Providing Joy and Meaning for Florida Seniors

Menachem Koegel I usually teach senior citizens who know very little about their Jewish roots but occasionally I get the privilege to meet and learn with someone who is an example of what a Torah Jew from the previous generation looked like, Reb Menachem Koegel was one such Jew. Reb Menachem was born in 1937 in Rudnik, Poland just before the war. During the war his family was on the run and managed to stay one step ahead of the Germans. After the war was over, they ended up in a DP camp in Leipheim, Germany. Although they wanted to go to what was then Palestine, the plan was to go to whichever boat they could get on first and get out of Germany. They ended up coming to America and settled in NY. Menachem was sent to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and later to Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin. It was while he was in Chaim Berlin that he received his Smicha, but he was too young so he had to get his Smicha from outside the Yeshiva. He was married in 1959 and had three children and many grand and great grandchildren. I actually taught two of his grandchildren many years ago. I remember them both being very good students and I see where it comes from. Reb Menachem became a math teacher in the public school system for most of his career. He also ran Talmud Torah after school programs in different cities and states and brought many people back to a life of Torah and Yiddishkeit. He moved to Florida in 1999, retired and went back to being a full-time Yeshiva student. During those years you could not tell the difference between him and a young Yeshiva student. He put the same effort and energy into his learning as boys 25 years his junior! In 2014, due to health issues, he needed to move to an assisted living facility that happened to be in my neighborhood. Only a few months ago someone asked me if I would learn with him a few days a week, which I did. When I first came I found an old man hooked up to oxygen and too weak to move from his chair. I asked him if he wanted to learn Gemara and his face literally lit up. I came Sunday through Wednesday, and together we learned four and a half pages of Gemara. Reb Menachem’s eyesight was bad so he didn’t use a Gemara but he followed along and commented every step of the way. We would discuss how to understand a difficult piece and when it became clear he smiled ear to ear. Some days before starting he asked me just to summarize the Gemara we did the day before to refresh his memory. One day he seemed to be dozing off but I decided to keep reading. It’s a good thing I kept at it, because when I made a mistake he opened his eyes and corrected me. The last day we learned together we finished a Mishna, which is a nice milestone, and he told me he was looking forward to learning with me the next day. When I came the next day he told me regretfully that he wasn’t up to learning but asked me to please come back tomorrow. The next day I came back and a nurse who saw me come in told me he passed away that morning. Needless to say, I sat down on a couch and cried. In the few short weeks I had known this man, I had grown to look to him as a Chavrusa (study partner), friend, and above all inspiration. May his memory continue to be an inspiration to all who knew him