He did the best he could with the tools he was given
The call came in the middle of a frantic Erev Shabbos Hagadol.
“I’m at Harlan Braude’s house.”
“Is everything all right?”
Harlan’s next-door neighbor answered with words that continue to haunt me: “I think Harlan is dead.”
Harlan Braude was born on September 14, 1957. His parents were hardworking people, who, to the outside world, seemed like any other regular Jewish couple.
However, as is the case more often than not, what went on inside the home was anything but normal.
Harlan and I first met 40 years ago in yeshivah. We reconnected 20 years later and became very close friends, speaking daily. Harlan was bright and funny, loved to learn, and it was enjoyable to share his company. Nevertheless, as close as we were, there was always a part of Harlan that remained concealed. He never allowed himself the luxury of completely letting his guard down. He did his best — as we all do — to hide his pain and loneliness. Outwardly he was easygoing and comical. Inwardly however, struggles with the demons of his mind began to take their toll.
Harlan’s mother was born in Germany, and witnessed Kristallnacht firsthand. She saw Jews beaten and degraded, the arrest of her grandfather, and had lived with the constant fear of death. Only through the compassionate Hand of Hashem was the family miraculously able to flee Germany before the war.
Harlan’s mother’s life was saved, but her neshamah was scarred. And Harlan grew up frequently motherless as his mother struggled to heal that scarred neshamah at various mental health facilities.
The trauma of his youth left its traces, and Harlan became a victim of the same cruel affliction as his mother.
The progression was slow and steady. As the years passed, Harlan realized he would never marry. When he lost his last job, years ago, he never again actively sought employment. Harlan began to withdraw emotionally further into himself and physically became a prisoner of his own home. During the last six months of his life he never left his house. Friends to whom he entrusted his door combination would deliver food, do his laundry, and learn with him.
And Harlan spoke more and more about death.
In one of our last conversations, we were looking at the furniture in his living room. In a rare moment of emotional vulnerability, Harlan looked at me and said, “You know, when I bought this home, it was with the hope and plan that it would be filled with a spouse and children.”
He sighed as the full weight of the realization that it would never be took hold of him.
On Friday, 7 Nissan, while resting peacefully in his bed, Harlan Braude was finally freed from the physical torturous trauma that plagued him for over 60 years. He was buried in Eretz Yisrael the following Monday.
It would be easy to critique his reclusive, almost secretive life. However, that would be unfair and inaccurate. He did the best he could with the tools he was given. He, too, was a child of the Holocaust.
And who are we to pass judgment?
He touched many lives and did many unknown acts of chesed. Even after his passing, his chesed continued, when the case of Pesach wine Harlan had ordered and already paid for arrived at the home of the intended beneficiary.
He could be humorous and simultaneously cutting in his critiques. But ultimately, he was human, just like me and you.
And like me and you, and all of us, he struggled with the challenges of life.
On a cool Monday evening in a cemetery outside Beit Shemesh, Harlan finally found what had eluded him his entire life: true menuchas hanefesh.
The trauma and pain had permanently ceased.
The inner turmoil was no more.
Harlan Braude was finally at peace.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 771)