One of the highlights of the year was Sukkot/Simchat Torah at the Lamm sukkah. Rebbetzin Lamm made all the food and hundreds of people would come.
“Many a shidduch was made there,” she says. “I was concerned about the large number of singles in our community, so I put together a committee consisting of myself, a social worker, and a woman member of my shul and formed a group called Zivug. I talked the caterer out of his office in the shul and we took it for our group. We were very successful and I continued the work until we left.”
During the Los Angeles years the Lamms’ older daughter, Judith, came home in the middle of her year in Michlala in Israel with a lump. Rabbi and Mrs. Lamm took her directly to Dr. Ivan Mauer, a”h, who diagnosed Judith with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Dr. Mauer would visit the Lamm home every night after work to check on Judith as she started treatment. (Editor’s Note: The writer of this article had not yet married Dr. Mauer at that time.)
In the middle of Judith’s treatment she convinced her parents to allow her to go back to finish her year in Israel, where she would continue her chemotherapy. When she was rushed to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, Rebbetzin Lamm went to Israel and stayed for a month until her daughter was back on her feet.
“Once again I learned about real emunah and bitachon when Judith got sick,” says Shirley. “I learned I could yell and speak and cry to Hashem.”
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After seven years the Lamms were on the move again. They left Beverly Hills and went to Palm Springs where they davened at Chabad. Their close friends there included the bestselling author (and Orthodox Jew) Herman Wouk. It soon became apparent that a shul was needed on the other side of town so the Lamms bought a home there and built a new shul and met people from all over the world who vacationed there. They stayed in Palm Springs for 10 years.
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It was time to move back to New York. The rabbi’s parents were no longer alive but the rebbetzin’s parents were, and she wanted to be closer to them. At this point Rabbi Lamm’s active career in the rabbinate was basically over, other than taking an occasional phone call from someone in need of help or counseling.
In March 1995, shortly after their return to New York, Rabbi Lamm was struck with an acute case of sepsis throughout his body. “He was so ill that no one thought he would live,” says Shirley. “With God’s help, after six months he was able to leave the hospital.”
I ask Rebbetzin Lamm what she sees today that is different from the years when she was an active rebbetzin.
“Problems were not shared in those days. Women were embarrassed to talk about them, even with their rebbetzin. We knew they existed, but they didn’t come forward. Today women readily share their problems with their rebbetzin.
“Another thing is that while I took my children to shul when they were old enough to sit quietly and daven, I see young women today bringing little ones to shul who cry and make noise while their mothers make no move to remove them. I didn’t have to deal with that as a rebbetzin because years ago women didn’t bring such little ones to shul.”
She also has an interesting story involving the job of a rebbetzin. “Rabbi Azarya Berzon of YU put together a quarterly magazine which was sent out to all the rabbis. He asked me if I would write a column in each issue for the rebbetzins. I agreed, and thus began my writing career. At any rate, after one of my articles came out I received a call from a young woman engaged to a soon-to-be rabbi at YU. She asked to meet with me to talk about a rebbetzin’s responsibilities. I said I had to look at my calendar. She exclaimed, ‘That’s what being a rebbetzin is all about? You’re so busy you have to look at a calendar? Do I have to also visit the sick?’