Yesterday my wife and I attended the funeral of Rebbetzin Goldie Fendel in Beit Shemesh. The winding road up to the cemetery was backed up all the way down the mountain because of the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects.
My connection literally goes back over 50 years.
Rabbi Fendel convinced my father to send his sons to the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, not a small accomplishment. My father had gone bankrupt several years earlier and he certainly wasn’t in a positon to pay tuition for four boys (two of my brothers were too old to start yeshiva). Plus my father wasn’t even shomer Shabbos at the time. But such was Rabbi Fendel’s magic – to create a Torah school populated almost entirely by children from non-frum families.
I was a nice Conservative kid growing up in North Merrick Long Island. There weren’t too many Jews in general; we went to the East Meadow Jewish Center a mile away. To imagine me and my brothers in an Orthodox school was at the time mind-boggling.
This was the Age of Heroes. People, who against all odds worked to replant Torah in the infertile fields of America. I have met some of these Greats; Rabbi Stavsky of Columbus, Ohio, Rabbi Feldman of Atlanta, Georgia, but the ones I knew most intimately were of course Rabbi and Mrs. Fendel.
They reached out to my family; not as educators but as friends. My parents had a bit of a cynical streak when it came to people. My mother passed away half a year ago and I had occasion to tell certain people, “My mother really loved you”. And then I paused and added “and she didn’t love everybody”. You had to be a really good person to make it onto my parents’ list.
And they loved the Fendels.
My mother was sick for many years and a trip to Israel was particularly taxing for her. My brother Bruce would accompany her in her last years to keep a careful eye out to make sure she was safe and secure. But on every trip, at every simcha the Fendels were there, with my mother sitting next to her good friend Goldie.
And whenever I saw Mrs. Fendel, she would always ask about my mother with genuine concern, despite her own pain and suffering. She was a person that made you feel that she was more concerned for you than for anyone else, and I suppose that’s because she really was.
There were many eulogies delivered yesterday; many stories and divrei Torah shared; but one that I felt summed up who she was. Her daughter Mindy (Fendel) Marcus told how her mother had a doctor’s appointment to discuss her failing health. After all the discussion the doctor asked "Now do you have any questions for me?”
“Yes” Mrs. Fendel said “How’s your mother feeling? I remember she wasn’t well”.
At our last simcha Mrs. Fendel couldn’t speak, but my mother, sitting in her wheelchair, maintained a steady conversation.
It’s some consolation to know they are both talking again in the Next World.
May the family be comforted with the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.