Rebbetzin Gittel Cohen, a”h, 92, widow of Harav Moshe Cohen, zt”l, and daughter of the previous Mattersdorfer Rav, Harav Shmuel Ehrenfeld, zt”l, was niftar on Erev Shabbos, 12 Adar.
Rebbetzin Cohen embodied the virtues of an old-world eishes chayil. She was a daughter of Torah royalty and the wife of a highly regarded talmid chacham. She did everything she could to uphold the hallowed tradition into which she was born and to facilitate Rav Cohen’s harbotzas haTorah. She had the utmost distain for accolades and kavod for herself.
Rebbetzin Cohen was a pillar of chessed, who cared for countless individuals with great mesirus nefesh, yet never talked about anything she had done and fled from any recognition. A remarkably sharp-witted woman, Rebbetzin Cohen was a friend to those in the greatest need, and had a strong dislike for anything that resonated with falsehood or phoniness.
The Rebbetzin would daven meticulously and recite Tehillim, sometimes for hours on end. She often said, “I didn’t learn in a Bais Yaakov and I don’t know teitch of a lot of the words, but I know that a Yiddishe mama darf davenin.”
The Rebbetzin was born in 1924 in the Austrian town of Mattersdorf, where her father, the well-known Gadol of Hungarian rabbanus, 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.
Following the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938, the Mattersdorfer Rav’s position put him and his family in immediate danger. The Rav had written to family in both America and Eretz Yisrael and was resolved to go to whichever country would provide visas first. Feeling that the situation in Austria was becoming increasingly dangerous, the Ehrenfelds decided to flee to Czechoslovakia even before any travel papers arrived.
The Nazi guards warned the family that once they crossed the border, their lives would not be spared if they attempted to re-enter. They were struck with deep fear when the Czechs would not admit them. The family stood for a long time, trapped between the two borders, not knowing where to go. With no other option, they turned to go back to Austria and were miraculously readmitted without a word from the border patrol. The next day, visas arrived for entry to America, sparing the Ehrenfelds from the inferno that would ensue. Their salvation was not only for them, but also saved generations of ehrliche Yidden and marbitzei Torah.
Shortly after the family arrived in America and settled on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Mattersdorfer Rav was approached by a parent, asking him to reestablish his famous yeshivah on these new shores. Within a short time, what would become the famous Yeshivas Chasan Sofer was established with a small core of talmidim. In those years, young Rebbetzin Cohen, together with her sisters, did what they could to help the fledging mosad.
Shortly after its founding, a bachur from Detroit, whose parents had sent him to learn in Hungary before the war, joined Chasan Sofer. His name was Moshe Cohen, and with his sharp mind and tremendous hasmadah, he quickly distinguished himself as one of the yeshivah’s most promising talmidim.
In 1944, the Mattersdorfer Rav selected his prize talmid as a match for his daughter, Gittel. Even while in transition from talmid to family member, Rav Cohen retained the utmost reverence for his father-in-law, continuing to refer to him as “der Rebbe” rather than “der shver.”
The couple settled on the Lower East Side, where the yeshivah was then located. They remained there until the 1980s, when they relocated to Boro Park. In her typically selfless, unassuming manner, Rebbetzin Cohen was a quiet pillar of chessed to the communities of which she was a part. She served on the chevra kaddisha, and walked long distances to visit cholim on Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim. She often sent meals to families facing hard times and had a long list of individuals whom she regularly called to offer chizuk and a sympathetic ear.
Rav Cohen would remain within the walls of Chasan Sofer until he was in his late eighties. For many years he served as a Maggid Shiur and spent untold hours learning in the yeshivah’s beis medrash.
With the utmost admiration for her husband’s achievements, the Rebbetzin did all that she could to ensure that he could focus on his learning and teaching, down to packing his lunch each and every day.
While nobly carrying and projecting the proud heritage into which she was born, the Rebbetzin not only lived with great simplicity, but was perfectly content with the little that she had. They had no need for luxuries and rarely went on vacations.
The Cohens were privileged to raise a family that continues their great dedication to limud and harbotzas haTorah. As a mother, Rebbetzin Cohen was the picture of the “eim habayis,” contributing all that she could to her family’s growth and well-being. While exceedingly careful not to offer unsolicited advice, her wisdom and chochmas hachaim were often sought.
Rebbetzin Cohen is survived by, ybl”c, her son, Harav Simcha Bunim Cohen; daughters: Mrs. Esther Lesin, Mrs. Basya Rottenberg, Mrs. Devorah Londinski, Mrs. Chana Yitty Feigenbaum, Mrs. Leah Herzka, Mrs. Raizy Gruss, as well as by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah baruch.