The Cedar And The Hyssop
Mrs. Egosah Reichmann a”h was a whole person. A regal woman, she had a dignified presence; a true bas melech. At the same time, she was practical, relatable, and down-to-earth. She could hold court with world leaders and foreign dignitaries, and at the same time make every person feel comfortable and special. Her unique and seamless blend of characteristics was a rare combination, and she will be sorely missed.
Her grandson, Shmaya Gross, related a thought at the levayah that captured her range of personality: The metzora must bring a piece of cedar and a piece of hyssop together with his korbanos as part of his purification process. Chazal teach us that the cedar, one of the highest and strongest trees, represents the haughtiness that led the metzora to speak lashon hara. The lowly hyssop, on the other hand, represents the humility that should lead the metzora to rectify what he has done. There are those who ask: why is the cedar brought at all? Would it not make more sense for the metzora to focus solely on the hyssop?
Some answer that a Jew is never supposed to drop himself to the ground and completely negate his self-worth and greatness. Rather, he should always remain aware of his attributes and potential, and view them as the bearers of tremendous responsibility. When the metzora realizes the enormity of his potential and contrasts that with the mistakes he has made, he will come to true humility.
As Shmaya explained, Mrs. Egosah lived her entire life with the cedar and the hyssop. She was well aware of her blessings from Hashem. She felt fortunate and able; she felt obligated, and ever so happy to share.
Early Life, Childhood, & Marriage
Mrs. Egosah Reichmann was born in Satmar, Romania, to Reb Yosef Aryeh and Mrs. Minka Feldman in 1932. She was the youngest of 11 children. Her father, an Antiniya chossid, served for a number of years as the rosh hakohol of Satmar, and was widely respected and beloved. A diamond cutter by trade, he took pride in training others in the art of his profession, helping them develop a skill with which to earn a living.
Mrs. Egosah’s mother was the daughter of Rav Yaakov Prager, the mechaber of Shu”t Sheilas Yaakov, and the granddaughter of the Maharam Schick, one of the greatest Hungarian gedolim of the time. Her father’s father was Rav Efraim Fishel Feldman, the mechaber of the sefer Yados Efraim. Mrs. Egosah took great pride in her illustrious lineage and, as her grandson, Rav Aryeh Gad Koenig, related, would perk up with excitement whenever their names were mentioned.
At the age of five or so, her family immigrated to Eretz Yisroel and settled in Tel Aviv. Until then, she had been called Nissel, which means nut in Yiddish. When the family arrived in Palestine, the children were assigned Hebraicized names by the border authorities; Gittel became Tova, Breindel became Bruria, and Nissel became Egosah.
By the time the Feldmans arrived in Eretz Yisroel, a number of their older married children had already moved there. One of these was Reb Moshe Feldman, who had a daughter named Leah. Years later, Mrs. Egosah and her niece Leah, who were only a few years apart, would eventually become sisters-in-law, with Leah marrying Reb Moshe Reichmann z”l and Egosah marrying yblch”t Reb Yissochor Dov (Beri).
In Tel Aviv, the Feldmans took care of many impoverished individuals, hosting them at their table every night of the week. Through her parents’ many acts of tzedokah and chesed, Mrs. Reichmann was able to learn firsthand the importance of caring for a fellow Jew, a trait she would go on to exemplify throughout her life.
Those early childhood years taught Mrs. Egosah what poverty and hunger meant, as she witnessed most of her classmates and neighbors lack basic necessities. She would later tell her children that she was considered wealthy; after all, she was sent to school each day with a sardine sandwich. On most occasions, however, she would end up sharing it or giving it away, as she knew that a schoolmate needed it more than she did. These were lessons she never forgot, and even after she and her husband were blessed with wealth, she never became indifferent or oblivious to other people’s needs.
As she matured, the young Miss Feldman developed a knack for teaching. She would teach Hebrew in various schools in the country and was even sent to maabarot to teach the language to many new arrivals from Europe and Yemen. The sight of families being held in such facilities — in transit, anxious, and confused — made a strong impact on her. Miss Feldman was also a natural leader, becoming a Bnos counselor for local girls, one of whom was named Ada Halpern. Years later, Ada would also become Mrs. Egosah’s sister-in-law, when she married Reb Beri’s younger brother, Reb Isaac Reichmann.
In 1954, Reb Beri arrived in Eretz Yisroel from Tangier, Morocco, to court Miss Egosah. The Reichmann family had escaped prior to the Holocaust by fleeing Vienna and eventually landing in Tangier. In Morocco, Reb Beri’s father, Reb Shmayahu Reichmann, had established a foreign currency business that he operated together with Reb Beri. The young couple got engaged and then married in Eretz Yisroel.
After their wedding, the Reichmanns moved to Tangier. Egosah continued her pastime of teaching and established a school for young children, together with a young Moroccan architect named Samuel Toledano. It was in Tangier that their eldest child, Efraim, was born.
In 1959, the Reichmanns followed Reb Beri’s parents and two of his brothers to Toronto, Ontario. Toronto in the 60s and 70s was nowhere near the vibrant, and acclaimed Torah community that it is today. There was definitely an acclimatization period for the young family after they arrived, but they were young and resilient and had moved a number of times in the past. It goes without saying that the Reichmanns played a pivotal role in raising Toronto to the standards of Torah excellence that it boasts of today.
Mrs. Egosah’s daughter recalled accompanying her mother as she would shop at a number of stores on a main street in the city. These stores were owned and operated by secular Jews who had unfortunately abandoned Torah u’mitzvos, including shemiras Shabbos. At each one, without fail, she would state matter-of-factly, “So, when are you going to start to close for Shabbos? You know, of course, that you will not lose any money if you close for Shabbos…”
As her son-in-law, Mr. Shimshi Gross, explained, Mrs. Egosah had a unique skill to be able to say such things in a non-confrontational way, where none of the store owners would feel castigated or threatened.
and Yom Tov
Mrs. Egosah was a deeply religious woman, and tefillah was a large part of her avodas Hashem. She taught all her children and many of her grandchildren how to daven Kabbolas Shabbos, and they lovingly recall her special niggun. In her later years, when she became less mobile, her Tehillim almost never left her hands.
The kavod of the Shabbos seudos was a matter that she meticulously presided over; all the men above bar mitzvah were expected to wear their jackets for the duration of the seudos and their hats for kiddush, havdolah, and bentching. At every seudah, she would incentivize her grandsons to sing zemiros. None of the grandchildren viewed it as a pressuring experience; it gave them a true appreciation for the Shabbos seudah and confidence in their singing abilities.
Pesach was, by all accounts, the yom tov when Mrs. Egosah expended the most energy. The minhogim from her parents’ home were embedded into the fiber of her being, and she did not veer from their practice. In her home, matzoh was never placed upon a dish, lest a crumb remain on a plate when it would later be washed and turn into gebrokts. Instead, matzoh was placed upon napkins, and then completely removed from the table before any other food was brought out.
Every Pesach night, before she would go to sleep, she would lock her kitchen with a special gated door; she would not allow any of her non-Jewish help to enter her kitchen during Pesach without her being present to oversee them. Before she would allow them touch anything, she would insist that they wash their hands and show her their fingernails.
At the same time, the kavod she exhibited towards her hired help was extraordinary. There was never a request that was not accompanied by a please and a thank you. Such expressions were not perfunctory; when she said thank you, she truly meant it.
Joie de Vivre and
Using Olam Hazeh for Avodas Hashem
Many people related that what stood out the most about Mrs. Egosah was her shining joie de vivre. She firmly believed that it was the ratzon Hashem that we enjoy His beautiful world. As her children and grandchildren remembered, she was simply “so much fun.” Even her grandchildren referred to her as “Ima,” because she did not want to be viewed as an old grandmother. The Reichmanns would take the children out every Sunday on a different adventure, and grandchildren would often sleep over without their parents to spend quality time.
Interestingly, inscribed upon the mezuzah of Mrs. Egosah’s room was the instruction to recite the posuk “Bechol derochecha do’eihu, vehu yeyasher orchosecha” seven times. The Gemara learns from this verse how a Jew is enjoined to seek out Hashem in all of his worldly endeavors. Mrs. Egosah would stand by this mezuzah each night and daven for her grandchildren, mentioning each one by name. It is perhaps unsurprising that she grew to excel at the very middah encouraged by that posuk.
Her granddaughters recalled how they would see her on Leil Shabbos, dressed immaculately and adorned with fine jewelry, as she stood there, davening with deep kavonah. It was clear to them that all of their grandmother’s pomp and grandeur were l’kovod Shabbos, and not for any other sake. On Leil HaSeder, she and her daughters would wear chasunah gowns; after all, we are supposed to act like kings and queens.
Reb Beri and Mrs. Egosah would share their joy with the community on many occasions as well. For the first few years of the Toronto Kollel’s existence (a Reichmann family project), Reb Beri and Mrs. Egosah hosted the kollel’s Purim party and Simchas Bais Hashoeiva. One year, the crowd became a bit overly enthusiastic, and a rare and very expensive vase was knocked over and ruined. As the yungeleit looked on in horror, Mrs. Egosah calmed their worries, telling them that it was completely fine and encouraging them to continue with the simchas Purim.
An Inseparable Team
Reb Beri and Mrs. Egosah were an inseparable team, completely devoted to each other. Whenever possible, Mrs. Egosah would travel with her husband when he went away on business. As a close family friend and business associate related, she was more than simply a supportive wife; she was a full partner in all of Reb Beri’s projects. Both in business and in klal work, she knew the names of everyone involved in a project and was intimately acquainted with the details.
As Shlomo Reichmann related, his grandmother was the neshomah behind all the projects; while the Reichmann brothers ensured that the projects were looked after financially, she would infuse them with her “personal touch.” Whenever she and her husband would give money to communities, schools, and individuals, she would inquire about people’s names and the issues at hand. She would remember the cases and follow up, inquiring about the welfare of those who had sought their help.
There were, of course, times when Mrs. Egosah was unable to accompany Reb Beri on his trips. On such occasions, the friend related, she would call and instruct him about what her husband should and should not eat and to make sure he looked after himself.
Reb Beri reciprocated in his devotion to her and, as his children relate, “all his decisions revolved around what would be best for her.” They do not recall him ever saying no to any of her requests. In recent years, when Mrs. Egosah had become ill, Reb Beri would not make kiddush until she was wheeled into the room. Just a week ago, Reb Beri and Mrs. Egosa were at their home in Miami with some grandchildren. When a granddaughter asked him where he planned on being for Pesach, Reb Beri replied that he thought Toronto would be better for Ima.
Over the past few years, Mrs. Egosah needed much care. Her husband, children, and grandchildren worked tirelessly to ensure that she was as comfortable as she could possibly be around the clock. Their care for the matriarch of their family was something to be emulated.
Mrs. Egosah leaves behind a legacy of joy for life and dedication to Torah u’mitzvos. Her children continue in her ways, working on behalf of Jewish communities around the globe. She is survived by her husband, Reb Yissochor Dov; her sons, Reb Efraim and Reb Duddy; her daughters, Mrs. Breindy Koenig and Mrs. Libby Gross; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Yehi zichrah boruch.
Special thanks to all the children, grandchildren, and family friends who contributed valuable information for this tribute.