It was supposed to be a meeting with the newly crowned King Charles III, whose signature graced the invitation to the garden party, but a last-minute announcement noting the change of attending royals was met with hearty excitement from the guests, Rabbi Litwin included. He fervently hoped for a chance to meet the prince, who he felt would be able to relate to Mekimi’s mission, given the loss of his own mother, Princess Diana, when he was 15 years old.
While this royal encounter was all lights, camera, action, it was rooted in the tragic circumstances of Rabbi Litwin’s own experience as an orphan. Today a psychotherapist, kiruv rabbi and maggid shiur on TorahAnytime, Rabbi Litwin shares the backstory.
The End of His Childhood
It was a regular Erev Shabbos in Gateshead when 17-year-old Aron Litwin received the message that changed his life.
He was learning in a quiet beis midrash with his chavrusa. The two were engrossed in a Ramban on the concept of understanding Hashem’s ways, when another bachur approached Aron and summoned him to the mashgiach, Rav Yehuda Leib Wittler.
“Your father is very ill,” the mashgiach told him. “He wants you to come home for Shabbos. Let’s go to your room to pack. Someone is on his way to accompany you by train in two hours.”
Aron froze. His father was only 55 years old. But he knew. He just knew. And he got straight to the point. “Was he niftar?”
“Come, let’s see,” the mashgiach managed. He himself was reeling from the bombshell news of the sudden petirah of Reb Berach Litwin.
Aron’s mother, a psychologist of many years, felt it was important for her to be the one to break the news to her son. Aron couldn’t reach her, and he was too anxious to wait for the person who was meant to accompany him, so he headed to the train right away with one of his rebbeim. It was there, amid swarms of rushing commuters, that he finally got through to his mother and received the dreaded news: “Daddy collapsed this morning. The levayah will be this afternoon.”
“I started screaming,” Aron recounts, his mother’s words still echoing in his head 17 years later. “Passersby thought I was a meshugene and came up to subdue me. The rav at my side tried to explain the situation and dispersed them.”
Aron made a beeline for the platform to catch the next train to London, but the rav told him that his mother didn’t want him to travel alone. A friend who had come along to the station kindly got on the train with him, with only the shirt on his back, a chesed that wasn’t lost on the fresh yasom.
That was the first leg of Aron’s journey as an orphan.
Aron was picked up from the station by someone whom his father had taken under his wing when the man had lost his own father. There were many people who now “owed” favors to the Litwins—all those who had been welcomed to the family’s open home by the warm, magnanimous Reb Berach and his wife Rivki.
When Aron got home, he grew up fast. As the second-youngest of eight, and the beloved youngest son, he had always left things to his older siblings. But with his older brothers living in Eretz Yisrael, he was thrust into the role of communicating with the chevrah kaddisha and speaking at the levayah.
There was certainly plenty to speak about. His father, who passed away suddenly while sitting in his office, was a longstanding Hatzalah member. At the shivah, people described how Reb Berach had saved their lives, sometimes responding to their Hatzalah calls while still wearing his tefillin. As befitting his status as a kohen, about whom Chazal say, “Kohanim zerizin hein,” Reb Berach had a special zerizus and zest for life. Rabbi Litwin recalls how his father took him and his siblings shopping for Shabbos when they were young, singing Shabbos songs with them while pushing the cart. Yom Tov was always a highlight for them, as Reb Berach made sure it was a joyous time for the family. The ordinary days of Rabbi Litwin’s childhood are also filled with happy memories. He shares that when his father came to pick him up from school, he would wait in the car with his worn Tehillim, which he always seemed to be holding. These warm memories were his legacy.
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