Rebbetzin Reichel Berenbaum, a”h, almanah of Harav Shmuel Berenbaum, zt”l, the longtime Rosh Yeshivah of Mir Flatbush, was niftar on Motzoei Shabbos, 27 Tammuz. The daughter of Harav Avrohom Kalmanowitz, zt”l, she dedicated her life to supporting her great husband and the yeshivah he led and to raising her family in keeping with the hallowed mesorah of her ancestors. She was 89 years old.
At the levayah, held on Sunday afternoon at the Mir Yeshivah, several maspidim emphasized the Rebbetzin’s permeating life goal of fulfilling the ratzon Hashem.
“As long as she was here, we saw the musag of a malach, we saw a dedication to nothing else besides asking if I am doing what I was brought to this world for,” said her son, Harav Osher Berenbaum. He went on to describe the loss the family and Klal Yisrael experienced with the passing of past generations, and that the Rebbetzin had kept their memories alive.
“As long as the Mama was alive we had a nechamah,” he said. “We had a musag of the Maareh Kohen, of the Zeide Reb Avrohom, of the Tate.”
The Rebbetzin was born in 1931 to her parents Harav Avrohom Kalmanovitz, zt”l, who at the time served as Rav in the city of Tiktin, and Rebbetzin Rochel, a”h. The family was descended from many great talmidei chachamim and tzaddikim including Harav Betzalel Hakohen of Vilna, zt”l, known as the Maareh Kohen after one of his sefarim.
The family managed to escape war-torn Europe, fleeing first to Vilna and arriving in New York in 1940. There, Rav Kalmanovitz, who had been heavily involved in klal affairs since entering the rabbanus, worked tirelessly to save as many of his fellow Jews as possible from the clutches of the Nazis. It was largely through his efforts that the bulk of the Mir Yeshivah’s talmidim were able to find safety and be supported in Kobe, Japan, and later in Shanghai.
As the war ended, Rav Kalmanovitz worked to re-establish the yeshivah in Brooklyn, becoming its Nasi and Rosh Yeshivah.
The lessons of the Kalmanowitz home, chessed, selflessness, a dedication to the Mir yeshivah and to lomdei Torah, would guide the Rebbetzin’s entire life.
In the late 1940’s she married Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, one of the Mir’s elite talmidim. From the time of their marriage until the Rosh Yeshivah’s petirah 12 years ago, the Rebbetzin dedicated her life to seeing that her husband could continue to reach ever higher in his study and teaching of Torah.
“In the early years, they lived in tremendous dachkus,” said one of the maspidim. “Her comfort wasn’t that her husband would be a Rosh Yeshivah, someone well known, it was that he learns Toras Hashem, that was her mesirus for Torah.”
Likewise, she invested tremendous efforts in nurturing the growth of her family, instilling in them the yiras Shamayim and ahavas haTorah that ran deep within her. Their home was marked by absolute simplicity, largely furnished with old items from the yeshivah. What the house lacked in physical embellishments, it made up for in warmth and chessed. The Rebbetzin kept an open door to her husband’s many talmidim and to countless others in need of a warm meal, a bed, or a good word. One of her children mentioned in his hesped that when he once complained that the house was a “reshus harabbim,” Rav Shmuel replied that “we live in the zechus of the Mama’s chessed.”
For over 40 years, the Rebbetzin ran the Mir Yeshivah’s offices and took a leading role in the management of its finances. She played a key role in the establishment of its elementary school, which since has produced thousands of talmidim.
Maspidim related many tales of the Rebbetzin’s tremendous yiras Shamayim and dikduk b’mitzvos as well as her sense of tznius in all things and distaste for showiness or publicity.
When attending the chasunah of a child or grand-child she would dress up in a gown befitting the occasion, but wore regular weekday shoes, explaining that it was her “zecher l’churban,” amid the simchah she was celebrating.
The Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbetzin experienced the tragic loss of two children in their lifetimes, Harav Chaim Shlomo, zt”l, and Harav Leib, zt”l. After Rav Leib’s petirah, they would spend each Pesach and Sukkos in Eretz Yisrael to help bring a greater simchas Yom Tov to his family.
Harav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Mara d’Asra of Agudas Yisroel, Bais Binyomin, in Flatbush, a talmid muvak of Rav Berenbaum, told Hamodia that the Rebbetzin’s care for her family and others and the many great works of her long life, were all sealed with her signature self-effacement.
“Nashem tzidkanios are compared to a gefen. Why a gefen and not another tree? An apple tree, for instance, grows apples, but it also has a bulky trunk and branches with much foliage. A vine grows grapes, but there is almost nothing to the vine itself; that was really her. The Rebbetzin’s whole life was Rav Shmuel and her children and einiklach and the yeshivah, but she took up as little space as possible.”
The Rebbetzin fell ill and was hospitalized two months ago. She was niftar on Motzoei Shabbos.
Following the levayah in Flatbush, the aron was flown to Eretz Yisrael for kevurah in the Sanhedria bais hachaim where her husband and father are buried.
Rebbetzin Berenbaum is survived by, ybl”c, her brothers Harav Yisrael Yitzchak Kalmanowitz, shlita, of Bnei Brak, and Rabbi Betzalel Kalmanowitz of Brooklyn; her sister, Rebbetzin Meita Nelkenbaum (wife of Harav Avraham Yaakov, Maggid Shiur in Mirrer Yeshiva); her sons Harav Osher (Rosh Yeshivah, Mirrer Yeshiva), Harav Yisroel (Maggid Shiur in Staten Island), Harav Avrohom (Rosh Chaburah in BMG), Harav Chuny (Rosh Mesivta in Lakewood), and Harav Meir Shimon (Rosh Yeshivah in Boro Park); and her daughters, Rebbetzin Gittel Schepansky (wife of Harav Reuven, Maggid Shiur in Mirrer Yeshiva), Rebbetzin Hany Kaminsky (wife of Harav Herschel, Maggid Shiur, Mirrer Yeshiva), and Rebbetzin Goldie Sorotzkin (wife of Harav Ely, Rosh Yeshivah of the Springfield Yeshiva), as well as by many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Tehi zichrah baruch.