Remembering Yossie Yurowitz, A’H – By: Chaskel Bennett

We were bound by fate.

September 11, 2001 found Yossi and me davening and leaving shul together later than usual because of selichos. I often dropped Yossi off at the train on my way to my office in Williamsburg. When the second plane hit the second tower, my Hatzolah radio went crazy. I looked at him and said, “I’m going, you want to get out? Yossi looked at me and said let’s GO! ” The rest of this remarkable story is documented by the great Jewish journalist Sandy Eller in VIN News here:

https://vinnews.com/2013/09/11/new-york-september-11-2001-a-first-hand-account/

But in truth, our lives were already intertwined decades earlier.  We both grew up in Queens, Yossi in Kew Gardens, me in Kew Gardens Hills. We first met as small kids in Khal Adas Yeshurin, the big Shul in Kew Gardens when I would visit my grandparents often. We also both attended Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe for elementary school, sharing the same Rabbeim and teachers and laughing about our experiences for decades to come. Our lives further intersected in Camp Munk where a group of us were known as the kids from Queens. We shared many friends in common and enjoyed similar summer memories. We became roommates in the Annex our last year in Camp together and became closer. For those last few weeks of summer, I had a car, with no dates. Yossi had dates and no car. We would discuss our future hopes and dreams at night upon his safe return home. I vividly remember him telling me that Layale was the one, and in his inimitable style he said, “she doesn’t know what she’s getting into.”

Continuing our parallel trend, we both got married and settled down in Flatbush, and within a few years were davening together in Rabbi Sherer’s shul on Nostrand Ave. Our relationship was warm and sometimes complicated. Yossi was driven. He wanted to accomplish something significant in this world. So did I.  We found common cause when he enlisted me to help him save struggling Jewish kids at “Our Place.” He strongly felt that society wasn’t doing enough to help these kids in pain. He was right and he stopped at nothing to get me on board in his mission. We raised lots of money for the cause going onto the various Motzoei Shabbos radio programs including the Dov Hikind and Zev Brenner shows. Yossi’s mother was so proud of us. We memorably walked miles in several Walkathons for “Our Place.” We weren’t really the walking type but we huffed and puffed together, for the kids. It brought us closer and boy did we accomplish. We celebrated the successes and lamented the failures. Yossi was funny, passionate and self-deprecating and I admired him for never taking himself too seriously. I would like to believe he felt the same way about me. We enjoyed going to Satmar together for Tishis and special occasions, with our mutual friend Sruly Hartman. Memories of those good times make me smile. We both enjoyed culinary delights and hated dieting, once embarking on a crazy diet created by some quack. We suffered through this ridiculous diet together and as always it was just one more memorable experience we shared. Yossi loved new things and wanted his friends to share new experiences with him.

We shared another common bond, his father and my grandparents both lived in the same apartment complex in Hungary before the war. I recall on my one and only trip to Budapest with Rabbi Sherer’s Shul, Yossi and I split off from the group to find the apartment where his father had grown up. With help from his father on the phone, we found it.  Later that same day we visited the main shul in Budapest where our families had davened together way back when. It was like going back in time. We both recognized the significance of standing in the very place of our family’s rich heritage. It was unforgettable.  That meaningful experience brought us ever closer. Yossi would often talk to me about minhagim and nussach, a subject dear to him and important to me as well. I would always encourage him to be proud of his mesorah. He famously donned his family’s white ‘hat’ every Yom Kippur and he was fearless about preserving his minhagim no matter where he found himself. I deeply admired his commitment.

When his ben yachid Tzvi was born after three girls, Yossi’s shul experience changed dramatically. Watching him shine as he and Tzvi danced together every Friday night at Lecha Dodi is a sight seared in my memory.

Yossi was serious about Daf Yomi and his aspirations in learning grew, bringing the Parshas Hashavua and the Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh into his daily life and those around him. Perush Hamilim, understanding the words, was also very important to him as well and he pushed me and many others to work harder on  understanding the words of davening. I still write and highlight different things in my siddur like Yossi did, because of his example. I didn’t realize it then but there’s so much he taught me.

The last time we saw each other was the summer before his petirah, were he told me he had found peace and tranquility in Montebello. He looked happy and I was happy for him.

Often times I walk into a room full of people and I am sure I see him. His presence was so larger than life that I actually believe he’s going to be standing there with his Yurowitz smirk and brilliant smile. Ah the pain hurts even to write about it.

Yossi, I think of you often and miss you terribly.  You taught us so many things, it’s hard for me to quantify. Though you are gone in this world, the legend of Joe Yurowitz cannot possibly be properly captured here or ever forgotten. We were so fortunate to have you in our lives and the lessons you left behind remain very meaningful to your friends and family. You have an incredible legacy to be proud of, none more than your special wife and children who adored you. But it was your grandchildren that lit up your eyes like torches. They will one day know just how great their Zaidy was. We will make sure of it.

Yehai Zichro Baruch.

Chaskel Bennett

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