An Amazing Woman: Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a”h


henny machlisIt is with great sadness that we report the passing of Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a”h, wife of Rabbi Mordechai Machlis.

The levayah took place this past Erev Shabbos in Yerushalayim.

Rebbetzin Machlis and her family hosted thousands of people at their home for Shabbos over the past 20 years.

We present the following tribute to her by Sarah Yoheved Rigler that first appeared at

What qualified Henny Machlis, who passed away this past Friday at the age of 58, as one of the world’s greatest Jewish women?

Jerusalemites would say it was her cooking for and serving up to 300 guests every Shabbos in her cramped Jerusalem apartment. The guests – almost 150 for the Shabbat night meal and over 100 for the Shabbat day meal – ranged from curious tourists and university students to lonely widows and singles to drunks and mentally ill people who considered the Machlis family’s love and warmth more delectable than even their ample food. Henny cooked 51 weeks a year (except only for the week of Pesach) from her tiny kitchen. Starting as newly-weds 35 years ago, the Machlises’ open Shabbos table expanded gradually over the years until the overflow of guests had to be seated in the courtyard and outside the front door. Henny’s great dream was to enclose the courtyard so guests could sit there even in the winter. Alas, she never lived to see her dream’s fulfillment.

The Machlises’ chesed was not restricted to Shabbat. Homeless people slept on their couches, some for weeks at a time, and those whose mental instability might have endangered the Machlises’ fourteen children were accommodated in the family van. When Rabbi Mordechai Machlis would leave for work as a teacher in the mornings, he would know how many van guests he had by the number of shoes in the windshield.

For those who gauge greatness by the level of selflessness a person attains, Henny also scored off the charts. At her funeral her oldest son Moshe recalled how, after he got married and moved away to start Kollel (full-time Torah learning), his mother encouraged him: “If you ever aren’t making it financially, tell me and I’ll sell my jewelry.”

“Ima,” Moshe called out in a tearful voice, “you forgot that you didn’t have any jewelry. They had all been stolen by the guests over the years. And your diamond ring – you loaned it to someone twenty years ago, and never got it back.”

Being treated for cancer in New York’s Sloan-Kettering, Henny was sometimes visited by the unfortunates who – even those decades older than she – considered Henny their mother. When one homeless woman came to visit, Henny gave her her bed. A relative discovered Henny, wrapped in a hospital blanket, wandering in the hospital corridor looking for a place to lie down.

Henny’s son Moshe was pushed aside at the crowded funeral by one of the Machlises’s mentally ill “regular guests,” who proclaimed, “I have to get closer. She’s my mother.”

For those who equate spiritual greatness with God-consciousness, with the ability to see God’s hand always and everywhere, Henny had indeed achieved those spiritual heights. At the funeral, a tearful Rabbi Machlis related just one story: He invited a destitute man whom he always saw at the Kotel (Western Wall) to come home with him to eat. That day Henny served her homemade whole-wheat pizza. The man loved it. He came back to their house every day asking for a slice of whole-wheat pizza. Finally, Henny suggested that she could teach him how to make whole-wheat pizza himself. Painstakingly and with infinite patience, Henny taught him how. One night several days later, at 3 AM, there was a knock on the door. “Not on the front door,” Rabbi Machlis related. “Our front door is always unlocked. Someone was knocking on our bedroom door.”

The loud knocking woke them up. Alarmed at what must be an emergency, Rabbi Machlis went to the door and asked, “Who’s there?” When the man identified himself, Rabbi Machlis asked, “What’s wrong?”

The man replied, “I forgot how to make whole-wheat pizza. I need your wife to explain it to me again.”

Rabbi Machlis was exasperated. “At 3 o’clock in the morning, you need to remember how to make whole-wheat pizza?”

But Henny calmed him down. “It’s a test,” she assured him. “It’s from Hashem.”

Then Henny reiterated to the man, step by step, how to make whole-wheat pizza.

Henny emanated radiant joy all the time.

For me personally, the sign of Henny Machlis’s greatness was the radiant joy she emanated all the time. Whenever I ran into her, her wide smile and the joyful light she radiated conveyed that seeing me was the best thing that had happened to her all day. And although I knew that she greeted everyone the same way, I nonetheless was charged by this encounter with a holiness and saintliness that lit up the world – or that tiny piece of the world where Henny Machlis stood.

The last time I saw Henny was several months ago, when she was briefly back in Jerusalem between surgeries and treatments at Sloan-Kettering. She had already been battling metastasized cancer for a couple agonizing years. I decided to drop in at her house, and braced myself to see the battle-weary and fear-worn look that characterized other cancer patients I had known. On the path to the Machlis house, there was Henny with one of her daughters, on her way to go to pray at the grave of the tzaddik Rav Usher. When she saw me, she gave me that same radiant smile and jubilant greeting that had always been her trademark – unmitigated by the cancer, the surgeries, the chemo, the long separations from her family, and the unexpected – and unwanted – turn her life had taken. Her joyful smile conveyed not just her stoic acceptance, but her happy acquiescence with the way God was running His world.

A mutual friend told me after Henny’s death, “When I was with her, I felt embraced by God.”

The question – indeed the challenge – of Henny’s life is: How did an ordinary Jew born to a regular middleclass family in Brooklyn in 1957 become so great?

Henny kept on going and giving and loving and inspiring.

Like the rest of us, she went to college. (She graduated Stern College with a B.S. in education.) Like most of us in our twenties, she had an ideal. Hers was to share the beauty and joy of Shabbos with the whole world. Like most of us, “reality” intruded in the actualization of the ideal. For the Machlises, the tremendous scale of their success cost them over $2500 every Shabbat, a financial load that defied Rabbi Machlis’s modest salary as a teacher supplemented by donations from well-wishers. But unlike most of us, their adamantine faith in God and love for the Jewish people kept them from compromising on their ideal. They mortgaged their apartment to the hilt, took out personal and bank loans – and kept on going.

As Henny once told me: “We are living in the midst of a spiritual holocaust. Most Jews today have no idea of the beauty and depth of Judaism. How can we not do everything in our power, including going into debt, to reach out to our fellow Jews?”

The only difference between Henny Machlis and the rest of us is the voice that asserts, “I’ve done enough. I don’t have to do more.” Henny never harkened to that voice. She kept on going and giving and loving and inspiring – until last Friday, when she was called to her Heavenly reward.

Now it’s up to the rest of us.

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  1. Every word written about her will never fully describe this Tzadekes. I thank HaShem for the zchus of getting to know the amazing Machlis Mishpocho. I’ve never visited Yerushalayim without stopping at their home. The love for every person that walked in was palpable. In todays society where we enjoy the comforts and shy away from any inconveniences, it was a boost of my spiritual batteries to see such a selfless couple serving HaShem with the mida of Avrohom and Sarah. If you never visited, you’d never believe how tiny that kitchen was and yet, since the heart was large, there was enough room in there to feed the hundreds that passed the threshold. I can write and write and never finish and I’m sure that others will write as well. I can only wish that there be true nechomo in that holy home that is now missing the main ingredient. May her passing be a kaporo for klal Yisroel and may she stand before HaShem and be meilitz yoisher for us and beg HaShem to look aside all our “krenkin” just as she spent her life looking away at other peoples “krenkin” ( and trust me, you can’t imagine the mental cases that were wined and dined with honor and diginity) and may we be zoche to Tchias Hameisim very soon where she’ll shine on this world once again.

  2. Reb Mordechai Machlis was a classmate of mine back in Mesivta Torah Vodaath some 45 years ago. Even then, he always exuded Ahavas Yisroel, learning well from his father, Harav Leon Machlis z”l.
    Rabbi Machlis, senior, was a talmid of Harav Shraga Feivel Mendelovitz, and taught public school release time classes back in the days when the word Kiruv was quite unknown. He headed Yeshivas Ohel Moshe in Bensonhurst for some 50 years, and was one of the few schoolmasters who accepted JEP children into his school, oftentimes on complete scholarships.
    I did not know Reb Mordechai’s rebbitzen, but I wish him and his entire family only simcha and nachas for the future.
    המקום ינחם אתכם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים!

  3. This is an interesting story. Don’t get mad when inconvenience hits. Improve your emunah.

    The sad thing is that losing someone with such a large valued neshama of human valued trust in Hashem is a really horrifying humility for the world. Needs for others are so great her story should be shared and her memory long lived.

    If we realize that we have the Ba’al teshuvah sanity in our population and they are struggling with their parents and brothers and sisters over things as simple as kasrut living and find themselves born into a society where orthodox ideals are shunned, one must be very careful to keep their prayers trusted in Hashem.

    This whole world is a challenge and this rebbitzin was so careful to even treat the mentally ill and drunk population that the bright sanity of hope is her touch on the world.

    We can not exclude people. We must help them, give to them and give them encouragement to help them restore their lives.

    That is Torah.

    And she did it well.

    B’DE. She needs to clearly be remembered by more than just the holy.

  4. When the Rebbetzen arrives at the Kisei Hakavod she will certainly pray and plead on behalf of Hashem children for the speedy arrival of Moshiach; she was a deeply loving mother to every single one she met — who is better positioned in our generation to cry out??

    The whole of Olam Haneshomos (world of souls) will be shaken that someone in 5776 was able to reach such heights of unfathomable greatness, purity and selflessness. Such a person’s influence is multiplied a thousandfold when unlimited by the confines of the physical.

    May all the family find nechama (comfort) in this great loss — fortunate were those that simply encountered her with her smile just one time in their life.

    Please donate in her memory at as their Organization is still in very desperate need of funds and every dollar will help one of the world’s holiest families that has ever exalted this universe. The Machlis’s have continually given and continue to give so much, fortunate are we if we can do even a little to assist them.

    One of many many thousands whose life will never be the same having shone in the light of the Machlis home.

  5. Baruch Dayan Emet. One word describes who she was, her name, Henny.
    Henny is ‘He neh ny (‘הנני{, similar to Avrom Aveinu’s noted statement by Akeidas Yitzchak

  6. Baruch Dayan Emet.
    One word says it all, her name, Henny.
    Henny pronounced ‘Heh neh ny’ in ivrit is ,’הנני’, which reminds one of Avrohom Aveinu’s noted declaration by Akeidas Yitzchak.