An ill wind
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An ill wind

Community mourns deaths and struggles to recover

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Crews were still clearing trees from Teaneck roads on Wednesday. Photos by Josh Lipowsky

Teaneck was in mourning this week for Ovadia Mussaffi and Lawrence Krause, killed by a falling tree during Saturday night’s nor’easter as they walked home from shul after Shabbat.

As mourners gathered in the men’s homes for shiva this week, friends and family described both as friendly, sweet, and generous. Mussaffi, 54, is survived by his wife, Susan, and their four children. Krause, 49, is survived by his wife, Zahava, and six children, including a six-week-old daughter.

Born in Israel to Iraqi parents, Mussaffi served in the Israel Air Force. After the death of his parents he began to become more religiously observant. Coming to Teaneck more than 20 years ago, he owned Italian Connection, a clothing store in New York. For the past few years he was president of Cong. Shaarei Orah, Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, where his loss appeared to be felt most by those he was close to.

“He was the nicest, friendliest person there,” said Rabbi Ely Allen, spiritual leader of Shaarei Orah. “He had such a strong presence. He was really the heart, physically and spiritually, of the synagogue.”
Allen recalled that it was Mussaffi who had first convinced him to become the rabbi of Shaarei Orah, after the two met at a wedding several years ago.

“Although I had said I would never become a pulpit rabbi, his personality and his warmth really encouraged me,” Allen said. “I ended up coming to the shul initially because of him.”

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Lawrence Krause was very proud of this generations-old siddur, his family and friends said.

Mussaffi would frequently be the first to arrive at shul in order to help set up for kiddushes, and he would also be among the last to leave so he could help clean up, Allen said.

“He was selflessly dedicated to the shul,” he said. “There was nothing he was not involved with… There was no one who walked into our shul he did not personally greet with a smile, with a hug, with a kiss.”

Arthur Aaron of Fort Lee was the gabbai at Teaneck’s Cong. Bnai Yeshurun 20 years ago when the shul instituted its 8 a.m. service. Mussaffi soon began attending, and the two would often daven near each other.

“You don’t really meet many people like Ovadia,” Aaron said. “He was a gentleman. He was a sweetheart of a man.”

At Yavneh Academy in Paramus, which Mussaffi’s children attend, administrators have organized trips throughout the week for students to the shiva house, led by the school’s psychologist and social worker.

“We’re doing all that we can to help the family navigate through the crisis, as well as the students who were in these children’s classes,” said Joel Kirschner, Yavneh’s executive director. “When a tragedy like this happens, everybody’s got to work together to make the situation less stressful for the family.”

Chaim Kiss, a Teaneck entrepreneur, first met Mussaffi 25 years ago when they were both single. Even then, Kiss said, Mussaffi never liked to argue and “ran after peace.”

Several years ago, when Kiss ran a sushi restaurant in New York City, Mussaffi would stop by and order a roll every week, even though he didn’t like sushi.

“He used to come in there and just get a roll to make me happy. I knew he didn’t really like it,” Kiss said. “He was a peacemaker everywhere he went.”

When Lawrence Krause graduated from law school more than 25 years ago, he went to work at a firm that he did not particularly like, said his brother, Richard Krause of New Hyde Park on Long Island. After three weeks, Lawrence Krause quit and opened his own firm, Krause & Associates. He began with a focus in immigration law and expanded to other fields of law, including personal injury.

“If there was something he wanted,” his brother said, “he would strive and make sure he got it.”

When Krause and his family moved to Teaneck two years ago, he began attending classes at the Yeshiva Gedolah with Rabbi Eliyohu Roberts, the rosh yeshiva.

“He was so dedicated to his children’s wellbeing, to academic standards and spiritual wellbeing,” Roberts said.

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Ovadia Mussaffi was president of Cong. Shaarei Orah, Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, where he was “a strong presence,” said Rabbi Ely Allen. This photograph appeared on a 2005 Jewish Standard front page. Jerry Szubin

The rabbi described Krause as a very happy man who would always cheer up everyone he saw. Krause would frequently set aside money to help others, too, even when his own business was not going so well, Roberts said.

“He never made out an exact check,” the rabbi said. “He always rounded it off, he always gave a little extra.”

According to Roberts, one mourner at the funeral in Brooklyn on Monday spoke of making a trip to a butcher with Krause just before Pesach one year. As they were leaving, Krause leaned in and whispered something to the butcher. His friend asked the butcher what had been said and the butcher told him that Krause had said that if anybody could not afford what they wanted, the butcher should fill the order and bill Krause the difference.

“He used to have a special system where he set aside funds for those who came to him for help,” Roberts said. “He lived with that faith that things would get better – and they did get better.”

Yitzy Solomon recalled that one year he and his wife were scheduled to be honored by their children’s former high school. Leaving a restaurant, they ran into Krause, who said he would give them a check right there so he wouldn’t forget. To Solomon’s surprise, Krause wrote out a $180 check.

“Who gives you a check in a parking lot because they hear you’re being honored and don’t want to forget? He was eager to do for others,” Solomon said.

Krause had a collection of old prayer books, which he would rebind and use. He often told others that he did this because righteous people had prayed from the books. In particular, he frequently used a 150-year-old German siddur, which he was very proud of, Solomon said. Krause would also frequently wear an old fur-lined coat that been passed down through his family.

Krause thought of replacing the jacket but couldn’t, Solomon said, because the jacket and the siddur made him feel like he was praying back in Europe.

“He saw that siddur as [a way] for him to pray just as his grandparents prayed,” Solomon said. “You really pray as they prayed back in the old country” that way.

Krause would frequently attend Friday night services at Bnai Yeshurun. He and Solomon often found themselves walking home together after shul, discussing life and Judaism.

“I’m not looking forward to Friday night this week,” Solomon said. “It’s going to be a sad moment.”

When Krause began to grow a beard, he told Solomon that it was because “a Jew should have a beard. That’s what a Jew looks like and I want my kids to say that’s what my father looks like.”

Children looking for mischief sometimes will ring a doorbell and run away. Krause encouraged this behavior in his children, Solomon said, except they would ring the bells of elderly people and leave packages of food for them to find.

“He wanted them to experience what one should do to assist others,” Solomon said. “I don’t think Teaneck even remotely recognizes what was lost. This guy would have been a pillar of our community.”

Allen said he is touched by the outpouring of support the Mussaffi and Krause families have received in recent days. People have come out of nowhere to help, he said, noting that chasidim from Monsey were in Teaneck almost immediately to watch over Mussaffi’s body and make sure it was properly taken care of before being sent to Israel for burial earlier this week.

“I have a new outlook on the Jewish people and, particularly, our community,” Allen said. “In a tragedy, to see how everyone came together and was there for one another – it was truly amazing.”

The deaths of Mussaffi and Krause are a “major devastating blow” to the community, the rabbi continued, and it will take a long time for those close to them to recover.

“This is a time we have no choice but to just have faith,” he said. “That’s what carries us through the day.”

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