya grow up, wished him luck when he moved to a group home, celebrated as he started learning in the Makor College Experience in YU.

Then Saadya got COVID-19. He’s been in the tefillos of both staff and readers for weeks.

And now he’s gone. And we’re left speechless.

During his levayah, one of the maspidim pointed out that there are different types of darkness. There’s the darkness of night, and then there’s the thick blackness of Mitzrayim. Darkness is always commensurate with the amount of light lost. The day Saadya was taken, he said, was very dark.

Most of the hespedim focused on the light, the happiness Saadya brought everyone around him. His brother spoke of how he was closer to reality than most of us, able to enjoy and appreciate every person, unencumbered by prejudices and inhibitions. His brother-in-law described the warm welcome Saadya offered as soon as he joined the family. The shul rav spoke of Saadya’s love for Torah, his unbridled joy on Simchas Torah. His rebbi related a cherished memory of Saadya at his wedding: Saadya bursting into the inner circle of dancers and turning cartwheels for his beloved rebbi. “Whoever hasn’t seen Saadya dancing at a chasunah, hasn’t seen true simchah,” the rebbi proclaimed through his tears.

Two weeks ago, Ahava penned these words: “Saadya, you are the most positive person who ever walked the face of this earth. You never get angry at other people and certainly never toward the Ribbono shel Olam. You see sunshine where others see the clouds, you smell the roses where others feel the thorns, you abhor hostility and anger and any kind of tension between people!”

Ahava, I never merited to meet Saadya in person. But I know you. And I know where Saadya got these incredible traits from. The two of you have been teaching us about emunah, tenacity, and optimism for years.

Right now, the blackness is so thick; it’s hard to find the light. May the only One Who can truly bring comfort shine His light upon you and your family, and may all those in mourning be reunited with their loved ones so soon.

Your Mishpacha mishpachah

—Bassi Gruen

Dear Saadya … Love, Mom

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