On April 25, 2018, we received the devastating news that Chaim, the shining light in our family, the seventh of eight children, had drowned in the Arabian Sea while traveling in Goa, India. Four excruciating days later, we buried Chaim in Kfar Etzion, Israel and found ourselves making a promise that would have seemed nonsensical only a few days earlier. (continued below...) Watch the video below:
We promised Chaim this: “We will build a community center, a Chabad House, a place where Jewish travelers from around the world like yourself can gather, a home away from home, in your name.”
We made that promise unanimously, without any doubt at all as to whether it was possible, because we knew it was the only way to make a world without Chaim in it ever again make any sense at all.
Most of us, aside from two siblings living in Israel, were 8,000 miles away from Chaim when we learned what happened. We contacted both the American and Israeli embassies in India of course, but even before those calls, we reached out to Chabad. We needed someone we could trust to locate and identify Chaim and remain with him, and Chabad was the obvious choice. There was a moment of panic when we realized that the Chabad house in Mumbai was not fully staffed during the tourist off-season, and that there was no Chabad house at all in that area of Goa itself. But then, within minutes, we were connected with Rabbi Simcha K, an American Chabad emissary (shaliach) who only a few days before had arrived in Goa with a completely different mission in mind.
Chaim loved to travel and explore the beauty of the world, to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. India was his destination this time. His final days were spent in Goa, known as an Indian “paradise;” a popular tourist destination, particularly amongst Israelis. The very last page in his passport, the 29th, was stamped as he entered India; the 28 other pages were filled with visas and stamps that told about more experiences and friendships than any other 29-year-old we knew.
Had he bumped into Simcha, Chaim would certainly have approached him to chat, share some laughter and make a personal connection. He would have found out that Simcha was in Goa to find the perfect location for a much-needed Chabad House and to make a documentary film to help raise the necessary funds. Over one hundred thousand Jewish travelers pass through Goa each year wishing for one, and Chaim would have shared Simcha’s goal with anyone that he knew could help.
We know this because that’s who Chaim was. A helper and a connector; he saw the good in people and the beauty in the world and the humor in any and every situation, no matter where he was. He took the time to listen to people, to really listen to their stories and share their perspective; he made friends with anyone and everyone and never once judged someone by their religious observance, beliefs, background or history.
When we promised to help build a "Beit Chaim" in India, we were not just promising a building. We were promising Chaim that we would do something to sustain the very thing that defined him as a person: create a space where people can feel comfortable and safe, where differences are bridged and friendships formed, and travelers from anywhere at all have a place to ground themselves as they journey.
For reasons we will never ever understand, Chaim was not meant to return home to us from Goa. Instead, we are left with memories, his infectious smile, his genuine warmth, and the belief that he would have wanted us to do something to make sure he continued to impact the world around him.
And so we promised to establish a house in his name where he left us – a "Beit Chaim", a House of “Chaim,” a House of “Life” – where his beautiful legacy can live on, and his memory can be more than just a blessing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote a very touching tribute to Chaim on his Facebook page, who was a close friend of his son, Yair Netanyahu.
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