By Rivky Marcus
We just got up from shivah. My mother a”h was a ray of sunshine. She illuminated our home, our street, and our community with her jouie de vivre. Her embrace of every opportunity to enhance the quality of life for those she interacted with was exemplary.
My mother, Mrs. Chana Waxman a”h, was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1935. Her parents, Max (Meir) and Rosy (Rayzcha) Adler, were from Vienna and Germany, respectively. Her maternal grandfather, Rabbi Gershon Lange, was the principal of Bais Yaakov of Frankfurt-am-Main. With great Hashgachah Pratis, the family escaped Germany, divided in two camps. Each parent escaped with two children and they met up in Amsterdam. My mother often recalled hearing Megillas Esther on the boat to America.
Arriving on these shores in March 1939, the Adlers transplanted their family to Washington Heights. With their wealth, fur business, and real estate left behind in Europe, the family began life anew. Our elegant Oma scrubbed floors and Opa sold eggs as they struggled to provide for their children. Although they lived simply, dear Mommy recalled how her parents provided her with a luxury of her very own: a doll.
My mother was amongst the very first students of Breuer’s elementary school. She was an avid learner and full of spunk. She was always proud to be a Yekke. Rav Yosef Breuer zt”l and later Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l stood as beacons to her mishpachah. The many shiurim my mother prepared over the years always referenced Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch’s commentary, one of her favorite seforim.
The years advanced. For high school, our mother attended the newly-formed Bais Yaakov of Williamsburg and forged a close bond with Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan a”h and her loving staff of rabbeim and moros. She travelled daily by train one and a quarter hours each way to attend this lofty institution. Her closest friend for the next sixty-two years, Mrs. Leah Breslauer, befriended her there in Bais Yaakov, as did her sister-in-law-to-be, Mrs. Leah Israel. Her pioneering friends from Bais Yaakov always held a special place in her heart.
With love for Torah, our mother taught kindergarten at Breuer’s following her seminary experience. Rabbi Dovid Katzenstein still savors the sweet taste that his morah, “Miss Adler,” gave him for Alef-Bais. Mrs. Miryam Stavsky recalls how she loved her morah and felt secure because she escorted her at dismissal.
At that time, my mother took various English courses. She had a talent for writing and enjoyed improving her skills in vocabulary and written expression. Her golden letters and delightful poems were full of meaning, wisdom, and compassion. She authored about 1,000 poems over the years and three times that number of letters to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others. Be it a birthday, graduation or loss of any kind, her cards were exciting and soothing. The approximate 400 cards that she received at her bedside this past year, during her leukemia ordeal, reflected the middah kineged middah of the adored written words of this magnificent empathizer.
1957 brought the union of our mother with our father, yb”lc Rabbi Yeshaye Dovid Waxman of Williamsburg. It was quite unusual at that time for a young lady to marry a kollel yungerman. She was the very first from her community to do so. What began as a three-year dream ended up as a 19-year experience in kollel. They dwelled in Monsey, as part of Bais Medrash Elyon, before Monsey even boasted street lights. The most illustrious bochurim attended this elite yeshiva, under the powerful guidance of Rav Reuven Grozovsky zt”l and the warm hashgachah of Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan zt”l. The building complex they occupied included the Breslauers, Pressmans, Tabaks, Waldmans and Waxmans. These families brought Torah and chessed to Monsey.
For 59 years, my parents infused the Monsey community with their vibrant presence. My mother passed away on their 59th anniversary, 22 Shevat. At her levayah, my father called out her name Chana, beloved wife, full of chein, and thanked Hashem for the 58 healthy years that they were graced with. He expressed how she was proud of all five children she raised so lovingly: Pinchus Gershon of Lakewood, Yaakov of Minneapolis, Simcha of Monsey, Sarah Golding of the West Side, and Rivky Marcus of Brooklyn. She always wanted her family to ascend the ladder of middos and succeed in whichever field we were in, be it chinuch, real estate, office management, or music. She was so proud of each of her grandchildren, and she merited to behold 14 great-grandchildren, including twin girls, ka”h.
During these years of chein, my mother was a master teacher at Breuer’s High School, Bais Rochel High School, and Bais Mikroh. She was also General Studies principal at Bais Yaakov of Monsey. She had a particular passion for Nevi’im Acharonim and Pirkei Avos. She loved her talmidos and enjoyed maintaining a kesher with them beyond the classroom.
Children, grandchildren, neighbors and newly-married couples were all the recipients of thousands of her packages of prepared food. My mother’s many hours of cooking and baking were all about making everyone else’s life easier. Her enjoyment in giving paralleled our joy of receiving.
The arrival of Shabbos was so royal in Mommy’s home. She would calmly daven Minchah and literally wait for the Queen to enter. She stood adjacent to her proud neiros and beseeched Hashem for a shower of blessings. My father was so appreciative and happy to partake in her challos every Shabbos. Freshly baked on Friday, the challos were shaped with patience and sprinkled with love. My mother looked forward to davening each week in Bais Tefilla, arriving for brachos early Shabbos morning. Her tefillos were always full of concentration, as she stood in awe, sometimes humming quietly, before her Creator. Despite many challenges in her life, including her illness this past year, our mother accepted the Will of Hashem without complaint.
My mother’s calendar was chock-full-of-kindnesses. Small deeds and big deeds filled her hours. She aspired to improve the quality of life for all those around her. When she left a shopping plaza, she would be on the lookout for someone in need of a ride. When she visited a family, she came with a small gift for the housekeeper or aide. She loved addressing people by name: “Dina, how are you today?” or “Simcha, how was your day at work?” Her countenance radiated deep reverence for the tzelem Elokim within, Jew or non-Jew. Her love and respect for others are evident in the following stories.
Approximately forty years ago, a woman, Mrs. L., found herself in a shul in Monsey, looking feverishly for a tissue for her nose. The woman remembers how Mrs. Waxman perceived the need and extended her own glove to her, implying that it is only a glove and can be laundered (the glove was white!). The woman came in person to the shivah in order to share the story of selflessness that she carries in her heart all these years.
Another shivah visitor relayed how a comment made by Mrs. Waxman in 1973 is etched in his memory: My brother Yaakov had just been hit by a car in front of his mesivta, and his friend quickly ran to a phone to inform my parents. Upon hearing the news, my mother responded, “Raphael, it must have been so difficult for you to make this call. I’m coming right away!” What an angelic response. Her thought process placed her in the other person’s shoes. On another occasion, more recently, she was talking to a teenager who shared that she felt uncomfortable returning to her own home during her work break to rest. Without hesitation, dear Mommy gave her the combination to the house and the girl had opportunities to nap in comfort. Ma tovu ohalecha…
In recent years, my mother was employed at Dr. Israel’s gastroenterologist office near Monsey. She graciously welcomed each patient to the office and enabled him/her to feel at ease. In the words of Mrs. Shiffi Gettinger: “She was a sensitive, compassionate person who respected our privacy and helped in any way she possibly could.” A nurse in an adjacent office expressed, “She was the kindest, nicest, most beautiful person I met – both inside and out!”
Dr. Israel eulogized her, saying, “Mrs. Waxman did not just work for me these past 22 years; she used her job as an opportunity to perform chassodim with others.”
Besides for family and friends, a few hundred people came to pay their respects at nichum aveilim in acknowledgement of her gentle, efficient demeanor and genuine smile, which she displayed to each patient in the doctor’s office.
In closing, I want to share four practical suggestions that my mother encouraged her family to implement. They reflected her desire to focus on self-discipline and follow the path of ne’imus.
1. After purchasing a new garment, try to let a full day pass before wearing it. Why? The luster will wear off and a feeling of inflated ego will pass. An attitude of “It’s only clothing” will naturally be cultivated.
2. When participating in a simcha, head to the baal simcha and wish mazel tov prior to partaking in the delicacies. This prioritizes your actions and brings great honor to the chosson, kallah, bar mitzvah boy, and parent nearby. The food tastes better after that gesture.
3. While preparing for a sheva brachos or another gala seudah, plan to enhance the event with the presence of a tzaddik. The event will be graced with holiness and sparkle. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rav Simcha Schustal and Rav Schmelka Taubenfeld, zichronam livrachah, were invited to numerous siyumim and simchos of our mishpachah.
4. Always be truthful when interacting with others. The officer shouldn’t be deceived; the family shouldn’t hear half-truths. Ultimately, emes is what shines through and is the foundation of true character. Our mother once paid the difference of her show seat after moving up to a more expensive row. The ticket office called her deed “saintly” (and mailed her free coupons!).
May our beloved mother ascend on High and beseech the Ribono Shel Olam for shidduchim,
refuos and brachos for all. May we merit to continue her legacy.
Yehi zichroh boruch.