Rebbetzin Ruth Schonfeld, a”h, wife of, ybl”c, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, longtime Mara d’Asra of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, was niftar on Monday, 11 Teves. She was 93 years old.
For decades, the Rebbetzin served as a reliable eishes chaver to Rabbi Schonfeld and was his full partner in his tireless efforts on behalf of the community. After they were each widowed at a young age, the Schonfelds joined forces to build a resilient home that would serve as a base not only for them, but for a kehillah.
Rebbetzin Schonfeld was born in 1923 in Satmar, Romania. Her father, Harav Shalom Leifer, zt”l, was a son of Harav Dov Ber (Bertche) of Nadvorna, and her mother, Rebbetzin Chayah, a”h, was a descendent of the Chavas Daas, the Baruch Taam, and many other Gedolei Yisrael. For all of her years, the Rebbetzin took great pride in her illustrious yichus.
In the late 1920s, the Leifers moved to the United States and settled on the Lower East Side, where Rav Shalom established a beis medrash. After several years the shul was relocated to Brighton Beach, where Rav Shalom served as Nadvorna Rebbe for decades.
In 1949, the Rebbetzin married Jack Schindelhein, z”l. The couple moved to Dallas, Texas, where Mr. Schindelhein’s jewelry business had taken him. While there, Rebbetzin Schonfeld was instrumental in establishing a mikveh and Jewish day school for what was then a fledgling community.
After 10 years of marriage, the family was struck by tragedy when Mr. Schindelhein was killed in a plane crash. During the same period, Rabbi Schonfeld — who had already been serving as the Rav of Young Israel for nearly 10 years — lost his first wife to illness. Like his soon-to-be Rebbetzin, he, too, was left with four young children to care for alone. Two years after their respective losses, the two broken families joined.
The marriage presented a two-fold challenge for Rebbetzin Schonfeld. On a personal level, she now needed to forge one healthy unit out of the two bereft families.
“Our mother took these two broken families and made them one. There was never any difference at all in the way that she treated any of us or in the way that we all learned to treat each other. She made total harmony,” Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, a son, who currently leads the Young Israel alongside his father (who serves as Rabbi Emeritus), told Hamodia.
Secondly, she now was thrust into the role of Rebbetzin of a dynamic and growing kehillah.
“She picked herself up and made herself into a Rebbetzin and the mother of a community. Her advice was often sought out and she was especially beloved for her wit, wisdom and strong positions,” said Rabbi Schonfeld.
In her role in Kew Gardens Hills, the Rebbetzin kept an open house for the many individuals who needed a warm home or a sympathetic ear. Along with running a busy household and, for many years, caring for her own aging parents, she made herself available to the many congregants who sought her guidance.
She played a key role in building what has become a major Torah community. The Rebbetzin founded and ran the Erna Lindenfeld Hachnasas Kallah Fund of Queens, which distributes huge sums yearly to needy families facing wedding expenses. She also was a leading member of the ladies auxiliary of Yeshivas Ohr Yisrael, located for many years in Forest Hills.
Above all, she stood loyally at Rabbi Schonfeld’s side, enabling him to keep up his demanding schedule as one of the community’s leading Rabbanim.
Besides being a constant source of support and encouragement, the Rebbetzin also was one of her husband’s most trusted advisors regarding the many difficult decisions he faced.
The Rebbetzin is survived by, ybl”c, her husband, Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld; brothers, Harav Shlomo Leifer, the Nadvorna Rebbe of Boro Park, Reb Mayer Leifer and Reb Isaac Leifer; sisters, Mrs. Pearl Shapiro and Mrs. Yenti Leifer; sons, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, Rabbi Aryeh Schonfeld and Yosef Schindelhein; daughters, Mrs. Aviva Pinchuk, Rebbetzin Vicky Berglas, Mrs. Debby Wolfe, Mrs. Phyllis Schwartz, Mrs. Georgie London, Mrs. Tammy Koppel, and Mrs. Debby Spero, as well as by many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah baruch.