Right up to the end, the status message on Saadya Ehrenpreis’ WhatsApp profile read: “Having the time of my life.”
“And he was,” Ahava Ehrenpreis said of her son, one of more than 110,000 lives claimed by COVID-19 in the United States so far.
Born with Down syndrome, Saadya was not expected to be able to become independent, and doctors said he might not even learn to talk. He proved them wrong, graduating from high school and enrolling in Yeshiva University’s Makor College Experience, a program for young men with special needs.
Saadya was beloved on the campus in New York City for his joyful spirit, and classmates paid tribute to him during Yeshiva’s graduation via videoconference Sunday — a ceremony in which he himself would have “walked” virtually if not for the new coronavirus.
“The secret of his popularity is that he was so positive, so happy and so anxious for you to be happy, too,” Ahava said. “This is a very selfless happiness: I won’t be happy unless you’re happy too.”
For years she wrote about her son’s inspiring milestones in a magazine column. In the last one, “ Dear Saadya ... Love, Mom,” she asked readers to pray for him as he fought the disease. On April 28, two days shy of his 36th birthday, he became the first student at the Jewish Orthodox university to die from COVID-19.
Hundreds attended his funeral remotely the following day.