Donny Morris z”l

BY RABBI YECHIEL MORRIS

I have a favorite picture of my nephew, Donny Morris z”l, though it is not the famous picture that many have seen. The more well-known picture is of him hovering above the dancing masses in Meron. It depicts his sweet, shining and angelic countenance, and has captured the attention of thousands. That picture reflects the elevated and sanctified level of deveikut with Hashem that Donny achieved in his remarkable life. 

I certainly cherish that picture, but the one that I love the most was captured a year earlier. It was taken in front of Metlife stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey. In the picture, Donny is standing in between my brother, Aryeh, and my nephew, Akiva. All three are wearing winter knitted sports hats. Aryeh and Akiva’s hats have the New York Mets emblem on them, while Donny’s hat has the MTA Lions emblem, his high school alma mater, embroidered on it. With broad smiles, the picture was taken moments before they entered the stadium. But they were not there to cheer on the New York Giants or Jets; they were there, together with over 90,000 Jews, to attend the 13th Siyum HaShas. 

The reason why I love that picture is because it explains the exalted picture from Meron. Since Donny’s tragic passing last year on Lag BaOmer, family, teachers, and friends have recalled Donny’s love of Torah learning, his acts of kindness, his affinity toward the Land and State of Israel and his all around kind and pleasant nature. What is remarkable is that all of these descriptions are absolutely accurate and true. But what is also true is that Donny wasn’t born that way. Each one of those qualities were imparted and modeled for him, most directly by his loving parents, Aryeh and Mirlana, but also by a larger caring support system. His grandparents, Rabbi Joel and Malka Morris and Rabbi Ira and Fagie Kronenberg, helped raise and inspire Donny. Loving members of his extended family, along with a wonderful community, with rabbis, rebbeim, teachers, family friends and a large network of personal friends and peers, all reinforced and modeled the values that Donny would ultimately internalize and embrace. They all passionately and thoughtfully passed along a mesorah of Yiddishkeit to Donny. To his eternal credit, Donny learned from all of them and then made those teachings his inner essence. 

When speaking to students and children about Donny, I always remind them that my holy and exalted nephew was a regular kid, just like them. He too loved sports, played video games, got into an occasional fight with his siblings, and had qualities that would sometimes frustrate his parents and teachers. But at the very same time, he strived to better himself and grow in his avodat Hashem. He took davening seriously, he diligently worked to strengthen his Torah learning and comprehension, and he made a concerted effort to be kind and caring.

Yes, he loved sports – but he also loved Torah. He certainly concentrated when playing video games, but also davened with intense kavanah. He may have worn a sports hat to the Siyum HaShas but he also dressed like a mensch in the beit midrash and at shul.

To me, the picture of Donny in front of Metlife stadium is a lesson to all of us. It depicts a normal child. But even more so, it depicts someone we can all strive to become. Like Donny, we can all learn from, and then emulate, our parents, grandparents, rabbis and teachers. We can be normal, but also achieve greatness. We can root for the Giants, but also work to become giants in Torah and yirat shamayim. We can tap into the inspiration of daf yomi inside a stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey and then utilize that moment to soar and grow in Torah in Eretz Yisrael

That is Donny’s legacy. That is Donny’s crowning achievement. And that is Donny’s eternal message to us.

 

Rabbi Yechiel Morris is the Rabbi of Young Israel of Southfield in Southfield, Michigan.

© 2022 World Mizrachi

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