It’s 2:45 in the morning. The neighborhood is asleep. But at 16 R’chov Aishel Avraham, loud knocking can be heard. Leah awakes and rushes to open the door. This time it was a young father whose baby has been crying for hours with an earache. With her vast medical knowledge, she dispenses what is needed with caring advice and begs him not to hesitate to come back if he needs anything else. Her evening had ended just shortly before after she had penned her many letters to those unfortunate souls needing chizuk. Her sleep would be further interrupted that night.
‘Our nebulizer broke. Do you have one we can borrow?’
‘My neighbor has alzheimers. He left home and…’
‘My wife gave birth recently and she…’
How is it possible that she will no longer answer the door? It was just a plain wooden door but it glowed with an ethereal light- the door that was known to all as a place of refuge for the distraught and the needy.
Rebbetzin Chollak a”h was her husband’s loyal partner in founding Ezer Mizion and turning it into a chessed empire of tremendous dimensions. Her entire life was devoted to helping others and she was especially dedicated to the ill, the unfortunate, and the suffering.
From small needs to big needs, everything was important to her if it would lighten the burden of another Yid. She ran a large scale g’mach with such concern for each person’s situation that no one felt any sense of embarrassment when applying for a loan. During the gemach hours, when applicants would come, many of them male, she would don special clothing to enhance her amazing level of tzni’ut. Her caring did not diminish till the last moment. From her sickbed in the hospital, she reminded her husband: Oy, we have to give money to this one and that one. Could you please take care of it. Her concern even extended to the time when…as she reminded her family who will have to be called so they would not be shocked upon hearing the public loudspeakers announcing the levaya.
Many described her as a noble queen who directed, guided and advised-quietly with no fanfare. Her concept of tznius extended way beyond her clothing. She shunned fanfare, stating that it was not proper for a woman. Only once did she reluctantly consent to accompany her husband when he was being honored. She was shocked to find that when she left the crowd momentarily to daaven mincha, a photographer followed her and snapped a picture of her in the midst of her t’filah. Never again did she join her husband in any public affair honoring Ezer Mizion. In the last few weeks, her health condition deteriorated.
One of her many projects was making shidduchim for those with medical issues. She invested all her energy into this project and merited much Divine assistance in her quest. Many Yiddishe homes were created due to her efforts. She is remembered as always with a phone attached to her ear. But never, say her children, was it at the expense of family. ‘When she talked to us, she was all ours. She was our Ima, nothing else.’ Our home was a cheerful, warm place to be where each one of us had our special place with Ima.’
Over the years, Ezer Mizion’s work spread to a range of medical fields, including mental illness, special children, geriatrics, and cancer support and has expanded to serve over 650,000 people annually in fifty seven branches across the country under the leadership of Rabbi Chananya Chollak shlita and his wife, Rebbetzin Leah Esther a”h.
But Leah did not content herself with remaining in an ivory tower overseeing the management of the organization. Her role was not that of an aloof CEO whose contact with those in need consisted of reviewing reports. Her home became a bastion of chessed. The Chollak house was a public domain. At all hours of the day and night, people would come in to ask advice or request help.
It all began during her shana rishona which was largely spent running back and forth to the hospital to care for her sick father, but she did not ignore the plight of other patients whom she met there. When at home, she stood over giant-sized pots cooking meals for families who were too distraught by the illness of one of its members to pay attention to their own needs. Ezer Mizion eventually developed a Food Distribution Division which provides 74,000 hot meals each year in addition to midnight snacks and sandwiches but Leah joined the list of volunteers and continued to help in the cooking. The last delivery from her home came just two weeks before her p’tira. Those partaking of her meals never dreamed that they were prepared by one who herself was suffering from the same disease. And more. In addition to helping cook for the main kitchen, she cooked for her own ‘customers’ providing food to meet their personal preferences.
A dialysis patient whose funds were fast being depleted by thrice weekly ambulance service for treatment led to a professionally outfitted vehicle to transport him and others like him to clinics and physicians. The Ambulance Division has now grown to 20 vehicles plus a fleet of privately driven cars for those whom public transportation is too difficult due to mobility, respiratory and other challenges. A father and mother spending 24/7 with their child led to a volunteer division now comprised of over 14,000 trained volunteers.
Little by little, the work of Ezer Mizion expanded. The apartment adjoining their own was purchased to house a first-aid station that was open all night and on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The station was staffed by non-Jewish doctors and offered excellent medical care. Tens of thousands benefited from these medical services over the years.
She was renowned for her meticulous care to avoid misuse of funds. She would not allow her family to use the organization’s vehicles. When drivers offered to give them a lift, she would reply that the vehicle is meant for the ill, not for the healthy.
In addition to the twelve sons and daughters of her own that she brought up, she embraced into her family another four orphans. The children’s family had come to Israel from Iran, but upon their arrival, the father became ill and passed away, and shortly afterwards, the mother died as well. Rebbetzin Chollak was thrilled to have this tremendous opportunity.
On Sunday night, a grief-stricken crowd numbering more than ten thousand of the finest members of the Torah world accompanied the matriarch of the Ezer Mizion chessed empire, the tzadekes Rebbetzin Leah Esther Chollak a”h, wife of yb”l Rabbi Chananya Chollak shlita, to her final rest. They came to give honor to the great woman who dedicated herself entirely for Klal Yisrael. People came en masse to repay her in some small way for her extensive, worldwide work on behalf of the Jewish ill.
The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein shlita began the string of eulogies, crying out: “If the mighty of our people have succumbed, how shall the weak emerge unscathed?’
Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern shlita said: “I am too small to eulogize such a great woman, who, together with her husband, merited to be pillars of chessed, life-giving dew and sources of encouragement to the ill.
The Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein shlita said: “One of the pillars holding up the world has crumbled, a pillar of chessed of which we cannot imagine nor describe the years of her devotion to chessed. She gave up her whole being to do chessed with others.”
Her husband, Rabbi Chananya Chollak shlita said with great emotion: “Today, I sat in the hospital and watched the terrible suffering she was going through. Every time I asked her how she felt, she invariably said, ‘Hashem is doing it, so it surely is good.'”
Yehi zichrah boruch.