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In Memory of Mother

Oct 21, 2009 by Rabbi Pesach Siegel

On Shabbos afternoon, Erev Pesach after chatzos, our dear mother, Gittel Dina (Gertrude) Siegel, a”h, offered up her pure soul, the ultimate Korban Pesach, leaving a gaping wound in her beloved, devoted family.

 

A scion of Chicago, born to a mother who was born and bred in Chicago, graduate of Lawson Public School, Marshall High School, and Grenshaw Talmud Torah. The transformations she went through in her lifetime were nothing short of amazing.

 

She was raised in a city that was devoid of a Bais Yaakov, parochial school, or full time yeshiva.

 

And she grew and thrived and merited to produce a frum family, a toiradike family, each and every child, grandchild and great grandchild, ken yirbu, educated in the spirit of ahavas Hashem vetoraso. Numbering among  her offspring, sons-in-law, and grandsons-in-law, gedolai Torah, talmidei chachamim,  mechabrei seforim, roshei mosdos, mechanchim, mechanchos, baalei and baalos chessed par excellence.

 

During the shiva period, we searched, we questioned. From whence did this all come?

 

For our mother, a”h, being a mekabel was her very essence. She was also blessed with an innate sense of who to be mekabel from.

 

In 1960 the Telsher Yeshiva of Chicago opened its doors. Unfortunately, they were not greeted with universal acceptance. The proximity of the yeshiva to our house appealed to our mother. To her hesitating elder son she cajoled, “Try it for a year”. She was convinced that it was the right place for her son. Her dear friend, Mrs. Betty Goldberg, a”h, had sent her sons to the Telsher Yeshiva. “What’s good enough for Betty Goldberg is good enough for me”! She picked her friends wisely and unhesitatingly followed their good advice. Her son’s tenure in the Yeshiva far surpassed the original year. He was sent to the Telsher Yeshiva with the full advance knowledge that changes would have to made in the home in order for there to be no conflict between the yeshiva atmosphere and the home. It was a foregone conclusion that the younger son would follow.  It’s awe inspiring to contemplate how one seemingly minor choice, had such an impact on  doros.

 

And what changes there were! Tevilas keilim, cholov yisroel, glatt kosher, checking vegetables for bugs, the best hashgachos, were among the minor ones. No college!! No college? No college!! Kollel!! Each and every one of these worthy undertakings was met with acceptance, love, and understanding, accompanied with a complete change of perspective.

 

The midda of tznius was of paramount importance to her.

 

When we moved to Monsey, New York, our mother developed a close friendship with Rebbetzin Soloveitchik, a”h, the principal of Bais Yaakov in Monsey. She would take special joy in relating to us that when the rebbetzin would call her on the telephone, she quickly checked her apparel to make sure that it conformed with the standards of tznius. She would not allow herself to converse with the rebbetzin, even on the phone,  unless she was attired according to the rebbetzin’s exacting standards. She was not deterred or embarrassed from approaching an isha chashuva and inquiring whether an outfit she was presently wearing was sufficiently tzniusdik.

 

Although our mother never merited to attend a Bais Yaakov, she was a perpetual student. She attended shiurim religiously. Rav Chaim D. Keller, shlita, related to us during the shiva that she was one of the asara rishonim at his chumash shiur. She attended the local shiurim in halacha. The name of Rav Zev Dachs, z”l, was regularly mentioned in our home. From him she learned the minutiae of the laws of Shabbos. Shailos were constantly being asked of Rav Shmuel Fuerst, shlita. The copious notes of the weekday shiurim she attended attest to her desire to grow by retaining what she had learned.

 

She would relate stories of her childhood. Her father, Zaydie Levin, a”h, was orphaned at the tender age of one and a half. He emigrated to America at the age of 17 to escape the Russian draft. His two elder brothers refused to follow, claiming that one cannot remain frum in America. Arriving in America he was drafted into the American army and sent back to Europe. Bichasdei Hashem he survived the war and lived for a time with his secular brother in Norfolk, Nebraska. They were constantly arguing. He adamantly refused to compromise his frumkeit. His brother told him that if he won’t work on Shabbos he will not be able to survive in America. He never knew his father. His two frum brothers firmly believed that he would not stay frum in America. His non-religious brother was convinced that he could not survive by being frum in America. And yet, all the dismal predictions of his fate were proven wrong. He not only stayed frum in America, but he produced doros yeshorim, both in eichus and kamus, ken yirbu, that have  had an impact on religious life in America.

 

Zaydie Levin, a”h, kept Shabbos. Period. End of story. During the depression years this literally meant starvation. Our grandparents went through a period when they relied on the charity of others to put bread on the table. They made kiddush on challah. There was no money for wine. Our grandfather, yearning to provide for the family, looked for parnassah outside of Chicago, which would involve moving away from the Jewish community. Bubby, a”h, would not agree to move. What would be with the children? Hashem who had provided for them until then, would continue to provide. It is astounding that she considered their unfortunate circumstances “provision from Hashem”! Eventually, through political connections, Zaydie found the job of his dreams…. cleaning out swimming pools for the Park Department. He was able to keep Shabbos, and while engaged in his work, he would recite the entire Sefer Tehillim daily, which he knew by heart.

 

Despite the poverty, Zaydie buoyed the family’s spirits with humor.

 

Our mother once asked her father if she could have a new doll.  Zaydie went over to the telephone in the hallway, cranked it up, and spoke into the mouthpiece, “Gittel needs a new doll”. It remained Bubby’s task to explain to our mother that she should not expect the doll to arrive soon. You see, they had no phone!!

 

The fondness with which our mother told over this story countless times, and the laughter it evoked, gave us an insight to her strength. The simchas hachayim that her father displayed and the strength of her mother gave her the ability to deal with whatever Hashem had in store for her. She never resented the poverty or blamed it on frumkeit or shemiras Shabbos.

 

Her mother, was an invalid much of her life. Zaydie would retire early and wake up at midnight to care for Bubby throughout the night. Our mother recalled the sweet sound of her father’s melodious voice mouthing the holy words of Chazal that penetrated her sleep when Zaydie would learn during this mishmor.

 

Harav Moshe Shapiro, shlita, told us that this was the secret of success behind our family. Simchas hachayim amidst all the adversity.

 

Our mother was impeccably honest, being overwhelmingly concerned with doing “the right thing” under all circumstances.

 

She had certain unshakable hanhagos that were not deviated from. One was, never to throw out the garbage from Shabbos until after counting the silverware. Another was, always check the vacuum cleaner bag before discarding it. Many losses were prevented as a result.

 

She once noticed that the diamond had fallen out of her mother-in-law’s engagement ring (which she had inherited). A claim was put in to the insurance agency and a check arrived promptly in the mail. With the funds she had the diamond replaced. Not long after, she was about to replace the vacuum cleaner bag with a fresh one. Upon checking the old bag, she found … the diamond!!! It goes without saying that she wrote out a check for the full amount and returned the sum to the insurance company, despite the company representative’s attempt to convince her to just keep the money. No doubts. No discussion. She wouldn’t have it any other way. It just wasn’t “right” to keep the money.

 

Our home was open to orchim from all stripes of life.

 

A high school aged girl found her way into our home and our mother’s heart. The relationship between her and her parents did not allow her to live at home. She became a daughter in the truest sense of the word living with us for two years until she graduated high school. Our mother invested so much of her energy to ensure that this girl would “make it”.  After her departure, the contacts were few and far between. Our mother would speak longingly of her as she would speak of a child that she hadn’t seen for a long time. Thirty five years later, this “young girl” flew in for my niece’s wedding bringing about a long awaited reunion. Our mother’s joy was boundless at seeing her well adjusted, happy and married to one of Klal Yisroel’s foremost activists.

 

When conflict arose between a maggid shiur and his wayward son, the pressure mounted in his home situation. In order to relieve some of the tension, he moved in to our house, all six feet of him. He basked in the warmth of our Seder table. Once he attempted to leave the house without his tzitzis, our mother challenged him. She rose up to her full height of 4 foot 10 inches, looked up at him and said in no uncertain terms, “You are not leaving this house without tzitzis!” After spending some time in the basement thinking it over, he put on his tzitzis.

 

A close friend of our mother’s left her spouse of many years. She was welcomed into our home. For the duration of the time she stayed by us we had the pleasure of hosting her children for Shabossim and Yomim Tovim. We became close to them as family. As an added bonus, our mother “rehd” a shidduch between one of the sons of this family and a wonderful girl she met while attending a weekend educational  retreat of Yeshivas Migdal Torah, culminating in a true family simcha.

 

A couple was sitting outside the door of a shul prior to the onset of Rosh HaShanah. They were from out of town and had no place to spend the holiday. The Hachnasas Orchim was contacted and relayed the message that the couple are shady characters and are not in need of any one’s benevolence. “Don’t touch it”, they said. When apprised of the situation, our mother could not stand the thought of a couple without a place for Rosh Hashanah. She brought them into her house, only to find out that they were indeed lowly characters who spent the holy day panhandling and shoplifting. Henceforth, she exercised more caution in choosing her guests, but never did we hear from her the name of the person responsible for sending them to her. Her lips were sealed.

 

In our mother’s younger years she was active in every institution her children attended. Shy and modest by nature, when, as president of the PTA she was called upon to make speeches, she made speeches. She was a behind the scenes koach behind the annual Arie Crown bazaar, contacting merchants for donations and making the rounds with a station wagon picking up the merchandise, at times making the trip to downtown Chicago only to return with a small article. She enjoyed sending out mailings. Mailings for Arie Crown, Telshe Yeshiva, and finally, for her very own son’s institution, Kollel Toras Chessed. For some it would be tedious work, yet it was her pleasure.

 

She never stopped growing. My brother and sister-in-law, sheyichyu, upon moving to Eretz Yisroel five and a half years ago asked our mother to accompany them. She had lived alongside them in Skokie, and they saw to her every need.

 

She declined. She had such a strong attachment to Chicago. Her sisters and brother were there. She felt so close to them. Her parents were buried there. “Come for one year”, my brother said.

 

She came and entered a new chapter of her life. Her days were filled with joy being surrounded daily by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She attended every simcha and event whether big or small. Kindergarten graduations, siddur parties of her great grandchildren. The family in Eretz Yisroel grew, bli ayin hora. Everything centered around Bubby Siegel. The care she enjoyed by the hands of her son and daughter-in-law in her final home in Kiryat Sefer added many pleasure filled years to her life. She attained new levels in ruchniyus, outdoing her previous growth. No longer concerned with the outside world she spent her days in artzeinu hakedosha with Yiddishe kinderlach. During the last few months of her life she was zoche to see every single child, grandchild, and great grandchild.  And they were zoche to see her.

 

We are bereft with her passing. The light of our lives has been extinguished.

 

And yet.. Hashem gave us a nechomo.  On the fourth day of shiva, 9:00 a.m., we received a phone call from America. My sister’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a baby boy. Nolad ben zachar bi’osah mishpacha nisrap’es osah mishpocha. Hashem sent a refuah to the mishpacha in the midst of the shiva. Five hours later, we received another phone call. My brother’s daughter-in-law had just given birth to baby girl! Shabbos morning we ended shiva. That very Shabbos morning we attended a kiddush for the new great granddaughter. Her name? Gittel Dina Siegel. As our mother would frequently say, “We have a “gutt G-tt.”

 

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