Benjy Berger Remembers Yossie Yurowitz, A’H

Everyone (hopefully) has that old friend whom you don’t see for months… maybe years, then you finally go out for dinner. You talk for hours, like you saw each other only yesterday. Well… that was Yussie to me.

We have been friends and neighbors going back to Park Lane South in Kew Gardens since kindergarten. Even though he was a grade ahead of me, it didn’t affect our close friendship. Together, we would ride our bikes, play basketball (he played dirty under the basket), throw snowballs at buses (we once get chased by an MTA bus driver), go to the park, and simply hang out. In first grade, he reached stardom status when I found out that his cousin was “Fonzie” from Happy Days. Even though I never met said cousin, I hoped he would have surprised me for my bar mitzvah… Oh well.

After Yussie went off to Yeshiva (remember, there no cell phones in these days), we didn’t see each other as often, but we enjoyed catching up whenever we got the chance.
It feels like yesterday when he came for the weekend to Vacation Village in the Catskills and asked me to drive him to his blind date at the Browns Hotel. When Yussie returned, he was stricken by the love doctor, and was convinced that the girl he went out with was “the one.” To that, I told him that he must be crazy or perhaps had too much borscht to drink, but a few months later, he married his amazing, Eishet Chayil wife… Layala.

Whenever Yussie spoke about Layala and his kids, his smile lit up the room. He personified what a “family man” values should be. Yussie is someone I have and always will admire, respect, and try to emulate.

About 13 years ago as we shared dinner at T Steakhouse, I discovered that in addition to his family and work, Yussie was devoted to an organization called Our Place. I personally have never witnessed someone with such strong passion and devotion. Yussie began to explain the mission of Our Place and the profound impact it was having on the Jewish community, specifically for “Teens at Risk” … I had no idea. He then described his involvement, how he attends EVERY night to “hang out” and mentor the kids and young adults there. I still could not compute how he was able to juggle his work, family, other communal commitments… AND… Our Place. But that was Yussie! One of a kind.

Of course, he took me on the Our Place “tour”, and I became a donor immediately. But his infectious dedication inspired me and shortly after, I became a Board member and helped fundraise. When I began fundraising, individuals would ask, “Why are you raising money for the Brooklyn community?” (I live in Westchester). Instantly, I heard Yussie’s voice saying, “When you look into the eyes of a lost soul… they have no address, we must help and care for everyone and everywhere …. period.” Now with Yussie’s guidance (and persistence), I and Trish Attia share the Zchut of being the Co-Presidents of the Board of Our Place.

My last project with Yussie was his overhauling of the Our Place website, which went live this past summer. Check it out:

I am sure everyone reading this has “their” own private encounter with Yussie, but I want to acknowledge publicly and thank him for a specific chesed he had done for me and my family.
My father contracted COVID-19 last March and was in the hospital for seven weeks. B”H with the help from angels in the heavens, my 85-year-old father was miraculously discharged from the hospital. There were so many unknows at that time, but Yussie made the arrangements and had him transferred to one of the homes he managed. At that time, my father was physically challenged and completely immobile.

Yussie promised the best of care for my father, even though half the staff was on leave due to COVID and no family members were permitted to visit. The next morning Yussie personally went to check up on my father. He put on my father’s tefillin and then davened with him (and of course sent me many pictures). That was Yussie!

To my dear friend and brother, you will always be in my heart. I will forever miss you. Now that you are in heaven looking over us, please keep protecting your fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, especially the “lost souls” in Klal Yisrael. Most important… keep blessing your kids, grandkids, and of course your Eishet Chayil… Layala.

You will be missed but never forgotten.


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