Big Souls and ‘Small’ Tragedies

Unfortunately I’ve had more than my share of opportunities to write about deaths in my small yishuv (town) over the last few months, though I have generally resisted taking up the gauntlet. We tend to focus our sympathies for tragic losses on the famous or those close to us, or those who died in ways that play on our personal fears and political inclinations, such as victims of terror. It’s a rare thing that we all take even a few minutes to notice and honor the passing of a great soul that doesn’t meet those criteria. But what of the simple, beautiful, holy people who pass from this world without great fortune and fame or political significance and far away from us? Perhaps their ‘small’ tragedies are also worth giving a passing notice?

One such special soul was Hillel Rudich, a 32-year-old husband and father of three who lived in Tekoa until his tragic and untimely death last week. On Friday afternoon he was playing with his children in the Wadi near Tekoa when their ball fell into an ancient cistern. He went in after it and somehow, for some reason, fell and drowned. The emergency services were called when a neighbor came across his children wandering by themselves, crying and hysterical. His body was brought up a short time before Shabbat and the funeral took place in Tekoa Sunday morning.

I was not close to Hillel, but we would chat in line at the local store and around town. I would often see him riding his bike, peot flowing in the wind, colorful kipa holding on precariously to his head, or walking with his family. I remember him making the rounds on Friday morning to deliver bread. He ran a small bakery in Tekoa making delicious, dense, healthy bread and delivering it to local stores. It was the kind of bread that was a meal in itself: complex flavor, heavy enough to fill you up and healthy enough that you don’t worry about how much you eat. His bread had soul.

Hillel was also known to show up unexpected, spontaneously, at celebratory occasions in Tekoa, particularly at circumcisions, his mandolin in hand, bringing an extra measure of music and joy to the occasion. It was something in his manner, his song, his easy-going kindness, that easily brought a smile to anyone that met him. He was unassuming, kind, and joyful.

I’m sure that those who were close to Hillel could write a better obituary, and I hope they will. But for now, for the rest of us, I just wanted to make sure that we take notice and pay our respects. May we be blessed to hear only good tidings.

About the Author
Rabbi Eitan Levy is a tour guide and organizer in Israel. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, got a BA in philosophy at Sarah Lawrence, and rabbinic ordination at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. He loves to share his love of the Torah, land and people of Israel in writing, lectures, and tours. He lives in Tekoa with his wife and three little gremlins.