Rebbetzin Freida Oshry, a”h, widow of Harav Ephraim Oshry, zt”l, Rav of Beis Medrash Hagadol and author of She’eilos U’Teshuvos Mimaamakim, was niftar on Shabbos, 12 Sivan. She was 95 years old.
A scion of generations of Rabbanim and tzaddikim from prewar Hungary, the Rebbetzin grew up in an atmosphere steeped in the ideals of Torah and avodah of earlier times. She would survive the horrors of the Holocaust and become a bridge between the Jewish world that was lost and the one that would be built, as she passionately and dutifully passed on her hallowed mesorah to her own family, not only by relaying the memories of her youth, but by embodying the ideals of her great ancestors.
Her parents no longer living, she sought a zivug on her own — intent on marrying a talmid chacham of the highest caliber. This objective led to the superficially unlikely match of the daughter and granddaughter of Sigheter Chassidim to one of the leading talmidim of the famed Lithuanian mussar yeshivah of Slabodka. Yet, with a unique ability to see beyond the outer trappings, with their wisdom, ahavas haTorah, and yiras Shamayim, Rav Oshry and his ever loyal Rebbetzin would go on to build a home built on the foundations of the worlds they had lived in and seen destroyed.
Freida, nee Greensweig, was born in 1923 in the town of Lifsha, which was then part of Czechoslovakia. Her father, Rav Moshe, Hy”d, served as the town’s Rav and was renowned for his gadlus in Torah and fiery avodah. He had been a talmid of the Kedushas Yom Tov, Harav Channania Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum, zy”a, as well as of his son, the Atzei Chaim, Harav Chaim Tzvi, zy”a. Rav Moshe was a celebrated maggid and baal tefillah, whose passionate drashos and tefillos were known for their power to bring the entire beis medrash to tears.
The Greensweig home was one filled with Torah and kedushah, and Rav Moshe and his Rebbetzin set the very highest standards of tznius for their six daughters. Yet, on one occasion, when he overheard two of them speaking critically of another family in town whose level of modesty they felt fell short of their own, he quickly admonished them, saying their standards are what they must adhere to; but that they must never use those standards to judge or speak negatively of other Jews.
The Rebbetzin’s paternal grandfather was Harav Asher Zelig Greensweig, Hy”d, Rav of the Romanian town of Dalha, who became known by the name of his sefer, Bais Asher. He had been a talmid of the Yetev Lev, Harav Yekusiel Yehudah Teitelbaum, zy”a. The Bais Asher was known not to sleep in a bed on weekdays and he kept a special bekeshe and walking stick prepared, with which he hoped to greet Moshiach. When he and the Jews of Dahla were awaiting deportation to Auschwitz, the Rav emerged dressed in the garment, encouraging the group to feel simchah for the opportunity to die al kiddush Shem Shamayim.
The Rebbetzin’s mother, Rebbetzin Leah Udel, Hy”d, was a tzaddekes and baalas chessed, who raised her eight children to always put the needs of others before their own. She was the daughter of Harav Yaakov Frankfurter, zt”l, one of the prominent talmidim of the Shevet Sofer, Harav Simchah Bunim, zt”l, who led the Pressburg Yeshivah for many years. Rav Yaakov was known both for his vast knowledge in Torah as well as for his lofty avodah. At the behest of the Shinever Rav, Harav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, zy”a, he served as a Rebbe in the Slovakian city of Kashau.
In 1944, the Rebbetzin, together with her parents and five sisters, were deported to Auschwitz along with the rest of Lifsha’s Jews. There, Rav Moshe and Rebbetzin Leah Udel would both perish, as would many other members of their extended families. Miraculously, all six of the Greensweig sisters would survive the war together. At one point, they were selected to be sent to different locations in the camp, and a Nazi guard listened to their pleas to remain as a group. The Rebbetzin’s two brothers also survived the war, having left for America before its outbreak.
During the horrifying months that they spent as Nazi prisoners, the siblings looked out for each other with great devotion and mesirus nefesh. On one occasion, the guards ordered all the women in their section to have blood drawn for some unknown reason. When one of the Greensweigs was struck with a terrible fear of allowing herself to be pricked by the Nazis, Rebbetzin Oshry reported a second time for the test in place of her sister.
Through the long years of Rebbetzin Oshry’s life, she rarely mentioned the suffering she had endured during the war, but constantly spoke of the life she had seen with her holy forebears before the Holocaust began, her eyes often filling with tears as she did.
After liberation, the Greensweigs remained in Europe for a little over a year, where they helped to operate the kitchen in the Displaced Person’s camp. Years later, several fellow survivors recalled memories of the tremendous chassadim that Rebbetzin Oshry had done for them and others in the camp, going to great lengths to see to it that they were provided with sufficient amounts of kosher food and other basic needs as they struggled to return to a normal life.
In 1946, the Rebbetzin, with several of her sisters, moved to the United States, where they were taken in by their uncle, the Tomashover Rebbe, Harav Moshe Friserman, zy”a, who resided on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The Tomashover Rebbe and Rebbetzin cared for their orphaned nieces as if they were their own children and helped each of them to find appropriate shidduchim. It was at the Rebbe’s urging that, in 1949, the Rebbetzin became engaged to Harav Ephraim Oshry.
Although he was only 35 years old at the time, Rav Oshry had already gained the great respect of many Rabbanim for his role in deciding the difficult halachic issues that arose in the Kovno ghetto, as well as for his harbotzas haTorah with young survivors.
In his younger years, Rav Oshry had been a talmid of the Alter of Slabodka and later of Harav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zt”l, and Harav Isaac Sher, zt”l. With his sharp mind and great hasmadah, he rose quickly to prominence among the elite group in the famed Slabodka Yeshivah.
During the early stages of the war, he served as Rav in a small shul in Kovno known as “Reb Abba Yechezkel’s kloiz.” During the horrors of the Nazi occupation of the city, he was one of the very few remaining Rabbanim, and his many responsa from that time were ultimately collected in his widely known sefer, She’eilos U’Teshuvos Mimaamakim. Due to the heartbreaking nature of the questions it dealt with, the work is considered one of the scholarly monuments to the spiritual heroism of many Jews during the Holocaust.
At the time of their marriage, Rav Oshry was serving as the Rav of two shuls in Montreal, where he also led a yeshivah for survivors, many of whom had followed him to several locations in Europe before reaching Canada.
In 1952, the Oshrys moved to New York, where Rav Oshry was appointed the Rav of Beis Medrash Hagadol, one of the Lower East Side’s largest and most historically rich shuls, which had once been the seat of Harav Yaakov Joseph, zt”l’s, short-lived rabbinate of the city. Rav Oshry would go on to lead the kehillah for over 50 years.
In the many decades of the Oshry’s marriage, the Rebbetzin accorded her husband the utmost respect, doing all that she could so that he could remain immersed in Torah and tend to the needs of his congregation.
Likewise, the Rebbetzin put every effort into caring for the needs of her children, setting raising “ehrlicher kinder,” who would go in the ways of their ancestors, as her highest priority. With a warm heart and ironclad emunah, she spent many hours davening and reciting Tehillim. Each Friday afternoon before hadlakas neiros, she would place money into each of a large collection of tzedakah pushkes that she kept in a closet, saying long tefillos for her children’s physical and spiritual well-being, amid copious tears.
With mutual respect for the strengths and kedushah of each other’s mesoros, Rav Oshry and his Rebbetzin would raise a family in a spirit of Torah and avodah, combining the best of the worlds that each of them had come from.
Teaching by example more than with words, the Rebbetzin’s great reverence for her husband’s gadlus in Torah demonstrated her unbound ahavas haTorah and the greatness of the toil in it.
While it was Rav Oshry’s Lithuanian minhagim that were practiced in the home, the ruach of Chassidus was ever present. Despite his own background being thoroughly litvish, Rav Oshry sent his children to study in chassidishe mosdos, once commenting that he felt “in America,” it is the best way to have “ehrliche doros.” The Rebbetzin’s sense of varmkeit for avodas Hashem was a staple of the singular blend they formed, especially present on Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim, spending much time on Friday nights regaling her children with stories of her forebears, as well as of many other tzaddikim of yore.
Rebbetzin Oshry was niftar on Friday night, Shabbos Parashas Naso. The levayah was held at Shomrei Hadas Chapels in Boro Park. From there, the aron was brought to Eretz Yisrael, where a second levayah was held, followed by kevurah on Har Hamenuchos.
The Rebbetzin is survived by, ybl”c, her sons, Harav Moshe, Harav Berel, Harav Yaakov Baruch, Harav Osher Zelig, Harav Yisroel Chaim, and Harav Yehudah; daughters, Mrs. Chana Weinstock, Mrs. Chaya Greenberg, Mrs. Leah Udel Greenbaum; as well as by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah baruch.