How many of us would risk our life to save another’s? Run into a burning building? Dive into a churning body of water? Fend off an armed thief?
Fortunately, few of us have to face such a test.
On a street corner in Rockland County, a 50-year-old father of four faced this test Sunday morning, hours after Hurricane Irene hit David Reichenberg’s Spring Valley neighborhood, knocking down branches and power lines, flooding roads.
Mr. Reichenberg passed his test.
And in doing so he lost his life.
Driving back from a Talmudic study session, one of many in which he participated each week, he noticed a frightening scene: a 5-year-old boy being electrocuted at a metal fence that was in the same pool of water as a loose electrical line; the boy’s father unsuccessfully trying to extricate the youth from danger.
Mr. Reichenberg, according to eyewitnesses, dashed out of his car, pulling the boy to safety, but dying from contact with the high-voltage puddle, with helpless bystanders unable to approach him until the power was turned off.
Despite dire predictions of major losses of life that could be expected from a storm of Irene’s power and size — witness Katrina in New Orleans six years ago this week — the casualties from the Northeast’s unaccustomed hurricane were low in number. Which does not lessen the pain experienced by Mr. Reichenberg’s grieving family and wide circle of friends, or those who mourn the death of a Holocaust survivor, Rozalia Gluck, 82, of Brooklyn, who was swept away by the currents while visiting the Catskills.
In interviews with The Jewish Week (see story), the people who knew Mr. Reichenberg best said that he had lived heroically long before he died doing the ultimate mitzvah, always facing personal challenges with an attitude of unmitigated faith.
Last Rosh HaShanah he joined fellow congregants in reciting the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, a moving part of the liturgy that asserts that one’s prayers during the Days of Repentance determine who will live and who will die, “who by fire, who by water.”
For Mr. Reichenberg, his last Rosh HaShanah assigned him a test that brought honor to him and his family.
May his memory be — as his life was — a blessing.