Mrs. Chana Frumet Scherman, one of America’s first “kollel wives” who was heavily involved in myriad chessed pursuits, even as she devoted herself to raising a family today known and respected throughout the Orthodox world, passed away early yesterday morning following a difficult illness. She was 78.
Mrs. Scherman, who was married to, yblc”t, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, survived the Holocaust as a child by escaping her family’s native Germany. During her marriage of 50-plus years, she worked to recreate the house of Torah, chessed and emunas tzaddikim she had witnessed in her childhood home.
“The stories that people say about her are what they say about the greatest Rebbetzins,” Rabbi Dovid Sutton, a son-in-law, told Hamodia yesterday, immediately following the levayah. “Giving away her bed, never losing her tranquility.”
At a time when it was unheard of for a married man to learn full time, Mrs. Scherman took a job in a different city as her husband joined Bais Medrosh Elyon’s kollel, the first kollel in the United States.
“She had a lot of mesirus nefesh, traveling to a job far, far away, to make this possible,” said Ruth Klugmann, Mrs. Scherman’s older sister.
Mrs. Scherman “was chessed,” her daughter Mrs. Malkie Weinberger declared.
Asked several days before her passing what the children could do for her, her reply was succinct.
“Nothing,” she said. “Just get involved in chessed, do chessed, don’t be just for yourself.”
Her own theories on chessed were intricate and broad. “Chessed is doing what the other person wants, not what you want,” she would say, paraphrasing Harav Yisrael Salanter’s dictum.
“Her house was an open house to every needy person who had no place else to go,” Rabbi Sutton said. “So many people said that they had nobody else besides her.”
Born in 1934 in Holland to Reb Ephraim and Mrs. Breindel Guggenheim, German Jews who had fled their country in the wake of the Nazi takeover, Chana Guggenheim followed her parents and the famed Munk family to Switzerland for the duration of the Second World War.
The Guggenheims, direct descendants of Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l, were strict adherents of the ancient Ashkenazi mesorah. Upon their immigration to New York after the war, they settled in Washington Heights, joining the growing kehillah headed by Harav Joseph Breuer, zt”l, a distant cousin.
Chana attended Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan’s Bais Yaakov, riding the subway every day to Williamsburg to hear her lectures. By the time she married Rabbi Nosson Scherman, a Torah Vodaath alumnus, in the 1950s, she was ready to undertake the fledgling kollel lifestyle, encouraged by Harav Reuven Grozovsky, zt”l, in Monsey.
The Schermans moved to Monsey, where they joined about 50 other married couples to set up the new Bais Medrosh Elyon kollel, the first such endeavor in the nation. That enterprise spawned the wide-ranging kollel system currently in place.
“Everyone who was part of that [original] kollel became a leader [in today’s U.S. Torah scene],” Mrs. Klugmann, Mrs. Scherman’s sister, said.
That held true for Rabbi Scherman as well, who, following a multi-decade career in chinuch, followed Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz to found ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, the Torah world’s largest publishing company.
Mrs. Scherman was devoted to her husband’s welfare, insisting to her last day on making him breakfast and serving him his cups of tea.
“Make sure that Tatty has his three teas a day,” she told her children shortly before her passing.
As her weakness progressed, her biggest regret was that she could not always get up early enough to serve her husband breakfast.
During the period right after her marriage, Mrs. Scherman held a job teaching in Yeshiva of Spring Valley as she raised a family of eight children.
Her children all knew that chessed was an integral part of their mother’s life. Meshulachim were invited in for a drink, a listening ear and a generous check; she kept tabs on a growing list of people who needed aid, and she would go to people’s homes frequently to help out.
She was a modest, unassuming woman who felt that what she did was just what was expected of her.
With one guest who always yelled at her, she said, “What do you expect of him? People yell at him, so that is how he thinks you’re supposed to communicate.”
A son-in-law recalled a Seder with a group of newly arrived Iranian Jews who only spoke Farsi, as part of her efforts to help new immigrants.
“If a Russian painter came, okay, it was time to paint the house; if a Polish locksmith came, okay, it was time to fix the locks,” Rabbi Sutton said.
One woman who knew her said she admired Mrs. Scherman for her gentle warmth. “She was so motherly, so approachable. She was easy to talk to, and very practical, full of seichel.”
When her children were all in school, Mrs. Scherman decided to devote herself to chessed activities outside the home also. She took a job with COJO, helping with job placements, later moving to N’shei Ahavas Chesed.
“She [would run] to the classified section to look for jobs for people,” a daughter recalled. “She was once so excited that she made a shidduch. But a shidduch by her meant that there was a person who needed a crib and somebody just called that he had an extra crib [to give away].”
“The most difficult cases that N’shei Ahavas Chesed had, she would take,” Rabbi Sutton said.
Even as her illness progressed recently, she refused to give up on helping others — her raison d’être, she said.
She continued visiting the Holocaust survivor, an elderly woman, whom she had cared for devotedly. Three months ago, weakened by chemo, Mrs. Scherman offered to do a night shift for the woman. It was only her family’s incredulity at what she had undertaken that prevented her from going.
Following treatments in the hospital, although Mrs. Scherman was barely able to walk up steps, she would go on her rounds of visiting other patients.
“Good things don’t come easy,” was her regular explanation.
Mrs. Scherman tried to cover her pain from her family, even from her husband. When she was told in the summer that she had a few months left to live, she continued her therapy sessions only because it made her children calmer.
This past Shabbos, her last on earth, she gave each of her children a brachah.
“Don’t cry too much because it’s retzon Hashem,” she said.
Mrs. Scherman was niftar at 1:15 yesterday morning, surrounded by her family and a minyan.
The levayah was held yesterday at Shomre Hachomos chapel in Boro Park. Maspidim included her husband, sons, sons-in-law and brother.
Mrs. Scherman is survived by her husband, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, and children, Reb Yitzchok Zev, Reb Ephraim, Reb Avrohom, Mrs. Nechama Friedman, Mrs. Chaya Sutton, Mrs. Malkie Weinberger, Mrs. Libi Glustein, Mrs. Sari Groner, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She also leaves behind a brother, Reb Rafael Guggenheim, and sister, Mrs. Ruth Klugmann. Her sons-in-law are Rabbi Mordechai Friedman, Rabbi Dovid Sutton, Rabbi Yossi Weinberger, Rabbi Avrohom Chananel Glustein and Rabbi Mordechai Yehudah Groner.
Shivah will be observed at 1181 E. 9th Street, between Avenues K and L, until Monday morning. Two of the sons, Reb Yitzchok and Reb Ephraim, are scheduled to return from Eretz Yisrael on Thursday.
Yehi zichrah baruch.