It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the petirah of Rebbetzin Sheila (Chava Sarah) Feinstein a”h, who passed away this evening two weeks after being involved in a car accident.
She was 79 years old.
The rebbetzin was with her husband, Rav Shalom Reuven Feinstein, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva of Staten Island, two weeks ago Tuesday when the vehicle in which they were traveling hit a tree.
The rebbetzin underwent several procedures, but the injuries she sustained were severe. Klal Yisroel had been davening for Chava Sarah bas Itta Devorah. She passed away a short while ago.
The rebbetzin was a dynamic woman, an educators for many years who impacted generations of youth.
She and her husband resided in Staten Island.
Rav Reuven is the youngest of the four children of Rav Moshe and Rebbetzin Shima Feinstein and the only one to be born in America. Rav Reuven joined his father in establishing the Yeshiva of Staten Island in 1966 and has served as rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva ever since.
The rebbetzin was a daughter of R’ Avrohom and Itta Devorah Kaplan and grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The rebbetzin served as an elementary-school teacher in the New York Public School system and later was the general studies principal at Yeshivat Shaarei Torah in Flatbush. She also served on the staff of Manhattan’s MTJ.
The rebbetzin was a bren, a dynamo, whose every day was devoted to carrying out Hashem’s will and spreading the beauty of Yiddishkeit by the way she lived and through the ideals she espoused and taught.
During a recent interview, Rebbetzin Sheila related: “Yaakov Avinu was also called Yisroel. Do you know what the name Yisroel stands for? The yud is for Yaakov and Yitzchok. The sin is for Sarah. The reish is for Rivka and Rochel. The alef is for Avrohom, and the lamed is for Leah. The name Yisroel contains all the names of the avos and imahos. I heard this vort from a taxi driver in Eretz Yisroel. He did not consider himself frum, but he told me that he attends a class once a week, and this is what his rabbi said. It’s an amazing vort, and I tell it to people all the time. They can’t believe that they never noticed this. I tell my students all the time, ‘Remember, wherever you may go, keep in mind that you are a bas Yisroel, and you have the strength and the zechusim of all the avos and imahos within you.”
The rebbetzin spread that message over decades, inspiring bnos Yisroel to carry the banner of the bas Yisroel proudly and with dignity.
The rebbetzin once shared the following with the Yated Ne’eman newspaper in the US: “Let me tell you something about my father-in-law, Rav Moshe, and his concern for his family. He did not only care for strangers. He had tremendous derech eretz for his rebbetzin. Whenever my mother-in-law would have to go out at night, I would come pick her up. As we were leaving the apartment, she would show Rav Moshe a small pot on the stove and tell him to leave it on a low flame and it will be hot for him when he would be ready to eat. He responded with his usual, ‘Gut, gut.’ The amazing thing is that when we would return, the pot was not in sight. Rav Moshe would eat supper, then wash out the pot and his dishes, dry them, and put them away, so the rebbetzin would not have to.
“I remember a time when the rebbetzin was not feeling well. I and my sisters-in-law were at the house, making sure that there was cake available for all those who were streaming in and out. We prepared coffee and tea for all those who would come to talk with Rav Moshe. For a few minutes, the house was empty and I walked in to the kitchen. There, in the kitchen, I found Rav Moshe washing and drying glasses. ‘Is everything okay?’ I asked him. ‘Is the rosh yeshiva expecting someone?’ ‘No,’ he answered. ‘Everything is fine. However, I know that the rebbetzin is not well and she is lying down. But in case she will come out, she will be upset if there are dirty dishes around. I am cleaning them just in case she comes out.’”
Rebbetzin Sheila continued: “These stories aren’t publicized, because I’m not sure if men want to hear all these stories. I was present at a speech and the speaker mentioned that ‘Rav Moshe never read a newspaper.’ I approached the speaker afterward and asked him why he said that. He answered, ‘Of course Rav Moshe never read a newspaper! It’s bittul Torah!’ I answered him, ‘Perhaps for you it is bittul Torah, but for Rav Moshe it wasn’t. He read the newspaper every day!’ He didn’t read the secular paper, but he read the Yiddishe papers. He had to know what was going on. Nowadays, we hear so many stories about Rav Moshe. Many sound as if they never really happened. My sister-in-law, Rebbetzin Malka Feinstein says, ‘If you don’t have a story, make one up! Everyone else does.’ My shver was not born a gadol, but he became a gadol through perfecting his middos and his learning. He set an example that we can learn from.”
The rebbetzin had vast knowledge of maamorei Chazal and was a fount of information and insight. She was able to zero in on an issue and offer her clear hadracha, as in the following remarks she shared in the aforementioned sit-down: “Years ago, there was no name-calling and no judgment. Over the last few years, we made so many rules and turned off those who were struggling. We have set the bar so high and we have alienated some of our own. There are bochurim who can’t handle a long day of learning. They end up going to the shvacher yeshivos. Who do you think they are with? The same weak students, some who are weaker than them, and some who are weaker in Yiddishkeit. Who do they have to look up to? Years ago, there were not so many yeshivos and everyone was together. The weaker boys were still part of the chaburah with the metzuyanim. They still talked to them and were friends with them, and they shteiged from them.”
Rebbetzin Sheila added: “We all suffer from this. Today, a woman walks into shul and we take one look at her and classify her. ‘Where is she from? Where does she belong?’ We have her all figured out. Is it right? No. But we do it anyway. There is so much kiruv going on. We extend ourselves to the person who is becoming a baal teshuvah, yet the person within our own community who doesn’t meet our standard is not frum enough for us. We should reach out to our neighbors, even if they aren’t exactly like us.”
Rebbetzin Feinstein’s passing has plunged her many admirers and students into mourning.
The levayah will take place tomorrow, Thursday, at Yeshiva of Staten Island, located at 1870 Drumgoole Road in Staten Island, NY, at 11:30 a.m. The aron will then be flown to Eretz Yisroel for kevurah on Har Hamenuchos in Yerushalayim.
The rebbetzin is survived by her husband, Rav Reuven, her children, Rav Dovid Beinush Feinstein, Rav Avrohom Feinstein, Mrs. Malka Eisenberg and Mrs. Ahuvah Weiss, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a wonderful family of bnei and bnos Torah carrying on her derech and legacy.
The rebbetzin will be sorely missed.
Yehi zichroh boruch.