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David Seitelbach

A Fare to Heaven

He's the light when there was darkness. He's the hope when it was hopeless. He's the strength when there was weakness. He gave his heart to G-D when others turned their backs. He faced despair with the courage of a lion. He never gave up. He lives on forever in the loving arms of G-D.

Thoughts about David from the community

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The community Said

David was always making jokes and always had a smile on his face.

Huge lessons for all of us, especially given what he went through in his life.

David reminds us of one of the famous teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: "Mitzvah Gedolah Le'hiyot Besimcha Tamid," - it is a great mitzvah to always be in a state of happiness.

When a person is happy they are much more capable of serving God and going about their daily activities than when depressed or upset.

David Feldt

Shaarei Tzedec was David's home. It was a place where he spent his weekends, Monday mornings and all the Jewish holidays, where he ate and slept during these times and where he was truly with his family.

All the congregants were members of his family and he enjoyed their love as he loved them. His presence is still felt in the shul even as we mourn his passing.

He was my friend and I miss him.

Arthur Winkler

A tremendous loss for the Shaarei Tzedec, the Toronto Jewish Community and the Klal of Israel. A true Tzaddik. A man who always had a smile on his face, a joke on his lips and time for everyone. He was a soft, gentle kind man. He was a blessing to all who had the honor to spend time with him. You will be in our hearts forever.

Ari Friedman

A gentle soul, a wonderful human being. He had such a rough life, though every time I saw him his devoutness towards prayer and the Synagogue were unparalleled. The world lost a tremendously nice man. He was an inspiration to so many who knew him. May you rest in peace I'll never forget you.

Ely Benzaquen

David's life passed through innumerable hands. Some who nourished it, some who protected it, some who came perilously close to crushing it. I believe this Shul and its members were chosen to be the precious final link in that chain. The refuge he must have prayed for in the dark days of his life. David was blessed to have found his way to Markham Street and we were equally as blessed that he came to us. David not only taught each of us how to pray as a Jew,he left us an indelible lesson in how to live as a Jew. The quiet, humble composure. The ready smile, the unblinking openness to life and its possibilities. The unshakeable belief in life with a purpose.

Ian Mirlin

David made everyone in contact with him feel welcome. Everyone was treated as a valued friend.

He was not rich in material wealth, not a captain of industry, not a sports celebrity. But the tributes given by all who knew him are astounding, and in my experience, unparalleled. David has been called a shaliach; not just a teacher or a role model, but a shaliach, an emissary.

A shaliach is usually a teacher or an organizer from a Jewish organization sent to help others. But a shaliach is more. He or she is the representative of those who sent them, an emissary, almost an ambassador, tasked to help others. As I understand, the shaliach can be your representative, your agent, your teacher. The next time you go to Israel, don’t be surprised if someone hands you money to give to a charity in Israel. They are asking you to be their emissary, their shaliach.

And if you are more religious, a shaliach can be your emissary to G-d. Or an emissary from G-d.

I am not aware that David was a formal representative of any organization. He was not sent by the Jewish Agency, the Jewish Federation or Hillel. But he has been described, without reservation, as a shaliach.

David has been called a tzaddik; a righteous man, someone who of course is all too human but is outstanding in virtue and piety. A leader by example.

In our current culture, there is a abundance of exaggerated superlatives – look at the fuss around the academy awards or the Olympics. Everyone is brilliant, handsome, gorgeous, talented, magnificent. In fact, nearly everyone, according to our media deserves a Nobel prize a gold medal or an Oscar.

But at least in my circles, the words shaliach and tzaddik are rarely if ever used. David was both.


David Kay

I will always remember David's strength, a strength that never diminished. He bore himself with dignity, was gentle, kind, perceptive, perhaps too humble.

David bore witness to the worst of humanity, such incomprehensible suffering.
He knew and remembered pain, and taught us that in spite of all the wrong, we could or perhaps should be kind.

With the help of Hashem, David came to our shores and showed us what it means to live a life of integrity.

We are all so sad that his voice has been silenced.

Susan

February 26, 2014


What can I say about a man who I had come to know very well over the past 13 years.  How I felt about David and what I would say to people who would ask me what David was like can be summed up in one word.  HERO. 

In my practice as a GP psychotherapist I have met a lot of different types of people over my many years of practice.  Each person has their own unique story but David’s story is one that stands out far and above the rest.  

Over the years I have spent a lot of time with David.  We had shared many a breakfast, lunch and dinner together.  We have taken drives and hikes.  Over that time had David shared many of his stories about his childhood and the holocaust as many of you who frequent the Markham St Shul are familiar.  

Davids life was like a movie to me.  He had one compelling story after another.  I always felt that one of David’s days during the war years was greater than most people’s entire lives.  He lived more life in a few days then most people live in an entire lifetime.  Whether he was bringing food to the Jewish prisoners in a concentration camp, delivering milk to the Germans, driving SS officers around looking for hiding Jews in Polish farmland, or seeking justice on a anti-Semitic Hungarian soldier after the war had ended, David had seen things that most of us would only see in a movie.  One of David’ favorite quotes was from Genesis parsha Vayigash chapter 47 verse 8 when Pharaoh asked Jacob “how many are the dys of the years of your life?”.  Jacob said to Pharaoh “the days of the years of my sojourns have been 137 years few and bad have been the days and the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the the days of their sojourns”.  

David used to know certain pieces of scripture.  Whenever a certain parsha would come he would comment to me on something he found interesting.  Every year he would make the same comment. For example in parsha Shemot he would always tell me “a new king is arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph”.  

David had many sayings and taught me many things.  One of the things he would often say to me was that “it wasn’t easy being a Jew”.  Another was “one thing I know for certain I am not going to die a young man”.  When people would get sick David would say “they are starting to work for the Hydro, and now they are going to finally seethe light”.  

David always believed in getting to Shul early fulfilling one of the mitzvahs that we read every day in the davening.  As a matter of fact David fulfilled many of these precepts.  Every day we say “these are the precepts of which a person enjoys their fruits in this world but whose principal remains intact for him in the world to come, “Honoring his mother and father, bestowal of kindness, early attendance at the house of study morning and evening, hospitality, visiting the sick, escorting the dead, absorption in prayer, and bringing peace between man and his fellow”.  David exceeded and excelled at every one of these precepts.

He was always filled with a story or a joke.  David had the uncanny ability to know, remember and be able to deliver hundreds of jokes.  I was amazed at his ability that he never forgot a joke, and new a joke for every occasion.  His favorite doctor joke was the doctor said to the patient “I have good news for you and bad new.  Whats the bad news doc?  The bad news is that we have to amputate your legs.  The good news is that I have a customer for your shoes”.  

David was incredibly smart and wise which you would have to be in order to survive the war.  When David was younger before the war started they had accelerated him several years in school because he was so bright.  He got the lead in the school play and was able to memorize all the lines easily.  Who knows what his academic ability would have become if not for the war.

David was a fighter and a survivor.  I remember he told me a couple of years ago a few kids tried to steal his wallet in the subway.  When he noticed his wallet was missing, after feeling someone bump into him, he grabbed one of the kids and threw him against the wall demanding his wallet back.  To which the boy replied pointing at the other kid “he has it”.  And they quickly returned his wallet. These young kids would think twice about ever messing with him.  David had this fearlessness about him.  He was quietly courageous.  

After the war was over he was on a train to Czekoslovakia from Hungary and there was a Hungarian soldier who said its too bad Hitler didn’t kill more Jews.  David heard this and he had to do something.  He said that he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t do something.  He tried to get support from other Jewish survivors but no one would help.  They said to forget about it.  He has a gun and rifle there is nothing we can do.  David wasn’t satisfied with that answer.  He finally went up to two Russian soldiers and told them that the Hungarian soldier said that it’s too bad they didn’t kill more Jews and Russian soldiers.  They told him to go lie down and they would take care of it.  They went over to the guy and after talking for a couple minutes and sharing a slug of vodka they pushed him out of the rapidly moving boxcar.  They smiled as they walked by David and said out loud that that fellow wouldn’t be speaking much any more.  

David was a man of modest means.   He left behind a legacy of virtue of kindness, simplicity, joy and an infectious smile.  He left behind a depth of faith, and belief in tradition.  He gifted people with the treasure of his friendship.  

David was a dear and trusted friend.  He was a mentor.  He would always point out to me whenever I would pronounce a Hebrew word wrong when I would lead the davening.  He would say I hope you don’t mind but I want to show you how you need to pronounce it.  He did this because he didn’t want me to look bad in front of other people.  He was proud of me when I would daven, or lain the Torah on Rosh Chodesh and would tell me so. 

David was dear to many of us.  He touched each person’s heart in their own unique way.  He was an inspiration to me and someone who I am proud to say was a dear friend.  He would always accompany me to Shul, a lecture or a Shiva.  He was like family.  One consolation that we have now is that he is leaving his spiritual community family and being joined with his beloved parents and sister who will be waiting to greet him at the gates of Shamayim. 

David is leaving us in the final chapter or parsha of the book of Shemot or exodus.  It is like he is making his exit.  To be honest, David would always say that the book or Leviticus was never his favorite book.  He felt it was for the priests.  David enjoyed the good juicy stories.  

As I was in Shul this morning I noticed that this parsha is the only parsha where there is no number given for the number of versus in the parsha.  It is unique in that it is the only parsha without this number in all the parshas of the Torah.  The Malbim then counts 92 versus.  It figures that David would depart in the most unique of the parshas.  This parsha as well is the 23 parsha of the torah.  According to Rabbi Ginsberg this number represents a the most important number in prime number mathematics of the torah and may be one of the most important hidden parshas of the torah detailing the building of the temple and all its parts.  Also the number of Michael Jordan and formerly Lebron James as David loved his sports baseball, hockey and basketball.  

He was concerned about different parts of people’s lives.  He would even be interested in my Apple stock whether I should sell or keep it.  

It says in the Shemonei Esrei service in the prayer of the temple service, in the Rizay prayer it says to restore the service to the holy holies of your temple.  The FIRE offerings of Israel and their prayer speedily with love and and  accept favorably and may it be t your favor always the service of Israel.  

The Tur, the Baal Haturim explains what are the fire offerings.  He says they are the death of the holy tzaddikim of the generation.  I think that David is one of these tzaddikim on two accounts just because he is the noble person who he was and secondly because he was a survivor of the shaoh.  The death of a tzaddikim is an atonement for the community and the klal.  Survivors are our fire offerings today, our holy tzaddikim.  

May David act as a shliach for all of us and help us with our own individual atonement and may he finally find the eternal peace that he so truly deserves, reunited with his family and loved ones in Olam Habah.  

David, my dear friend, we will truly miss you but you will forever remain with us in our hearts and in our souls.

Published: October 1, 2008


Excerpted from "Small Miracles of the Holocaust: Extraordinary Coincidences of Faith, Hope and Survival" by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, Globe Pequot Press. Click here to order.

David Seitelbach's bright blue eyes and light blond hair became his passport to survival during the war. At the tender age of 13, he was forced to leave his hometown of Galicia in the south of Poland, near the Russian-Ukraine border. His town had been turned into ghetto by the Germans. His father, mother, sister, and uncles were bound for the concentration camps where, unbeknownst to David, they would all be exterminated.

David, however, roamed free. His "Aryan" coloring allowed him to blend into the Polish landscape. The young boy wandered aimlessly throughout the war, working as a farmer's helper whenever and wherever he could, all the while feverishly trying to hide his Jewishness. Any slight hint of exposure meant certain death.

During one "Thanksgiving" dinner at a Polish farm where he had secured temporary employment, David was invited to join the family and partake in the meal. While everyone else enjoyed the ham set in the center of the table, garnished with herbs, David ate only vegetables, remembering his family's clear admonishment against eating ham -- the quintessential un-kosher food. Not wanting to rouse any suspicions, he simply said that he wasn't too hungry when he was asked if he'd like some more food.

"I wish I had a Jewish calendar. Who knows? Maybe today is Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur."

It was the fall of 1942 and David worked unceasingly, tending the land with horse-drawn plows. As he fed the cows, minded the chickens, and brought in the harvest from the fields, he took special note of the season: The green leaves on the trees were turning into a rich kaleidoscope of color; the air was growing colder; the sun set earlier and rose later. It was the time of year that David had learned to associate with the Jewish High Holidays. He vividly recalled going to the synagogue with his father, mother, and sister where they beseeched God to bless them with a good year ahead.

David thought yearningly of the solemn High Holiday prayers. Despite the brutality of the war and his own tender years, David clung to his faith, and longed to give expression to it in some small way. But while grown men probably knew the prayers by heart, he was too young to have had the opportunity to memorize them.

"I wish I had a Jewish calendar," he reflected one day. "Who knows? Maybe today is Rosh Hashana, the New Year…or maybe it's Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It should be somewhere around now. How sad it is that I don't know and don't have anyone to ask. If only I knew the exact words of the prayers so I could say them anyway, and just hope it was the right day…"

David was thrust out of his reverie when the farmer, his boss, asked him to go to the market to fetch some goods. David traveled by horse and buggy, and once he'd arrived, he hitched the horse to an adjacent tree and went inside to buy the goods requested by the farmer.

"Please give me half a pound of salt, one pound of sugar…and…"

David's voice began to falter as he watched the grocer package his items. Although he knew that the war had created a huge paper shortage in Poland, he could not have imagined what was being used as its substitute. David watched, horrified, as the grocer casually reached for a volume of Jewish Holy Scriptures that lay on a nearby shelf and ripped out a few pages to create some paper cones into which he poured the salt and sugar. While many supplies were scarce, Jewish holy books were plentiful since the synagogues, Jewish schoolhouses, and Jewish homes had all been laid to waste and looted by the Nazis and the Poles. Clever uses were devised for all Jewish property. What better way to wrap grocery goods than with the holy pages of the Jewish scripture?

David felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. The violation of the sacred book was almost too much to bear. Not wanting to show his dismay for fear of revealing his identity as a hidden Jew, David kept his voice steady and his face stoic even as his innards churned. "And please," he continued, "some yeast."

David paid the sum and, with hands shaking, placed the packages under his arm and exited the store.

David opened the packages to see exactly which holy text was being used in this sacrilegious way.

Once outside and back in the buggy, away from the store and anyone's view, David opened the packages to see exactly which holy text was being used in this sacrilegious way. He took the cone of yeast in his hand and gingerly untied the string. With loving care he beheld the sacred Jewish pages in his hands, and then began to read the words that lay therein. He trembled with excitement as he realized that the storekeeper had randomly wrapped his packages with pages torn from the High Holidays prayer book.

Let us tell how utterly holy this day is and how awe-inspiring… The great shofar is sounded . . . a gentle whisper is heard… On Rosh Hashana their destiny is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

These words were considered to be among the most powerful prayers of the High Holidays. David read each word as if for the first time. As he prayed, he recalled the holidays of a better time, when all the congregants in the synagogue had stood erect while chanting these holy words.

Who shall live and who shall die… Who shall come to a timely end, and who to an untimely end…who shall perish by fire and who by water…who by hunger and who by thirst…

For David, these words were real. At his tender age, he had already witnessed "untimely" deaths, had already experienced the ravages of hunger and thirst. So many of the people he knew and loved had "perished by fire" (the furnaces) and "water" (the showers that spurted gas instead)

David knew it was the fall season. He knew the holidays were around this time; he had wanted to observe them in some meaningful way. He was too young to know the prayers by heart but yet he wanted to access the prayers that would lift him up from his dismal surroundings and propel him to a higher plane. Now these same prayers had miraculously appeared in his hands, and David knew without a shadow of a doubt that his question about whether it was, in fact, the High Holidays had been answered. He knew that this was his personal miracle.

David raised the torn, violated, sacred pages of the machzor before him, and with his pure sweet voice he prayed on.

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