Zalmy Plotkin, the youngest son of Rabbi Avrahom Plotkin, the spiritual leader of Chabad-Lubavitch of Markham, and his wife, Goldie Plotkin, died unexpectedly on April 15, two days before his 15th birthday.
Known for his ready smile and sweet disposition, Zalmy, who had Down syndrome, was remembered as a loving son, brother and uncle who took part in many activities at his parents’ Chabad centre, as well as in programs to aid children with disabilities, noted a post on Chabad.org.
Many took to social media to offer their condolences to the family and share memories of Zalmy. His smile lit up Shabbatons, said one person, while many recalled his love of music and zest for life. Nearly 1,000 people attended his funeral.
“Zalmy was a pure soul,” his mother told The CJN. “The physicality of this world could not obstruct his view of people and of his goodness and kindness.”
Her son had little use for political correctness, Goldie Plotkin added.
“He was just the real deal. If he loved you, he told you. And if he didn’t feel there was love and you were putting on a facade, he just ignored you. You couldn’t win him over with just baloney,” she said.
Although Zalmy spoke little, he knew Chapter 20 of Tehillim (Psalms) by heart.
“He would come to synagogue at 11:30, go up to the front, pull out a small stool by the podium and he would say Chapter 20 word for word,” said his mother with obvious joy in the face of a staggering loss. Worshippers would repeat the words after him and he would end by giving the congregation two thumbs up, as they cheered, she added.
Zalmy was a pure soul.
– Goldie Plotkin
At the communal Kiddush following the service, Zalmy would head straight for the cholent, said his mother. “The whole congregation would be enthralled by him, and he didn’t have to say a word.”
The Plotkins knew that raising a child with Down syndrome wasn’t going to be easy. Goldie Plotkin recited a verse from the Talmud, which translates as “God only gives you what you can handle.”
The couple had made similar statements to parents of children with disabilities, but when Zalmy came along, “We were challenged by it. My husband and I had to look deep inside our hearts and say, ‘do we believe what we were preaching?’ And we did. And our children did.
“Fifteen years ago, we looked at each other and said, ‘Zalmy was born to our family. It means we have the strength,’ ” Goldie Plotkin recalled.
The family handled the challenge “with joy, with a lot of belief. That’s how people have to look at their challenges,” she said. In the end, “We knew that ha-Shem gave us a soul that had completed its shlichus (mission).”
She credited programs Zalmy used and took part in, including Reena, The Friendship Circle, Yachad and Camp HASC.
“Despite our age gap, Zalmy was my friend,” said Jonah Simcha Chaim Muskat-Brown, 29, a friend of the Plotkin family who met Zalmy at Camp HASC, a summer camp for kids with disabilities. “He was a friend to so many others, as well.”
For Zalmy, “life was simcha (joy). He appreciated the simple things in life, such as laughing at himself in the mirror, or sitting at a computer or my phone and watching Camp HASC videos on repeat. He loved music. He loved to dance. And he made it his personal mission to ensure that everyone he encountered was in a joyful state,” Muskat-Brown continued.
“But perhaps above all, Zalmy was one of the world’s greatest teachers. He taught us how to appreciate the little things we have and how to smile when we felt we had nothing to smile about. He taught us to speak with manners and to always clean up the table after we finished eating. And he taught us to view life and the people around us as beautiful creations worthy of our concern and care.
“The world has lost a bright light, but Zalmy would never want us to be sad over his passing.”
Boruch Schnuer Zalman Plotkin is survived by his parents, seven siblings, all four grandparents and 12 nieces and nephews.