About a year ago, on January 13th, 2016, 21-year-old Daniella Moffson was killed in a tragic accident. Daniella was taking part in a community service trip to Honduras, providing medical care to those without access to doctors. The accident was absolutely devastating to her family and friends, as well as to each community she was a part of in Manhattan and beyond. At her funeral, there wasn’t enough room in the synagogue. People spilled onto the street — an entire block of East 85th Street closed off.
There was no exaggerating the positive impact of Daniella’s life simply because she passed away — she was universally loved and respected. She dedicated her life to the service of others. She went on countless volunteering trips around the world and in her home city of New York, helped those in need while remaining a support system to her friends and classmates. Deeply connected to her Judaism, she used her love of the religion to spread messages of compassion and community on a personal, modest level. Many described her as an angel — her blonde hair and warm smile a physical representation of the light she brought to the lives of others. Daniella was a special person, and she was someone I never met.
My connection to Daniella was one degree of separation. Leila, my closest friend from college, was Daniella’s best friend from high school. I was with Leila when she received the phone call about the accident. When I think about that moment, it feels like I’m watching a movie. The sounds, the sensations, just as strong as they were one year ago. I can picture my fingers moving as I texted Leila’s roommate to tell her what had happened, shaking as I gripped my phone. I can still hear the crying, the sound of the water faucet where I filled a cup of water, the imprint of my shoes on the furry white carpet. I didn’t know then how that moment would change my life, but I knew that it would.
After Daniella’s death, I spent the following months with Leila as she dealt with her grief. It was at that time when I finally decided what I wanted to do after graduating from university. I was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, and throughout that year I was facing the all-too-common struggle — what was I going to do with my life after college?
All around me, it felt like everyone was falling into job opportunities out of fear and uncertainty. The prestige of the company or lure of a large paycheck overruling personal passion or fulfillment. A path to New York City seemed predestined, and yet Daniella’s death gave me a new perspective. The choices and decisions of everyone around me faded to background noise. The bigger message was loud and clear, though it was one I was unable to see before. Life is short, and cannot be taken for granted—now is the time. Time to make a decision that would change the direction of my life, a life I now knew to be fragile and finite.
At the start of the year, I came across an option to live and work in Tel Aviv. At first it was a dim possibility, something stored in the back of my mind. Yet, in the wake of Daniella’s death, I realized that I didn’t want to look back and wonder what could have been. I was always curious about life in Israel and experiencing another culture. So, I decided to move to Tel Aviv and start my post-grad life in a new environment.
It’s strange for me that someone I never met, or even spoke to, inspired me to make such an important decision. That is Daniella’s legacy — the impact she had transcends her 21 short years. Whenever I get the question as to why I’m here, I tell her story.
I’ve now been in Israel for six months, and I feel incredibly fulfilled by my life here. I learn something new everyday. I meet people from around the world with different stories, passions, and dreams. I walk the streets in wonder, trying to take in everything and everyone. I feel alive– more awake to the world around me. Not surprisingly, I’ve decided to stay in Tel Aviv for another year. This place so vibrant, so filled with possibility, that I need more time to take it all in.
So, here I am one year later, feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude for Daniella. A person who, in her too short life, taught me how to be more alive in mine. Daniella’s incredible legacy lives each day in the people who knew her, and even in those, like me, that she never even met.