BOROUGH PARK – It was a heartbreaking day for the Borough Park community as they said their final prayers for Tzvi (Hersh) Elimelech Yechiel Michel Grossman who apparently drowned in the swimming pool at Sahara Sam’s Water Park in West Berlin, New Jersey.
Yesterday was a day that was supposed to be a fun day in the cooling waters for Tzvi and about 800 of his classmates from their Orthodox Jewish school. Despite the best efforts of rescuers doing CPR in front of stunned children, they could not save the boy.
Today, the small pine box was covered in a black velvet sheath with the name of the small beloved synagogue Belzer Talmud Torah on 18th Avenue in Borough Park. The coffin was placed on a pitted wooden bench surrounded by numerous men in black orthodox Jewish garb – it contained the body of a 9-year-old boy from the neighborhood.
The boy’s father, Moshe Grossman stood wiping away tears, his younger son Sender, stood at his side, twirling his long pais and staring at the box containing his older brother, eventually sobbing himself.
Hundreds of residents jammed the street, some sobbing openly, including the boy’s mother Sheindy who was embraced by an older daughter and her mother and cousins.
They sat on a bench across from the coffin as her father Rabbi Eckstein said prayers for the boy.
The mother’s first cousin Joseph Langsom said the family was “taking it very hard, just like whole community – he belongs to the Belzer community.” Langsom said his own son was on the same trip and came home 1 a.m. this morning “unaware the boy had died.”
“This affected most of the community – we are all neighbors, cousins – everyone had someone on this trip, so it makes it very personal and for the community – very shocking,” Langsom said.
“We believe that the only way to understand this, was to talk to God and we believe it had to occur at the time an the place it did. It wasn’t intentional, it is what God had planned for us and we respect God’s plan.”
A young boy, age 12, but would not be further identified, said he was just coming from the waterslide when he saw people doing CPR. “I came from waterslide and I wanted to go on another ride but they wouldn’t let me,” he said. “Then, the pool was in the middle of the rides, I saw they were doing compressions on him.” The boy said that while rescuers were trying to revive the boy, others were standing by saying prayers.
“I was shaking, the other kids, 10 years old, they don’t really understand what it means to do CPR. They thought they were just trying to pump out the water from him. Nobody told us what happened to him till today, we got a call that he was dead – I can’t speak anymore.”
The ceremony, mostly in Yiddish, spoke about the vivacious young boy who had been looking forward to the outing to cool off from the extreme temperatures of the previous days.
Then, family and friends lifted the small casket, carried it halfway down 51st Street to a waiting hearse. While many accepted the death as inevitable, one woman who would not be identified was not so charitable.
“The park should’ve been watching, the lifeguards were supposed to be watching – you sign a paper before you swim and the lifeguards are responsible – it’s a shanda (shame) on them,” she said.