They found the body.
An unhappy ending to a tragic story. Naftoli Smolyansky died saving the life of his 5 year old daughter. She fell off a boat they were on and he dove in. After managing to get her back on board he somehow didn’t make it back on. He went under and then went missing until yesterday when his body was discovered by the authorities. Though his wife Leah is thankfully no longer an Aguna, this is hardly a happy time for her.
Nafotli’s heroics and the amazing effort by the authorities and the reaction by the Jewish community of Los Angeles is described in an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in Cross-Currents. The story gained national attention and was all over the Internet for a few days. Tehilim was said world wide.
Now that he was found the mourning can begin in earnest. My heart goes out to his wife, Leah, and their 5 children.
I met Naftoli when his wife Leah introduced him to me. She lived in Chicago then. Her story and that of her entire family is an inspiring one.
Her trek toward observance begins in the Former Soviet Union.
Leah Kigin (her maiden name), her parents, and two twin sisters, Jackie and Marina were among the many Russian Jews who immigrated to the United States in the eighties after the FSU loosened their reins on Jewish emigration. They settled in Milwaukee and were not religious in any way.
It was through an NCSY Kiruv effort that the two twins became religious. Her parents though not religious themselves were totally accepting of their daughters’ new ways and fully accommodated them. They are truly amazing people. Leah had no interest at that time in a religious life.
Meanwhile the twins had wanted to go to a religious high school. They both moved to Chicago with Jackie attending Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov and Marina attending the co-ed Ida Crown Jewish Academy.
With her parents being the loving people they are, their father quit his job and moved to Chicago. He eventually got a job here. Jackie was a close friend of my daughters Sari and Rivkie and she became a regular guest in my home - eating over on many a Shabbos. She rarely ate at home on a Shabbos because she wanted a Shabbos environment.
Both young women continued to grow in their Judaism . Marina soon after her year in Israel met a wonderful young man from Edmonton and got married. Jackie and Leah remained single. Leah saw the tremndous growth of her sisters and became more attracted to a Torah lifestyle.
Before too long she enrolled in Neve Yeurshalayim in Israel. There she grew to be quite a Bas Yisroel - having had one of the best teachers ever to grace this earth, Rabbi Yaakov Levi. He was a Shaliach of Reb Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz - originally sent to Detroit. He was my seventh and eighth grade Rebbe there – and later switched to teaching the girls. Ultimately he made Aliyah and now works in Neve. He is a man who I venerate to this day. A man who was Mekarev more Jews – men and women - than anyone I know. Leah, flourished.
She returned home to Chicago after a year - never looking back at her previous lifestyle. But she was still not married. One of her younger twin sisters was already married with children. At age 29 - a Baalas Teshuva who was a bit taller than average - there weren’t too many prospects available. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was that this beautiful young woman who had come so far now had to face a growing Shiddach crisis in the Torah world.
But then very soon along came Naftoli and swept her off her feet. My family and I were so happy for her. We were all thoroughly impressed at his commitment to Torah and his commitment to being a good provider for his family. She got a really great guy.
Leah is a Russian immigrant who loves America so much that she lost her Russian accent entirely. But she loved Judaism more. And she found a young man, tall, handsome, and committed to her religious values.
They got married, moved to Los Angeles, and had five children – the latest born a few weeks before Pesach. He was successful and they lived their lives committed to Torah. Meanwhile her parents decided to become observant too. Jackie soon after married a wonderful young man from Evanston.
That entire family of assimilated Jews from Russia were now all observant American Jews - married with children. A very happy family: The twins - the parents - and Leah Kigin Smolyansky. Until last week’s tragedy.
HaMokom Y’Nachem Eschem BeSoch Shar Avelei Tzion V’Yerushalyim.
Updated: 9/2/08 - 1:11 PM CDT