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Mitzvah campaign launched after young man’s sudden passing

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When Debbie Werner didn’t hear from her 25-year-old son, Doron, on the Shabbat morning of Saturday, 19 March, she knew something was wrong. He had left his home town of Durban to study and settle in Cape Town, but they would always speak on Friday night and then again on Saturday morning before she went to shul.

“Not answering was completely out of character,” says his father, Mark, who describes Doron as a devoted son, brother, and grandson. The domestic worker arrived and said she kept knocking and ringing the doorbell, but there was no answer. “I told CSO [the Community Security Organisation] to smash down the door if it needed to. I’m a positive person, but at this stage, I knew something could be very wrong.”

A friend found a locksmith, but when paramedics entered the apartment, they found Doron unresponsive. In spite of their best efforts to revive him, his family were told over the phone that their precious son and brother had passed away. Family, friends from all walks of life, colleagues, and the community are reeling at his sudden and untimely death.

“We’re in shock. You’re not supposed to bury your own child,” says Mark, from Durban, where his son was buried. “I almost don’t believe it. I keep expecting him to walk in the door. We thought we had plenty of time. Maybe Hashem felt that he had finished his mission here on earth and was needed on a higher level. But we never got to say goodbye.”

Now, Chabad on Campus Cape Town (CoCCT), which was there for Doron to celebrate his Yiddishkeit as a student, has launched a “mitzvah campaign” in his honour. Rabbi Nissen Goldman of CoCCT says hundreds of people from all backgrounds attended the funeral, including Doron’s Standard Bank colleagues who flew in especially. “He would bring everyone together. He would always be there if needed – for example to join our ‘Ikeys minyan’. It was a clear priority for him.

“The world has lost a true gem,” he says. “A mensch par excellence. A proud Jew. A courageous man who spoke up for truth. We have lost a brother. Doron was always there to celebrate Shabbat, always with a good joke for the table. Most of all, he was a good friend to so many of us, who are left better off for it.

“Doron’s untimely passing has left a void in our world,” he says, noting that many students approached him asking to do something to mark this loss and continue Doron’s legacy. “We’ll be launching a mitzvah campaign in Doron’s memory to continue his impact on the world.”

Goldman says the ultimate way of fulfilling G-d’s will is by doing mitzvot here on earth. “A soul cannot lay tefillin or give tzedakah. Only a body can do that. Mitzvot are behavioural and action-oriented. The Jewish response to death and tragedy is to do mitzvot in merit of the departed, and to act as their hands and feet in the world, which they can no longer do. This is also for the elevation of their soul.”

People will be able to sign up on a website to commit to doing mitzvot that they may not have done in the past. “By pledging to do a mitzvah, they will fill this void with some light. It could be anything from putting on tefillin every day to saying [the prayer] Modeh Ani, to lighting Shabbat candles,” says Goldman. “Anyone can take on a mitzvah that they realistically feel they can fulfil, and then please G-d, follow through.”

The family don’t know the reason for his passing, but were told it may have been an aneurysm. They are still waiting for the results from the coroner. “I hope he didn’t suffer, and I want to believe Hashem took him quickly,” Mark says. The last time they spoke to Doron was on Friday evening before Shabbat. As always, he was in high spirits – excited about Shabbat dinner and meeting friends afterwards. He had just been promoted in his job, and truly had the world at his feet.

His friend, Avi Zieff, says, “he was with us for Shabbat dinner the night before he passed away. He was like a brother and mentor to me. When he moved from Durban in 2016 to study at UCT [the University of Cape Town], he was welcomed into our family. He came to us for Shabbat and yom tov dinners regularly before lockdown, and recently started coming again. He was always the life and soul of the Shabbat table. He was a people’s person. He was doing so well in his job, where he was loved by all.”

“He had huge integrity and was always genuine. What you see is what you get,” says Doron’s sister, Jenna. “He was an old soul, wise beyond his years.” She and Doron were extremely close.

“He loved sport and cooking,” says his father. “He had many friends from the Indian community as they all grew up together. When he died, they came and said, ‘Mr Werner, don’t leave us out. We want to grieve with you.’ I never realised how they saw him as their own family.”

Says Zieff, “We hope his family will find much comfort in knowing that Doron touched many people’s lives. Doron was a proud Jew, and if we can each take on one mitzvah in his memory, we can better ourselves and the people around us.”

Mark says that when his son was born, Rabbi Pinchas Zekry came to the hospital and asked him what he was thinking of naming his son. He answered that he loved the name Doron, but didn’t know exactly what it meant. The rabbi said it translated as ‘gift from G-d’.

“We just didn’t know the gift would be so short-term,” Mark says.

Just like he was there at the beginning of Doron’s life, Zekry was there at the end too. “At the funeral, he gave the most beautiful eulogy, and said that Doron had his bris in March, his Barmitzvah in March, and he left us in March. That’s a sign of a true tzaddik.”

“Treasure your children,” Mark says. “Enjoy every day. I enjoyed every moment with my son. I wish he was with us now. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because it might not come.”

  • To join the mitzvah campaign in Doron Werner’s honour, visit doronslegacy.com. The website will be live soon.

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