The Jewish community of Denver deeply mourned the petirah of Rebbetzin Leah Kagan, a”h, wife of, ybl”c, Harav Yisroel Meir Kagan, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Toras Chaim, and a daughter of Harav Shmuel Ehrenfeld, zt”l, the Mattersdorfer Rav. With her deeply rooted ahavas haTorah and ahavas chessed, the Rebbetzin played a key role in building the Yeshivah as well as the city’s kehillah. She was 83.
The Rebbetzin was born in 1933 in the Austrian town of Mattersdorf, where her father served as Rav. Her mother, Rebbetzin Rochel, a”h, was also a member of the Ehrenfeld family, who are direct descendants of the Chasam Sofer and Harav Akiva Eiger, zecher tzaddikim livrachah.
In addition to his position as leader of the kehillah, the Mattersdorfer Rav established a yeshivah adjacent to the family’s home. Despite her unassuming manner, Rebbetzin Leah Kagan had a regal presence, the unmistakable inheritance from the noble home in which she had been raised.
Following the German takeover of Austria in 1938, due to the family’s prominence they were in immediate danger. Though very young at the time, Rebbetzin Kagan recalled their fear as Nazi officials stormed their home on the Seder night to arrest her father. She recounted how amidst the commotion, her mother quickly hid as much as she could of the Pesach silver, an inheritance from the Chasam Sofer himself, in her apron.
Upon the Rav’s release, the family understood that they had to flee immediately. Most of the silver had to be left behind, along with many manuscripts and other valuables from their hallowed ancestors. However, the precious mesorah that all these items represented was brought to American shores intact, as the Ehrenfeld home would always be governed by the customs and traditions of the Chasam Sofer and his holy descendants.
After arriving in the United States, the family settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where the Mattersdorfer Rav quickly set about establishing Yeshivas Chasan Sofer. Young Leah, together with her mother and siblings, worked tirelessly to sustain the fledgling mosad. In these years she also attended the newly formed Bais Yaakov of Williamsburg under the direction of Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, a”h.
In the mid-1950s, the Rebbetzin married Harav Yisroel Meir Kagan, whose father, Harav Yehudah Leib Kagan, zt”l, was serving as Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva Jacob Joseph. His mother, Rebbetzin Devorah, a”h, was a niece of Harav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, zt”l. The marriage united two royal families, albeit from vastly different traditions, with a bond of shared ahavas haTorah.
The Rebbetzin always maintained the greatest sense of kvod haTorah, most manifest in the reverence with which she treated her husband.
The couple settled in Lakewood, where Rav Kagan had already established himself as one of the most prized talmidim of Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. The Rebbetzin worked tirelessly to support her husband in every way, taking immeasurable pride in his accomplishments in learning.
Despite living in abject poverty, Rebbetzin Kagan looked back on that period with happiness and gratitude, as a unique opportunity to have a portion in the early life of Lakewood’s kollel community.
In 1966, upon the advice of Harav Shneur Kotler, zt”l, the Kagans moved to Denver, Colorado, where Rav Kagan became Rosh Yeshivah at Yeshivas Toras Chaim. Notwithstanding the difficulty of living in what was then a very small frum community and very far from her family, the Rebbetzin wholeheartedly embraced the move, knowing that it would facilitate her husband’s harbotzas haTorah.
Together with her unending dedication to the yeshivah, she played a key role in building the community at large. For decades, the Rebbetzin was an especially beloved kindergarten teacher in the Hillel Academy of Denver. Her natural warmth and creativity made her a favorite of generations of students and parents alike.
Decades later, many grown talmidim still recall her homemade booklets and lessons that brought Yiddishkeit to life, implanting emunah and a love for Torah and mitzvos deep in their hearts.
As busy as she was teaching and raising her family, she seemed to have an unlimited capacity to do chessed as well, especially for the community’s most needy. The Rebbetzin’s days were filled with visits to hospitals and nursing homes, and phone calls and visits to those in need of a listening ear or a word of encouragement.
Her dedication to the yeshivah and the community was rivaled only by her devotion to her own family.Rebbetzin Kagan was the quintessential mother, ready to do whatever she could for her children, who have all gone on to become celebrated marbitzei Torah in cities across America.
Despite the travel it usually entailed, she almost never missed, not only the simchos of her own children and grandchildren, but also those of her siblings’ families with whom she maintained a close bond.
A levayah was held at Yeshivas Toras Chaim. An additional levayah took place at Yeshivas Chasan Sofer in Boro Park on Monday evening, before continuing to Eretz Yisrael for kevurah.
The Rebbetzin is survived by, ybl”c, her husband, Harav Yisroel Meir Kagan; her brother, the Mattersdorfer Rav, shlita; sisters, Rebbetzin Gittel Cohen and Rebbetzin Esther Paler; sons, Harav Chaim Ozer, maggid shiur in Beis Medrash and Mesivta of Baltimore; Harav Dovid Tzvi, R”M in Yeshivas Shaarei Torah of Monsey; and Harav Ahron Boruch, R”M in Yeshivas Toras Chaim of Denver; daughters, Rebbetzin Miriam Kamenetsky, Rebbetzin Chava Furman, and Rebbetzin Gitty Lifschutz, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah baruch.
Updated Monday, February 8, 2016 at 7:19 pm with more details on the life of the nifteres
Updated Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 1:56 pm