On Sunday, 26th of Cheshvan, our family was heartbroken by the untimely passing of Rebbetzin Rochel Leah Mayer, almanah of the Rav Dovid Hersh Mayer, mehahel ruchani of Yeshiva Bais Binyomin of Stamford, Connecticut.
That week’s parsha, Parshas Vayetzei, began with the departure of a tzaddik, Yaakov Avinu. Rashi states that when a tzaddik resides in a city, he constitutes its glory, splendor and its beauty. Once he leaves its borders, that city’s glory, splendor and beauty depart with him. This can truly be said about Rebbetzin Mayer, an exceptional woman of valor who dedicated her entire life for Torah learning, and who was a loving, caring person with a gentle demeanor. It was obvious that her entire hanhogah hailed from a previous generation.
Rebbetzin Mayer was a bas kedoshim, her noble lineage stemming from the Ropshitz, Ziditchoiv, Spinka, Koritz, and Berzhan dynasties. She was born in 1948 in Ulm, Germany, to Rav Shmiel and Rebbetzin Pearl Friedman. Rav Freidman had served for two-and-a-half years as rov in Ulm, a military city in Germany.
After the Holocaust, Rav Friedman was influential in the revival of Jewish life when still in Europe. However, in May of 1949, her parents immigrated to America, settling in the Lower East Side. Subsequently, in 1951, the Ulmer Rav opened a shteibel in the East Bronx. It was there that Rebbetzin Rochel grew up and spent her childhood years. She attended elementary school at Bais Yaakov Bais Miriam in the East Bronx, and high school at the Breuer’s School for Girls in Washington Heights.
In 1967, she married her illustrious lifelong partner, Rav Dovid Hersh Mayer, son of Rav Yitzchok Zev Mayer, author of the renowned Maharsha Ha’aruch and rosh yeshiva of the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco. Her husband was a big talmid chochom with a brilliant mind, who was gifted with multi-faceted kishronos. He possessed an in-depth knowledge of Shas, halacha, hashkafa and Chassidus and was a passionate oved Hashem. After their marriage, the young couple were among those who revolutionized the concept of kollel life in America, when they moved to Lakewood and lived in a modest apartment. In those days, cholov Yisroel milk was imported from New York, as was kosher meat.
Rav Dovid Hersh was fondly called a chassidishe Litvak. He was a kano’i with a chassidishe bren, but learned with great hasmodah with the yeshivishe derech halimmud. He had a close kesher with the Lakewood rosh yeshiva, Rav Shnuer Kotler, and the Lakewood mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel.
Rav Dovid Hersh implemented learning sedorim on Friday afternoons, Shabbos and Motzoei Shabbos, realizing that these were times when few people learned. At the start of his initiative, he arranged for participants to receive some minimal funding as an incentive to facilitate the program’s success. Rav Dovid Hersh was also among the founders of the Lakewood cheder, where he served as a rebbi. He used his own novel methods, imbuing in his young talmidim a fervent and permanent love for Torah and mitzvos.
Rebbetzin Rochel was his aishes chaver, devotedly standing by his side and supporting his learning. She lived in poverty and at a far distance from her family. In those days, she only spoke to her parents once a week for only three minutes. She was a person who was mistapekes bemi’ut, yet despite her financial situation she was happy and content. Rebbetzin Mayer also spearheaded, with her friends, the Bikur Cholim in Lakewood.
In 1976, Rav Dovid Hersh Mayer embarked on a new chapter of harbotzas Torah and founded his own yeshiva, Yeshiva Bais Binyomin, in Stamford, Connecticut. He chose this location since it was close to the major Torah centers of New York and New Jersey, yet far enough to encourage the ‘small town’ feeling of learning without distractions. In the beginning of the yeshiva’s existence, there was no apartment for his family. Rebbetzin Mayer stayed in Lakewood with her children and her husband would only come home for Shabbos and Yom Tov.
However, after two years, Rebbetzin Mayer forfeited the comfort she had established in Lakewood and relocated to the spiritual desert of Stamford, moving into the dormitory basement of the yeshiva. Living in its basement, she carried the yeshiva on her shoulders. She endured many struggles and hardships after her pioneering move to Stamford. There were many times she suffered winters without steam due to the financial difficulties of the yeshiva, but she was always by her husband’s side when the financial burden of the yeshiva fell upon him, and faithfully supported him as he remained at the helm of the spiritual growth of the yeshiva.
Rebbetzin Mayer had an incredible passion for kovod haTorah. She would host the bochurim each Motzoei Shabbos for the menahel’s weekly shmuessen, which the bochurim would eagerly anticipate. Throughout the year, the talmidim looked forward to coming to these shiurim and to enjoying the prepared goodies that she made for them. The bochurim fondly called her the “Mamme Rochel.” In later years, she would send bi-weekly snacks for the bochurim which they enthusiastically anticipated. She also worked in the yeshiva office for a number of years.
Rav Dovid Hersh was perhaps one of the first chassidim to move to Stamford. When the Vizhnitzer Rebbe once asked him “How many shtreimlach are there are in Stamford?”, he wittily replied, “There are three. One is my regular one, the second is my rain shtreimel and the third is a shtreimel I bought as a present for a lawyer who had done many favors for the yeshiva, and expressed an interest in owning ‘that beautiful Shabbos hat’!”
Their lives in Stamford created a lasting spiritual impact on the entire community, as they revealed the beauty of Torah living to Jews who had not been exposed to it until then. Rebbetzin Rochel erected the standards of mitzvah observance, chinuch, kashrus, tznius and other pillars of Yiddishkeit, building a spiritual wall to ensure that no negative influences would permeate her home environment. Despite facing an array of challenges living in a place filled with powerful negative forces, she upheld and instilled strong fundamental ideals in her children. She lived in a spiritual desert, yet her avodas Hashem in raising her family and mesiras nefesh for Torah was exemplary.
Rebbetzin Rochel was a dignified, refined and honorable woman who had an ayin tova for everyone. She was a baalas middos, who never spoke loshon hora. Perhaps where she excelled most was her good heart, tznius and pashtus. She was calm and had a warm and friendly personality. Rebbetzin Rochel manifested that attribute of silence during key moments of difficulties in her life, her secret silent source of strength. She had a “lev shomeia,” a listening and understanding heart that was attentive to people around her. She had supreme level of emunah and bitachon, a total self-negation and subservience to those greater than her.
On 11 Teves, 2002, Rebbetzin Rochel tragically lost her husband, Rav Dovid Hersh Mayer. Yet she continued to live in her apartment across from the yeshiva. She was a widow for sixteen years after her husband’s petirah.
In September 2016, Yeshiva Bais Binyomin relocated to Monsey and after forty years of being in Stamford, Rebbetzin Rochel also moved there, living with her oldest son, Rav Yaakov Yosef Mayer, who became the menahel ruchani of the yeshiva.
She was very proud of her children. From the age of three, her sons commuted from Connecticut to the Satmar cheder in Monsey by car service. Later, the children were sent to yeshiva dormitories while they were still at a very young age. Today, all four sons are ehrliche marbitzei Torah.
On Sunday, 26 Cheshvan, her neshomah departed after suffering a brief illness. She never complained of pain. She was niftar on the same day of the yahrzeit of her illustrious father, the Ulmer Rav, and at the same age of 70. The levayah was held at Yeshiva Bais Binyamin. A massive crowd of rabbonim, roshei yeshiva, family, friends, alumnae, and current talmidim gathered to pay the kavod acharon. Hespedim were delivered by her brothers, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Friedman, Ulmer Rav, Rav Yisroel Chaim Friedman, Spinker Rav from Bayswater, and Rabbi Zeilberger, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bais Binyamin. More hespedim were delivered by Rabbi Naftali Weisz, Spinka Rebbe, and by her brothers-in-law, Rav Menashe Mayer, Rav Fishel Smeltzer, and Rav Todros Silber. Her mechatunim, Rabbi Shloime Leifer and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, were also maspid, and the heartfelt eulogies culminated with her four sons, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, Rabbi Chaim Luzer, Rabbi Menashe and Rabbi Shulem Mordechai Mayer. Rebbetzin Mayer was interred in the Skverer bais hachaim.
She leaves behind children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who continue to follow in her legacy.
Yehi zichroh boruch.