She was a very small woman physically, but she was a giant in Mitzvot and chesed. She was born in the month of January and she would have been 92 in a few days, but she died four months ago.
I met Esther Bluthal as a result of her chesed. She had been swindled out of thousands of dollars by someone claiming to be collecting for charity. In her despair, she turned to The Jewish Press and the call was given to me. As she related the events I became very angry that someone could be so vile as to cheat an elderly person out of her money, especially when the money was going to charity. I told her that I would see what I could do to help, thought I didn’t think too much was possible. But with the help of a number of individuals and the Almighty, we were able to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
After that, Mrs. Bluthal adopted me. In her eyes I could do no wrong. She would call me often to check out any charity she was considering donating to and would only give after I had personally checked it out. It was finally time for us to meet and so it was that on a Friday afternoon in the spring, I went to her Boro Park apartment. This small powerhouse of a woman had prepared a whole meal for me and as we sat she regaled me with many stories from her life. Her husband had died a while back and she now lived alone.
She had lost a son to illness shortly after his Bar Mitzvah many years ago, but she only expressed gratitude to the Almighty for all the blessings she had. She had one surviving son and she was very proud of him and his family. “He’s a teacher,” she said, “and the students all love him.”
It became a pattern for us − I would visit every Friday and she would entertain me with stories. I told her that her life would make an interesting book.
During the week, Esther Bluthal filled her days with charitable works. Every day, she took her shopping cart and a pushka (charity box) and stood outside a supermarket in her neighborhood collecting for Tomche Shabbos. She stood outside in the heat of summer and the cold and rain of winter. Whenever the store manager noticed her, he would invite her to stand inside, and so she stood inside collecting for charity. She was also very talented in crafts and would make all sorts of items and then raffle them off to get more charity for Tomche Shabbos.
In those days there was a local rabbi’s family whose daughters would come to see if they could shop for Mrs. Bluthal. She was so appreciative of this kindness that, when the time came for the marriage of the oldest daughter, Esther Bluthal helped make the wedding.
There seemed to be a constant theme in her life. It was simply that a person could not just spend money on himself; one had to give charity in the same measure. “G-d is watching us to see what we do with the money He gives us,” she told me, “and I don’t want to disappoint Him.”
As Mrs. Bluthal became older and frail, I realized that it was dangerous for her to live alone and she moved into the Scharome Manor, an assisted living residence. Always very friendly, she soon became the life of the party. She participated in everything and even had a few marriage proposals. I would visit her every week and she proudly introduced me to all her friends. “She’s from The Jewish Press,” she would say to one and all.
Every week I would help her go over her bills, but she was more interested in hearing which charities she should contribute to. And then it was onto more stories from her past. Don’t forget to put that one into the book, she’d laughingly say.
Whenever I returned from my trips to Israel, I could see the relief in her eyes and she would tell me how worried she had been and how much she had missed me. When people asked her what our relationship was, she would say, “she’s my best friend.”
I used to think that I was the one giving to her by my weekly visits and by taking care of her financial matters, but I realize now that it was she who was giving to me. Maybe that is what is meant by the saying, S’char Mitzvah, Mitzvah the reward for doing a mitzvah is the ability to do another mitzvah.
My dear beloved Esther, I am sorry that we didn’t get to write the book, but I tried to capture your essence in this little article. You wanted to greet the Moshiach. Now you are in the Olam HaEmet. Please intercede for the Jewish people and ask Hashem to hasten the Geulah now in our time, and from your exalted place in Gan Eden may your memory be for a blessing.