This past Shabbos was a most unusual one for me, my family, and my entire community of Passaic, New Jersey. On Friday morning we had been notified that a young woman from our community, Devorah Stubin, had been missing since the previous evening. No information was given at that time in terms of how we could be helpful, other than some basics about her disappearance and requests to offer tefillos on her behalf.
Then, on Shabbos morning, the early minyan I attended was interrupted by requests for volunteers. We were asked to drive out to the nearby town of Maywood to join in a search for Devorah. Tens of people responded, including me and my son. People from other shuls were similarly recruited. Upon arriving to central command, we were given the first of what would be multiple nearby areas to walk by foot, looking for any signs that would give us a clue as to Devorah’s whereabouts.
This process was repeated for hours, as additional people from Passaic, neighboring Clifton, and throughout the area (including Monsey, Bergen County, and Brooklyn) – people of all stripes and shul affiliations – joined in the search. Leading the effort was a team of exceptional volunteers from Hatzolah, Chaveirim, et al, who forewent food, sleep, and any semblance of a regular Shabbos in order to help. One of them did so despite the fact that he will be making a chassanah for a child in just a few days, be”H.
Unfortunately, the Herculean effort of so many failed to achieve the desired result. We would not be able to bring Devorah, a”h, back. In fact, her fate had already been sealed two days earlier when she lost control of her vehicle and tumbled into a nearby river. We were at least able to bring closure to a most tragic episode, in terms of identifying Devorah’s fate and whereabouts.
I had never spent a Shabbos like that and hope I never have reason to again. It felt quite strange to voluntarily leave shul and get into my car at 8:30 on a Shabbos morning. I had never driven before on Shabbos, even when my oldest child was born on that day. There was no Shabbos feel as I made my way through unfamiliar terrain with the help of my GPS, nor did it feel comfortable or proper for me to use my phone or carry paper and pen outside of an eruv.
But in this situation, feelings of normalcy, comfort or routine were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was Devorah’s safe return.
I had never met Devorah. I first learned of her existence with the arrival of an alarming e-mail. But that fact mattered neither to me nor to the scores of others who also shared no personal connection with her. What mattered to everyone that assembled on a wet, cold Shabbos morning was that someone in Klal Yisrael, and specifically in our community, needed our help. We all committed on a moment’s notice do everything humanly possible to provide it.
In the command center, evidence that it was Shabbos could be found only if you really looked around. A few rolls on the floor over here, some grape juice over there. But among all of the hustle and anxiousness to get out to the road and find Devorah, one could sense a deep feeling of community, local and beyond, coming together in a complete act of mesiras nefesh to find and care for one of their own.
Passaic/Clifton, while not geographically large, is a “big” community in terms of the number of families, shuls, schools, and the like that call it home. While it is in many ways tight-knit, it is also easy to live here and not know people who live close by, let alone on the other side of town. I am sure that similar dynamics exist in many communities throughout the greater New York City area and beyond.
But on this Shabbos, everyone from around town really came together. While we quickly fanned out with partners to scale our designated areas, our few minutes of “together time” waiting for instructions in the warehouse- turned-command center gave us all a deep, unifying sense of connection and belonging. And while I knew little of Devorah, what we heard about her friendliness, good cheer, and general concern for others (she had been out to pick up a sibling the evening she went missing) was definitely a unifying force and an unspoken source of inspiration for all of us throughout the experience, as was the fact that her family gives constantly and without fanfare to their shul and community.
May we all find comfort in the beautiful life that Devorah lived and in the love and self-sacrifice that our greater community demonstrated at a time of great need. And may this sense of communal bonding inspire us to find additional ways to support and connect with one another so as to be a source of continued merit for Devorah and of nechamah for her devoted, loving family.