The New York Jewish community was saddened by the petirah of Rebbetzin Esther Segal, a”h, widow of Rabbi Zev Segal, z”l, former president of the Rabbinical Council of America and longtime Rabbi of the Young Israel of Newark. She was 89.
Rebbetzin Segal endured many hardships throughout her long life, both communal and personal, but through them all remained a model of strength and resilience. Despite finding herself an orphaned refugee at a young age, she was a role model in kibbud av v’eim, went on to play a key role in building what was one of America’s major Jewish communities and to raise a family of note in the Jewish world.
Additionally, she exuded a sense of true royalty that was palpable to those who had the privilege to meet her.
The nifteres was born in 1926 in Cologne, Germany, to Yosef and Fanny Piperberg, zichronam livrachah. Her father operated a successful business and she and her sister, Thea, a”h, attended the Jewish schools of what was one of Germany’s thriving Orthodox communities. As the Nazi party came to power in 1933, life became increasingly difficult for the Piperbergs, together with the rest of the country’s Jews. Eventually, the family decided to emigrate and left for America in 1938.
Although she was already 12 years old, Esther, together with several other recent immigrants, began school in their new home at kindergarten level, since they did not yet know any English. In 1945, after the family had struggled to establish itself in their adopted homeland, Reb Yosef fell ill and passed away. His daughters pitched in and took on additional jobs to support the bereft family.
In 1948, Esther Piperberg married Rabbi Zev Segal, z”l, who had already begun his Rabbinic career and had just begun his tenure as leader of the Young Israel of Newark. The nifteres thrived in her role as Rebbetzin of the flourishing community. Her warmth and charm made her a beloved figure in what was then New Jersey’s largest shul, and in the diverse kehillah.
Sadly, climbing crime rates capped off by the devastating riots of 1967 created a mass exodus of Newark’s Jews, leaving the shul a shell of its former glory. The Segals worked valiantly to tend to their embattled and dwindling flock. Ultimately, in 1980, they left Newark, eventually settling on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
In 1991, Rebbetzin Segal suffered a massive stroke which nearly claimed her life. Although greatly challenged physically, she battled on to preserve her signature independence and dignity.
Rabbi Segal was killed in a tragic car accident in 2008 and the Rebbetzin was predeceased by her eldest son, Rabbi Moshe Yonah Segal, z”l, who was niftar four years ago.
She is survived by her sons, Rabbi Chaim Nosson (Nate) Segal, Nachum Segal and Rabbi Yigal Segal, and her daughters Leah Aharonov and Penina Rabin, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah baruch.