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Rabbi David Bryn: a tribute to a great leader, person, and friend

How can I describe the impact that Rabbi David Bryn had on my life and on the lives of those around me? I can't. The effects that his teaching, his friendship, and the warm kindness he exhibited had on all he met can be paralleled only by the overwhelming sadness felt by the entire Jewish community at his passing last Thursday.
He was an instructive teacher, caring friend, a loving husband and father, and a special individual who will never be forgotten.
Originally from New York, Rabbi Bryn moved to Miami Beach in 1974 to attend the Lubavitch Yeshiva, and later resettled in South Florida. His accomplishments here include founding the California Club Shul and Mitzva Center in North Dade, creating the Chabad Chayil, an outreach organization for people in need, and helping his mother, Mrs. Felicia Bryn, to form the Russian Outreach Program, which is dedicated to feeding, assisting, and guiding Russian Jews living in South Florida.
He was very much involved in the Jewish community, taking time out of his busy schedule to hold programs for public-school youth.
It was through the latter that my family and I first met him. My brother and I, my parents, and my grandmother had recently come from the Ukraine as religious refugees and knew very little about Jewish customs or about Judaism at all, for that matter. Although my parents had always dreamed of a way that we could receive a Jewish education, the political climate in our country did not allow for the realization of that dream. Upon coming here, however, my brother and I, along with a number of other recent Russian arrivals, were promptly enrolled into Hillel Community Day School, a religious private school, where we were taught not only what Judaism meant but how it was practiced as well as the Hebrew language itself. After about a year, the kids who'd just recently learned what a Menorah was were lighting its candles and singing "Maoz Tzur" like pros, all thanks to the generosity of the Russian Outreach Program.
Not only did Rabbi Bryn put the seed of knowledge into our hungry minds, but he made sure it grew by helping us put our newfound learning into practice. The Russian Outreach Program organized Passover for Russian Jews and every year, my family and I learned to sing songs from the Haggadah and to eat horseradish as a reminder of the bitterness of our existence as slaves in Egypt. Rabbi Bryn He had friends of his come to our house on Chanukah to demonstrate the lighting of the candles and invited us to the shul to help pack Purism baskets stuffed with jam filled hamantaschen. But the thing that stands out most in my mind is the way the Rabbi organized a bar-mitzvah celebration for my brother, planning and coordinating each step so that the final ceremony seemed to have come about of itself. He held lessons for my brother on how to read aloud from the Torah, made a list of desired dishes and arranged it with the synagogue's cook, instructed my Mom what tefillin to buy and where to buy them, decorated the shul for the occasion, and gave touching speeches praising my parents for the way they raised him. And my brother was not unique to this thoughtful treatment. Each and every Russian boy that I knew had been similarly coached, helped, and befriended by the rabbi in his tireless efforts to “make him a man”.
In the back of my mind, I had always known Rabbi Bryn was ill, but he was always so enthusiastic and active that I had trouble believing it. He was happiest surrounded by a handful of kids, among them his playful stepdaughter Devorah Sara, and his soft, raspy voice rose and fell in suspense as he told them of the plagues in Egypt or related the story of Esther. Kids, teens, adults, and the elderly all flocked to him, and he had a way of reaching out to everyone and bringing himself to their level of understanding so that even the youngest kids confided in him like he was their best friend. As long as I can remember him, Rabbi Bryn always wore a bright smile on his face and never failed to whisper a kind word or give an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

I realize now that he often must have been in pain, but not once did he let it keep him from throwing himself heart and soul into service for the congregation. Last Passover, Mrs. Felicia Bryn presented me and my brother with beautifully illustrated Artscroll Youth Haggadahs as gifts from the rabbi, who wasin the hospital at the time. With tears in her eyes, she told us that the rabbi had left them unsigned because he hoped to recover and sign them in person. Sadly, he died a month later, but those haggadahs as well as the countess memories we have of him will forever remain a testament to the kindness, purity, and courage of man who gave so much to the Jews of this world, and was deeply respected and loved by them in return.

Marianna Tuninskaya 


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