It has been about 16 month since our dear son, Gershon Benyamin Burd, was taken from us. His short life enriched all who knew him. I want to share with you, dear reader a small glimpse of his special soul . . .

Greg, as he was called before he adopted his Hebrew name Gershon, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1973. He was a delightful child with long, blond hair, and thankfully he never gave us any real problems. When he was three years old, we finally succeeded in getting permissionHis short life enriched all who knew him from the Soviets to leave Odessa for good and live in the free world.

Once we arrived in Chicago, my wife and I busied ourselves with settling into our new lives. We worked long hours, but fortunately, my mother-in-law, Chava, lived with us, and she took loving care of our son whenever my wife and I were unavailable. Gershon loved her dearly, and eventually named his only daughter after her.

At around the age of 25, Gershon was introduced to Orthodox Judaism, and he found new meaning in life. I remember asking him at that time, “Why are you making all these sweeping changes in your life?”

“You see, Daddy,” he said, “before, when I’d get together with my friends, we’d talk about cars, sports, music, etc. But now my life has totally changed, I have found meaning and purpose.”

For some reason, this memory resonates strongly with another fragment of Gershon’ s childhood. One Sunday afternoon, when he was in middle school, my son and I were participating in some father-and-son baseball at the school. I couldn’t help but notice that he was not that good at baseball. I asked the coach how my son was doing. The teacher replied, “Nothing really bothers him.” I pressed him for a more detailed answer, and he explained that the kids had been teasing Gershon for not being good at baseball, but he totally ignored them, even though he was the tallest kid in the class. At that young age he already possessed the quality he would be famous for as a grown-up: the ability to accept the uncomfortable and ignore the inconsequential. Gershon was not someone who would let teasing bother him. He went on to play football, basketball and volleyball throughout high school, in addition to serving as a lifeguard during the summers.

When he discovered the Torah, its wisdom and riches, depth and width, it became his way of life, and he never deviated from that path. However, he wasn’t afraid to ask the hard questions; he was always in pursuit of the right way to live. Halachah, the Jewish Code of Law, was his guiding light.

In pursuing this commitment, he left the comfort of home and went to Jerusalem to study Torah and learn about Judaism—first as a yeshivah student and then as Executive Director of Yeshivas Bircas HaTorah. He got married and, together with his wife, Batya, had five beautiful children, four boys and a girl.

From early in the morning until very late at night, Gershon devoted all his energy to studying Torah, running the yeshivah, and raising his family with passion and dedication. He slept just a few hours each night. Yes, he missed his sleep, but amazingly, he never showed it. He never looked tired, harried or overwhelmed. He was never intimidated by what others would perceive as an obstacle. He was a like a prince, always calm, with a friendly, welcoming smile, carefully weighing every thoughtful word, never tired or dismissive of those around him. Being around him, you always felt as if in the presence of royalty, and you wanted to stay near him, in his magnetic field of goodness, as long as possible. In conversation, Gershon would always meet his companion exactly where he was at. He was always attentive, not merely listening, but really hearing peopleHe was a like a prince, always calm and paying close attention to what they were saying. As a true hero, Gershon put himself out there for the benefit of others, without expecting anything back.

I remember his dry and wonderful sense of humor . . . His love, warmth and devotion to his wife . . . His ease and fun demeanor with his children . . . How he was a loving and devoted son, brother, cousin, grandson and friend, always keeping in close touch and figuring out ways to spend time together despite us living in the U.S. and him in Israel . . . How he never forgot to mark a birthday, anniversary or graduation with a thoughtful gift and phone call . . . His love for nature, the sun, ocean, cactuses, tropical fish . . . His genuine caring and hospitality . . . His desire to share with others the things he loved . . . His righteousness, dedication, passion . . . His ability to give pointed, effective advice (only when asked) . . . His charisma, reliability, modesty, intelligence . . . His incredible amount of patience . . . His strength and conviction—they were without compare . . .

On October 4, 2013, Gershon and Batya went to Tel Aviv to celebrate his 40th birthday. Gershon, a strong swimmer, went out for a swim at a remote beach. But the waves were huge, and something dreadful happened in the stormy water—our Gershon drowned, just before Shabbat.

Although it’s very hard to make sense of life after this terrible tragedy, we have heard from many people about the profound impact Gershon had upon their lives. People have told me that they have changed how they interact with others: they’ve learned not to overreact to annoying challenges of everyday life, like a snooty remark, rude e-mail, etc. They told me that thanks to my son, they now react to these challenges by thinking, How would Gershon handle this?

Gershon’ s soul dwelled with us for 40 years, and it enriched us and made us better people. After his passing, many acts of chesed came to light that Gershon did secretly, via a third party, including giving money to the poor, paying tuition for a needy student, buying food for the needy on holidays, and many other completely undisclosed, incognito acts of kindness. Our sages tell us that the world is sustained through the merits of 36 hidden tzaddikim, righteous individuals. Some have suggested that perhaps Gershon is one of them.

It is written that a moment of basking in the glory of G‑d in the World to Come is better than a lifetime on this earth. May the righteous soul of our son have an aliyah, an elevation, and may he experience the joy of connecting with his Creator.

Our prince, our dearest, sweetest Gershon, you are more special than one in a million. We miss you so very much.