Photo Credit: Mendy Hechtman / Flash 90
A memorial candle in Tzfat

It was 6 PM on Erev Shabbos HaGadol when the call came in.
I was in the midst of my final editing of the Drosha.
It was a stress-filled time as no matter how many hours of preparation I do, I am always frantically nervous about the Drosha.
The caller, who was a good friend and also a Hatzolah member was at the house of our mutual friend Harold Brofsky.
From the tone of his voice, I could tell something was awry.
“I’m at Harold ’s house”, he began.
“Yes”, is everything alright?”
He hesitated and then said the words which continue to haunt me, “I think Harold is dead.”
Harold Brofsky was born on September 14, 1957, in New York.
He had an older sister and his parents were hard-working people.
Perhaps to the outside world, they seemed like any other Jewish couple with two children living in a private house.
Perhaps they were perceived as being the epitome of the American dream.
They had their own house, the father earned a respectable income, they had one boy and one girl and mom was a stay-at-home mother, what could be bad?
However, as is the case more often than not, inside the home there was no sense of peace or calmness.
On the inside of that apparently ideal abode, demons from the past lurked and prowled about.
The reason for this was simple, Harold ’s mother was born in Germany.
She had witnessed firsthand Kristallnacht and the brutal arrest of her grandfather along with 30,000 other Jewish men that night.
She recalled vividly hiding trembling and terrified as she heard the mob outside shouting. “Juden sind Schweine und müssen getötet warden” (Jews are swine and must be killed).
She heard as she lay quivering under her bed the sound of storefronts being smashed and shattered. She could smell the smoke emanating from the burning local Shul as it filled her nostrils and mouth.
From that day on, life would never be the same for her.
Through the compassionate hand of Hashem, her family miraculously was able to flee the hellish land of Germany and to reach American shores on the last boat to depart Germany before the war.
Little did she realize as she married and had Harold , how emotionally scarred she was.
When Harold was a child, her flashbacks of the horrific and terrifying days of Kristallnacht began to manifest themselves.
Because of his mother’s handicaps, Harold was frequently without his mother as she struggled to regain her medical stability at various facilities.
Harold , therefore, was also a victim of the cruelty afflicted on his mother as he grew up in a home where he never knew if his mother would be home when he arrived home from school.
Notwithstanding these hardships, Harold did his best to fit in.
Harold was bright and funny and certainly did his best to hide- as we all do- the darker side of himself.
He went on learn at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon where we first met forty years ago.
We reconnected when I became the Rav of the Shul over twenty years ago and since then we bonded and formed an inseparable connection.
We would speak daily as he was one person to whom I was not Rabbi Eisenman, rather I was his friend.
Nevertheless, there was always one part of Harold which remained concealed and hidden.
He was friendly, funny and amusing.
However, he always kept even his closest friends at bay and would never allow them to cross the invisible line which led to a true intimate friendship.
As the years went on it was clear Harold would never marry.
And over ten years ago when he lost his last job he never actively sought out employment again.
In the last year or two, as Harold entered the sixtieth year of his life, he began to withdraw emotionally further and further into himself.
This detachment was not only emotional, but it was also physical as well.
The last six months of his life he never left his home.
Friends with whom he entrusted with the combination to his door would come in to deliver food and do his laundry.
He stayed in his room in self-imposed confinement waiting for the day when his suffering would be relieved.
Harold 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, Harold 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. However, I now realize this will never be the case.”
As Harold withdrew emotionally, physically he began to deteriorate.
And therefore although I was shocked by the phone call on Friday afternoon, I was not surprised.
It was as if Harold had willed himself to leave this torturous world.
The question of how to have Harold buried in an expedited fashion was only achieved through help from above.
With herculean human efforts, we were able to have Harold buried in Eretz Yisroel the following Monday.
He always wanted to eventually retire to Israel, and it was only fitting that his eternal rest should be there.
It would be easy to critique his reclusive almost secretive life.
However, that would be unfair and inaccurate.
Harold was one of Hitler’s victims.
He too was a child of the Holocaust, and who are we to pass judgment over the trauma and pain he faced as a child?
He touched many lives and did many unknown acts of Chesed.
Perhaps the most poignant is the one he did just days before leaving this painful world.
A few days after his death, the local wine store contacted the Shul and informed us that the wine order placed by Harold Brofsky for a family in town was paid for and ready to be picked up.
Harold never lived to see his last Mitzvah fulfilled, however, the wine was delivered to the family to be used at Pesach.
He could humorous and he could be cutting in his critiques.
He could be ghoulish in his obsession with gallows humor.
Ultimately, he was human, just like me and you.
He had his particular struggles and he too was also a victim of Nazi Germany.
Yet, he always made me laugh.
In fact, he was the one person I could call who I knew would always make me smile.
And as passed away on Erev Shabbos HaGadol, Harold had the last laugh.
As he passed in the month of Nissan there would be no hespedim and no service as time was of the essence to reach the airport.
This was exactly how Harold wanted it to be, quick and without fanfare.
On a cool Monday evening in Beit Shemesh, Harold Brofsky finally found that which had eluded him his entire life, true Menuchas HaNefesh.


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Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey. His book, “The Elephant in the Room,” is available either directly from the author or at