How can it be that after 70 years, no one really knew my father? And yet, how can it be that everyone knew him?
My dear father, Reb Moshe Getter a”h, was universally loved by all who came into the his circle of acquaintance. But everyone loved him for a different reason. And so we discovered at the shiva that my father was a man of unique and secret acts of kindness; a person who imparted a kind word and smile to everyone; a man described as gentle and intelligent, understated and insightful; a human who gave a little piece of his heart to all he met; a man like that they just don’t make anymore …
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Born in 1950, in London, my father grew up in a home of lovingkindness and love of his fellow man. His parents, Reb Avrohom Yitzchak and Yitta, were pillars of the Stamford Hill community, building Torah institutions and doing many, many acts lovingkindness – but always under the radar. Their son (my father) inherited his humble, unassuming nature from them. He always managed to make people think they were doing him a favor and not the other way around.
When my parents married, they dedicated the ground floor of their home to hosting guests, welcoming countless visitors over the years, ranging from Roshei Yeshiva to any Jew that needed a place to be. After he’d been building his home for 13 years already, my father went to work building his spiritual home: what is known as the Kloiz.
He founded the Ruzhiner Kloiz in 1983, at the behest of the Bohusher Rebbe, personally overseeing and financing the purchase and renovations. But he never took credit or received honors for this. Instead, he became the shul’s caretaker, an often-thankless task, yet one he was invested in fully, heart and soul.
Rather than assigning jobs to others, he did many of them himself. Whether it was bringing tablecloths and towels home to launder, cleaning the study hall before Shemini Atzeret, setting up for the third Shabbos meal, soothing ruffled feathers, diffusing arguments, greeting newcomers, or tidying the premises, he did it with aplomb, no job beneath his dignity. For payment, he received more and more mitzvot: never sitting at the head of the table; always washing last; forgoing any honors. He remembered people’s birthdays and yahrtzeits, rejoiced in their celebrations, and shed tears for their pain, often welling up as he davened for others.
If any regulars were missing, he would check in to see how they were. The circle of his kindness extended to strangers, too. One Stamford Hill visitor recalled how my father was the first – and only – one to wish him a good Shabbos when he was in town. A young man from the Kloiz described how he would schlep half an hour just to hear my father’s “good Shabbos.” “He was 25 years older than me,” the man said, “but age didn’t matter to him. He had a relationship with everyone.”
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The sphere of my father’s discreet acts of lovingkindness extended far beyond the Kloiz. He was a veritable walking “random acts of kindness” machine, with a smile always on his face, greeting adults and children, Jews and non-Jews alike. His warm countenance made such an impression on others that even owners and employees of the local butcher shop, bakery, and fishmonger came to the shiva to pay their respects, share their stories, and offer condolences. Each said he was the kindest customer, making them feel valued and appreciated.
His many non-Jewish neighbors held my father in the highest esteem, even writing about him amongst each other when they heard of his passing. “His warm words and smiling face have greeted us most days,” neighbor Jane Kimber recalled. “A wonderful man – so positive and full of life. He will be really missed,” Simon Revere added. And then, “It’s hard to believe. He was indeed a special kind of person who was loved by so many,” said another Allerton Road neighbor. One non-Jewish neighbor maintained that his survival of cancer was due to my father’s encouragement and support.
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How does a person become so beloved by Jew and non-Jew alike?
One clue was his incredible self-control, described as being beyond human nature. My father never answered back an insult; always sought to reconcile with others, even on the slightest doubt; paid anyone he even potentially owed; saw the good in others; showed genuine interest in people; judged people favorably (or didn’t judge at all) … He gave people respect and validation, making them feel valued. And he truly desired to help others.
How does such a thing look in practice?
He noticed when people were struggling financially, pressing £100 into their hands; or were suffering emotionally, offering them words of encouragement; or in any other way, quietly stocking local shuls with coffee, or buying people clothing, helping them get their children accepted into school, or finding other ways to assist. When he would visit local Boyaner yeshivah students in Israel, he would give them some pocket money or buy them something in the bakery, proud of each one like their own father or grandfather. My father didn’t wait for people to approach him, but always acted first.
My father maintained a free loan society for medicines and knew a great deal about different medical issues, taking a personal interest in people’s health. Every Erev Yom Kippur he would bring supplies to the shul, wanting to be prepared in case people weren’t fasting well. He checked on other congregants throughout Yom Kippur and at least once went to ask a halachic question on someone’s behalf. One Erev Pesach, my father even drove an acquaintance to a dental specialist when the man confided how much pain he was in from a toothache.
This was my father: a candy man of compliments, time, and kindness (and sometimes treats, too). He doled out his love to the elderly, the lonely, the singles, the broken, the neighbors, the person looking a bit down.
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When my father would see people with a child who looked a bit different or was facing challenges, he would share words of encouragement – but never pat lines. Reaching deep into his heart, he offered them a piece, saying he could see their son was truly bright, or was a good person, and so on. He meant it, and they could feel it.
My father’s words had a unique power that emanated from a place of pure belief. When he would tell people, “it will be good,” he wasn’t paying lip service. Things would be good because he truly believed it.
Numerous shiva callers were sure they were my father’s best friend. And we children felt the same. “Who was his favorite?” we asked one other. Each was sure it was him or her. (I assure you, it was me!) Some visitors came multiple times a day, just to hear more about the person they thought they knew … but never really knew at all. What they did know was he had a generous, kind heart. It made no difference if a Jew or non-Jew, adult or child was standing before him. He always saw beautiful humanity.
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We didn’t know my father’s depth, nor how much he carried others. We didn’t know the level of his selflessness. Nor did we see how he always found time for others, or how he noticed first who was missing or needed encouragement. He was a happy person, a jolly person, but he was also a person who was keeping people alive with his words and acts of kindness. It wasn’t that he was thinking of others — he felt them. All the time.
Our Sages write in Ethics of the Fathers that at seventy, a person achieves a “fullness of years.” My father fulfilled that in a deeper, more multidimensional way than we ever could have imagined. His life was one beautiful illustration of that completion, and we will keep unravelling his fullness as more and more stories are revealed.
May he be a melitz yosher for my mother, family, and all of the Jewish people. May his memory be a blessing.
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