A huge crowdfunding exercise to raise money for a Torah scroll in honour of the Jewish community’s youngest Covid-19 victim neared its £60,000 target this week.
Yechiel Yosef Rothschild, known to everyone as YY, died in April aged 20 after contracting the novel coronavirus. He had Down’s Syndrome and lived in supported accommodation provided by the charity Kisharon.
Every two months he would spend the weekend away with Shabbaton L’mnucha, a Charedi charity that organises trips for families and those with special educational needs, and now the charity is organising the fundraising for a new Sefer Torah.
“He made everyone happy,” said his brother Yanki this week. “He was a very lively child, always the centre of attention, and Shabbaton L’mnucha decided to dedicate a Sefer Torah in YY’s name. It’s a wonderful gesture.”
The scrolls are hand-written and take up to a year to produce, costing tens of thousands of pounds, and as of Wednesday lunchtime the total stood at £54,000.
- To see the donation page, click here: https://charityextra.com/doitforyy
“The Sefer Torah will be the property of the community,” said Yanki, “because it is a communal organisation. When families and organisation want to go away for Shabbos, it will be made available to them.”
Music fan YY had difficulty speaking in his early years, until the age of eight, and this meant that he could not say his name – Yechiel Yosef – so family and friends decided to call him YY, which he could say.
He attended Side-by-Side School in Stamford Hill, where Orthodox Jewish children with special needs and no special needs learn alongside one another, as well as Kisharon College. He later went to live in accommodation supported by Kisharon, and was a regular and much-loved fixture across Stamford Hill.
“He was a beacon of light for everyone and a symbol of happiness, always with a smile cheering people up,” said Jewish Community Council director Levi Schapiro.
“I got to know him through volunteering. The team would care for him every Shabbos afternoon, take him for walks to the park, but he needed no care – he was taking care of us! He was well-known and much loved by everyone in the community.”
Hadassa Kessler, director of operations at Kisharon, said: “He was a very charismatic man with a huge circle of friends. He made friends quickly and was an extremely considerate person. He was interested in people. He worried about them and was curious about them.”
She said YY did work experience at Kisharon’s head office and “made friends with everyone, talking to them about what kind of diets they were on, what food they liked, what food he liked, music, just the kind of guy who was lovely to be around … A very many people will miss him a lot.”
She said she had been in touch with YY’s mother Leya, who was supportive of the initiative, feeling that “anything that YY’s influence could do that was positive or complimentary, and that would help other families” was to be welcomed.
This week Yanki told Jewish News that YY’s influence was still being understood. “Just the other day I met a young man who I didn’t know who told me a story of how YY helped him, which I didn’t know.
“This young man had a really tough family situation, lots of trauma, and told me one day when his parents were fighting he left his home with suicidal thoughts. One hundred metres down the road he ran into YY, who gave him a big bear hug and told him that everything would be OK.
“Obviously YY didn’t know what was going on with this young man but he sensed something wasn’t right. He felt people’s feelings and was very spiritual in that sense. The young man said it was just what he needed, just when he needed it.”
Hadassa said YY did not have any other underlying conditions, but that his health deteriorated very suddenly. “He was OK, then he really wasn’t,” she said. “He woke up on Friday with a sore throat, went into hospital on Saturday and passed away a few days later.”
He was considerate to the end, she said. “Even when he had Covid-19, he spoke to our manager Aviva, who had been ill a week earlier, and his first thought was to ask how she was. It’s just one example of who he was.”