Rebbetzin Chaya Epstein a”h


candle-small6It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Epstein a”h, wife of Rav Aharon Zelik Epstein zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah-Grodno of Queens.

The Rebbetzin was a remarkable woman who not only stood at the side of her illustrious husband throughout his life but also served as the aim hayeshiva of Shaar Hatorah, worrying about the talmidim and opening her home to one and all.

Rav Zelik learned under Rav Shabsi Yogel zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Slonim, and later the Mirrer Yeshiva in Poland, where he became close to Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l and Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l. During World War II, the Mir Yeshiva fled from one place to another in order to escape the bloodthirsty Nazis: Vilna, Keidan and Krakinova, some to three small towns -Ramigola, Shat and Krak. Then the yeshiva left Europe and arrived at Kobe, Japan, and finally Shanghai, China, where it remained until 1947.

Arriving in Toronto with 26 other Mir Yeshiva talmidim, Rav Zelik continued his intensive studies. There he met Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, then rov in Toronto and later rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas, and an instant bond followed. When Rav Zelik married Rebbetzin Chaya, their wedding took place at the home of Rav Kamenetsky.

Rebbetzin Chaya was a daughter of Rav Moshe Mordechai Shkop zt”l (1882-1975), rosh yeshiva and rov of Grodno, who escaped to America in 1941. Rav Moshe Mordechai was a son of Rav Shimon Yehuda Shkop zt”l (1860-1940), rosh yeshiva in Telz (1884), rov of Moltsh (1903), Bransky (1907) and Grodna (1920), and author of Shaarei Yosher, and rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University from 1928 to 1929.

In 1948, Rav Kamenetsky became a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, and in 1950 he recruited Rav Zelik to become a rosh yeshiva there. In 1965, together with Rav Nesanel Quinn zt”l, who served as menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas for more than 70 years, Rav Zelik Epstein established Camp Ohr Shraga, the Torah learning summer camp in Greenfield Park in the Catskills.

In 1974, Rav Kalman Epstein, son of Rav Zelik and the Rebbetzin, established Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah-Grodna in Kew Gardens, Queens.

The home of the Epsteins was always open and he welcomed all who came to their doorstep seeking advice, regardless of whether it was a rov of a kehillah, a rosh yeshiva, someone with sholom bayis problems, a person seeking medical advice, someone with career choice quandaries, or even one seeking the simple translation of words of Chumash or siddur.

Rav Zelik and the Rebbetzin received everyone with a warm engaging smile and devoted his full attention, regardless if it was a summer afternoon or Erev Yom Kippur. Students and strangers were equally ushered into the home.

In one instance, some years ago, a middle-aged rosh yeshivah with a large family became terminally ill. Throughout the illness, the Rebbetzin and Rav Zelik became virtually surrogate parents, visiting, counseling and offering strength and encouragement. When the sad day came, the rebbetzin and the rosh yeshiva were with the bereaved family for hours at a time. To anyone who knew the Rebbetzin, this was not at all surprising. In their quiet way, the Epsteins could not conceive of acting differently.

The Rebbetzin is survived by her son, Rav Kalman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah; her daughter, Mrs. Elka Mordechovitch; and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, all who follow in the path paved by their zaide and bubbe.

The levaya will take place this Motzoei Shabbos at 7:30 p.m. at Yeshiva Shaar Hatorah-Grodno, located at 117-06 84 Avenue in  Kew Gardens, Queens.

When Rav Zelik passed away three years ago, it was felt that with him, the last vestiges of Grodno and Mir – greatness in Torah, middos, yiras Shomayim, and an ability to inspire and teach and guide and inspire with unpretentious greatness – was gone. With the passing of the Rebbetzin, the remaining connection has completely been taken from us.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{Noam Newscenter}