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Comforting The Afflicted: The Life Of Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg


Weisbord-022412-Weinberg

It is hard to believe that it has already been nearly a month since the petirah of my Bubby, Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg, a”h. We are left without the presence of a tireless advocate for Torah Judaism, particularly those unable to advocate for themselves. We are left without a regal presence. Raised by two Torah giants, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok and Rebbetzin Feige Ruderman, zt”l, and eishes chayil to another, Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, Bubby was a person who was able to convey a profound message with a look, a gesture, or a word that could change someone’s perspective forever. We are left without an individual who did not know the meaning of the word ‘impossible’, who did not shirk even when tackling issues of a magnitude so great that nobody before her had even attempted to address them. She changed our world forever and we are not the same without her.

Rebbetzin Weinberg’s eldest daughter related how, when helping her mother fill out a form for worker’s compensation after a work-related injury, one question asked her to define the impact of the injury on her life. The Rebbetzin answered that the injury left her unable to do half of what she wanted to do. Her daughter, incredulous, asked her, “How can you say that? This year alone you’ve established three safe houses for women, traveled to another three cities to help start bikur cholim organizations, started a Jewish hospice program and established a home for Jewish developmentally disabled adult men!” The Rebbetzin looked at her daughter and said, “That’s exactly half of what I wanted to accomplish.”

Her drive to fill the needs of the Jewish community was something within her even as a young woman. Mrs. Mandelbaum of Philadelphia, a native of Baltimore, related that in the 1940’s there was no Bais Yaakov school and frum girls had no form of recreation in a Jewish environment. The Rebbetzin, then a young married woman, enlisted two of her friends to run groups for the teenage girls on Shabbos, Motzei Shabbos, and Sunday afternoons. In this way, the girls were able to use their leisure time in a wholesome way and develop their connection to Judaism at the same time.

This was a woman who was fearless, undaunted by obstacles that would stop most people from pursuing their plans. As Rebbetzin Weinberg began hearing from women of all ages about abusive situations, she was determined to do something about it. She asked her revered father if such things occurred in Europe. He told her that indeed they did occur. “And what did people do about it?” she wanted to know. “We closed the shutters,” he replied. “Well, I’m going to open those shutters.”

And open them she did. Thanks to her efforts, domestic violence is now on the national Jewish agenda. But she didn’t stop with simply raising awareness, difficult as that was in the face of the denial and ignorance of 30 years ago. The Rebbetzin opened safe houses across the country, trained volunteers to provide emotional, physical and financial support and always made herself available for comfort, advice, and direction.

While communal issues were always important, Rebbetzin Weinberg never lost sight of the individual. She cared about the needs of every Jew. Someone recalled an incident that occurred when the Rebbetzin spoke at a Torah Umesorah convention many years ago. A woman in the audience coughed incessantly throughout the Rebbetzin’s talk. While others in the room were annoyed, Rebbetzin Weinberg said nothing and, after she finished speaking, brought a cup of tea to the cougher and urged her to take care of herself.

Rebbetzin Weinberg never expected anything in return for the efforts she expended on behalf of others. She used to relate a story from her childhood that in her mind was the source of this valuable lesson: When she was a young girl, there was a stray cat in her neighborhood that she fed daily. One day, with no provocation, the cat lunged at her and scratched her. As she ran crying into the house, she recalls her grandfather saying to her, “Sometimes this happens with people, as well. You do for others because it is the right thing to do, and know that sometimes you will get scratched.” This became a lesson that she internalized and that stayed with her through all the years of her mesiras nefesh for the Klal.

She was an innovator, ahead of her time in many ways. As a teacher in Hebrew school, Rebbetzin Weinberg was given “the tough class” one year. Today, those students probably would be diagnosed with learning disabilities or ADD. Using her own methods, that currently are the standard for special education, she managed to teach her students the basics of Judaism and Hebrew. Along the same lines, she faced another impossible chinuch situation. The Rebbetzin and her husband went weekly to a small town in Maryland, a two and a half hour drive each way, to teach the members of the community about yiddishkeit. The Rebbetzin’s job was to teach the children. Several education experts told her that, since she was going only once a week, she should forget about teaching Hebrew and concentrate on telling stories about people from Tanach. Rebbetzin Weinberg thought otherwise. She believed that if the children learned to read Hebrew and to be able to follow along in a siddur, they would always be comfortable in a shul and that comfort level would keep them connected to Jewish life. Indeed, she taught these children to read Hebrew and even how to lein from the Torah, and many have told us that those classes kept them from assimilating.

Bubby liked butterflies and many of them graced her home in various decorative forms. She once explained to a family member that she liked thinking of the freedom expressed by the flight of the butterfly. Perhaps we can see another meaning to this: Butterflies are beautiful creatures that begin life as a far more pedestrian caterpillar. They are the embodiment of respecting potential, of always seeing what is possible in a person or situation that appears bleak. Both of these views combined may be an appropriate expression of Bubby’s way of looking at things. She saw good in people even when they didn’t see it themselves. And she was free to see what could be accomplished and was never hampered by the naysayers or by any fear of failure. If she saw a need and the possibility for progress, she would pursue that progress tirelessly. Bubby was a living lesson to us all. Her dedication, warmth, wisdom, and sage advice will be missed by all who knew her.

Yehuda Weisbord is the grandson of Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg.

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Thanks to her efforts, domestic violence is now on the national Jewish agenda. But the Rebbetzin didn’t simply raise awareness; she opened safe houses across the country, trained volunteers to provide emotional, physical and financial support and always made herself available for comfort, advice, and direction.

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