‘You made the most of your life’: Bergenfield teen given special burial in Israel – NorthJersey.com

Posted By on May 8, 2021

A stampede at a religious festival attended by tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews in northern Israel killed at least 44 people and injured about 150 early Friday, medical officials said. (April 30) AP Domestic

A funeral held Sunday for Donny Morris, the 18-year-old Bergenfield man killed during a deadly religious event in Israel, drew tens of thousands of viewers still reeling from the Middle Eastern tragedy last week.

In a nighttime ceremony livestreamed from Israel, speakers paid homage to Morris in a mix of Hebrew and English, remembering the Bergenfield teen as an angelic, pure soul who dedicated his last days to studying his faith abroad. A sea of students, rabbis and other holy leaders were seen gathered before the Yeshivat Shaalvim, the Jewish boys' school in Israelwhere Morris spent his final months.

People gather around candles during a vigil in memory of the 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews killed in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel on Friday, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 2, 2021.The stampede early Friday had cut short the annual festival of Lag BaOmer on Israel's Mount Meron.The festival had drawn some 100,000 people in the largest gathering. It was one of the country's deadliest civilian disasters. (Photo: Oded Balilty, AP)

In addition to the thousands in Israel who attended the service, organizers estimated that 34,000 people around the globe tuned in to watch.

Our hearts are broken, Rabbi Yechiel Morris, the teens uncle, told the crowd. He was a mensch of the highest order.

Morris, a Bergen County native, was studying in Israel during a gap year after graduating from the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy in Manhattan. Last week he was among the 100,000 Jews who made the holy pilgrimage to Mount Meron for Lag BaOmer, a festival celebrated each year at the foot of the mountain in Israel.

There, a stampede broke out early Friday, killing 45 people including Morris and injuring hundreds more in what Israel officials called one of the worst civilian disasters in the nations history.

I have so many questions butlittle to no answers,"Mirlana Morris, his mother, said through tears in a eulogy onSunday."But what I do know for sure is that you were loved by so many."

Morris was laid to rest Sundayin the Mount of Olives, the ancient cemetery in Jerusalem.

Other North Jersey natives who traveled to Mount Meron last week reacted with horror at the chaos that unfolded.

Shlomo Katz, an Israeli rabbi born in Englewood, said members of his synagogue drove in a minivan toLag BaOmer, a celebration of the life of the ancient mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. The event, Katz said, is the"most joyous day of the year in Israel, and the largest Jewish gathering of the year."

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But their joy quickly turned to fear,when they were forced to pull over and abort their journey as "ambulance after ambulance after ambulance" sped past them,Katz said.

"We knew something devastating had happened, but we didn't imagine anything close to what it actually was," hesaid.

Katz had met Morris a year ago when the teen visited his aunt and uncle, who are members of his Israeli congregation.It wasn't until the returnhome from Mount Meronthat he learned whathappened, and that Morris was among the victims, Katz said.

Schoolmasters, rabbis and family members remembered Morris on Sunday as someone who lit up every room.He had a reputation among his peersfor making everyonefeel like a friend, and was sensitive to the needs of everyone around him.

Ari Morris, his father, said his son maintained his interests in baseball and golf even during the rigors of his studies abroad.

You made the most of your life, Morris' father said Sunday.You were always looking to do more, to be more.

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Katz, the Israeli rabbi,said Morris' auntwent from hospital to hospital to find her nephew after the disaster, to no avail. He was present whenMorris' relativesgot a call to come to the infamous morgue in Tel Aviv, Abu Kabir, to which he accompanied them.

Though Katz didn't know Morris well, he said he learned a lot about him during the "dreadful ride" to Abu Kabir.

"He had incredible dedication and had his priorities straight," Katz said.

He said the joy of Morris'faith lights up his face in the photo taken of him moments before his death.

"Every little dot is a person in what must be one of the most eerie photos that exist," Katzsaid. "They were all in bliss."

Staff Writer Julia Martin contributed to this story.

Tom Nobile covers Superior Court in Bergen County for NorthJersey.com.For unlimited access to the most important news from criminal trials to local lawsuitsand insightful analysis,please subscribe or activate your digital account today.



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