Ay, Reb Yonah: A Londoner Remembers

Rabbi Mendel Itzinger of London, England writes about his close family friend Rabbi Yonah Pruss, remembering his fire, his passion, and his focus on the truth.

By Rabbi Mendel Itzinger – London, England

Ay Yona, 

How do I refer to you? 

Yona? No, you deserve more respect than that.  

Rabbi Pruss? Sounds too distant. 

Maybe actually, the good old-fashioned English sign of respect “Uncle Yona”? 

After all, what else do I call someone who was as close to my father as his own brother? 

Now that I think of it, it may indeed be a worthy title. 

Who else, if not an uncle, loves and is loved unconditionally? 

Who else, if not an uncle, could put me in my place, telling me as it is, but with such non-judgmental love that he knows I will receive it well, as intended? 

Who else, if not an uncle, can sense when I am down or know just when I need a pick-up? When to take me seriously and when to burst my bubble. 

זר לא יבין זאת…

The fire… The passion… OY!

To go down memory lane I would have to write a book… and I am in no position to write at this time… 

But as I walk into my parent’s home… past the table where you spent countless hours Farbrenging… Past the living room you discussed everything from world issues to unforgettable Zichronos… and on the table lies an empty stand on which lay the video device my father used in the recent past to learn with you for hours on end. The empty stand …

Ver Redt Noch when I walk past 12 Hurstwood Road…

Ay! The memories are too much! 

It was השגחה פרטית that last night after we saw you off from your home we walked with you past the Telsners at number 15… 

Oy how childhood memories remain seared in ones mind… and through the fog of tears the memories refused to abate…

Its all too much… and there is nowhere to hide because every corner brings another memory…

We were always in awe of your fire… your passion… your focus on the truth…

And your Mesirus Nefesh for the Rebbe’s Kovod… Yeah, we knew about it, though we never dared tell you we did…

I thought it must be a personality thing, your Techunas Hanefesh…

I wasn’t wrong… 

But I wasn’t entirely right either… 

Because you told us, so often, the secret to your fire: 

“Mendel”, you would tell me. “Since my Bar Mitzva I have never gone a day without learning Chassidus”. 

You knew, and we knew, that is what kept you. It softened challenges, and it kept you focused on the ‘ups’. 

We are all looking for someone to give us comfort, but none of us have anything to say; “Yona would know what toy say”. 

But now, Yona, you don’t say. 

All we can do with this blow is use the tools you used:

Learn Chassidus every day. 

Maybe, maybe, that will serve as some form of comfort to us.

Last night, I was looking at some of our recent conversations.

There was one where I was worried about something, but you felt I was fretting over the wrong thing. 

It was a private conversation, but I hope you won’t mind that I share what you wrote to me:

“איי ר’ שמואל מיכל אין וואס איר ליגט. בעט אויף די קינדער, בעט אויף לבניך אלו התלמידים ובדרך ממילא יהיו צינורות עד בלי די, בעט חסידות, בעט לומדות, בעט יראת שמים פאר די קינדער, בעט התקשרות, בעט למלאות כוונת ירידת הנשמה למטה, ובד”מ הכל יבא על מקומו בשלום”

You once told me laughingly that a Temimusdike Yid asked you where you would be up high, by your ancestor the מגלה עמוקות or by the Rebbe? And you laughed; “He thinks the Megale Amukos isn’t by the Rebbe??”

Yona, whilst we grieve, you sit by the Rebbe, I remind you of your own words, after all who could say it better than yourself:

בעט אויף די קינדער, בעט אויף לבניך אלו התלמידים ובדרך ממילא יהיו צינורות עד בלי די, בעט חסידות, בעט לומדות, בעט יראת שמים פאר די קינדער, 

ובד”מ (ת)בא על מקומ(ך) בשלום! 

Ye Ye, I know, were you to read this now you’d know exactly the right way to tell me to get a grip of myself. 

דעתי עליך יונה! חבל על דאבדין, ולא משתכחין!


Rabbi Yona Pruss, a pillar of the London Jewish community, passed away this week, after a short illness.

At 59, he leaves behind a grieving family and a legacy of shlichus, a life of chessed, and decades of inspired leadership.

As we mourn this tragedy, we ask that you contribute generously to help his family cope with this loss.

Click here to donate.

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