As I make my way up Rechov Solovetchik, a small alleyway bordering the famous Zichron Meir shteibelach, I am transported back in time to the Yerushalayim of old, where the very cobblestones are permeated with kedusha; a city without pizza shops or ice cream parlors, or telephones (let along cellphones!) or even tape recorders; when there was only one women’s dress shop in all of Geula; a city populated by anshei maaleh, where simplicity was viewed as a virtue and limud Torah and avodas Hashem the ultimate profession.
After double-checking that I have the right address, I climb the worn stone steps leading to a large, spotless courtyard. Rebbetzin Greenwald comes out to greet me. Dressed in a simple skirt and blouse, topped with an old fashioned flowered tichel, she is the embodiment of simplicity and modesty, yet I can sense a strong undercurrent of inner strength. I realize that this is a woman I can learn from.
BINAH: Could you tell us about your roots?
“I grew up in a home where both parents were constantly searching for ways to help the klal. From an early age we learned that that when we notice something that needs to be done, it’s our responsibility to ahead and do it - and Hashem will help. My parents came from homes of askanim. My mother, Miriam Adler, a”h, was from the famous Pappenheim family. Her brother, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, shlita, founded the well-known girls’ home, Bayis Lepletos, and is one of the leaders of the Eidah Chareidis. My father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was the son of Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l, the Turda Rav. We grew up understanding that it was our tafkid to be moser nefesh to help Klal Yisrael.
“When my father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was fourteen, he left his home in Turda, Romania, prior to what appeared to be the imminent Nazi takeover of the city. As the end of the War he joined the Satmer Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum ztz”l on his journey to Eretz Yisrael. Since my father had no legal papers, he spent most of his time in transit hiding beneath the Rebbe’s bed. In Eretz Yisrael, he succeeded in escaping the British detention camp for illegal immigrants, and made his way to Yerushalayim.
“Interesting enough, although the city of Turda suffered terribly during the holocaust– there was almost no food, and of course the Jews were in constant fear of an imminent Nazi invasion, the city never came under Nazi rule. My grandfather, Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l continued to serve the community throughout the war years. My grandparents’ home was a haven for refugees, including the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zushia Portugal, ztz”l. My grandparents arranged his shidduch with another refugee, also staying in their home, and then made their chasunah. Of course my grandfather was the mesader kedushin. After the war, my grandparents left Turda and moved to Yerushalayim.
“Alone in Eretz Yisrael, my father, Rabbi Moshe Adler, learned in the Dishinsky Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. The Rebbe, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dishinsky, the Maharitz, insisted that the young teenager join his household and he treated my father as his own son.
“During this time, my father became close to Rav Aharon of Belz, ztz”l, and eventually became a Belzer Chassid. Throughout his lifetime, although people referred to my father as the ‘Turda Rav,” my father, who despised kavod, viewed himself as nothing more than a Belzer Chassid.
“My maternal grandparents hailed from Germany. After my grandfather, Rabbi Gavriel Pappenheim, ztz”l, was taken to Dachau, my grandmother Chana Pappenheim nee Goldshmidt a”h sent the four older children, my mother, her two sisters, and my uncle, Rav Shlomo Pappenheim on a kindertransport to London, where they spent the war years in a non-orthodox institution. Meanwhile, together with the two youngest children, she managed to escape to Eretz Yisrael.
My grandfather survived the war. My grandmother first heard about it when another survivor told her about a very special Jew in Dachau who put aside part of his bread each day so that he would have lechem mishneh on Shabbos, and then commented that a Jew that has such mesirus nefesh for a mitzvah could only be a Pappenheim, and that therefore he must be her husband. The war left Rav Gavriel weak and sick and he died a few years later.
“My maternal grandparents were not satisfied with the girls’ chinuch in Eretz Yisrael, so they arranged private tutors for my mother and her sisters. One of these tutors was Rebbetzin Yaakovson, who had taught the survivors in Sweden. Eventually my grandmother, together with another askan, opened Jerusalem’s Bnos Yerushalayim.
“My maternal grandmother was involved in so many things, helped so many people, and established so many institutions that she literally changed the face of Yerushalayim. Someone once asked her if she enjoyed doing these things. She responded, “I enjoy doing what needs to be done. So if something needs to be done, I will make sure to like it.” She was an incredible woman, with lofty ideals, yet practical and down to earth.
My parents were very particular about our chinuch. Everything was al pi taharas hakodesh, with the strictest levels of kedusha. But at the same time we were encouraged to expand our horizons, to learn about the world around us. Years later, I did the same thing when I was the mashgiach ruchani in Chinuch Yerushalayim, a girls’ school affiliated with the Eidah Chareidis. So, for example, before I took the girls to visit a small museum about the Jews of Yemen, I first arranged with the administration that they remove those displays not appropriate for our girls, that we have the museum to ourselves, and that our teachers guide the girls.
“Growing up, I was very, very close with my grandfather, the Turda Rav. In those days people had very little material things – I had two dresses – and there were no telephones or technology to distract us. Since there was really nothing to do in Yerushalayim, we stayed home and spent a lot of time talking about Yiddishkeit. My grandfather loved to tell me stories about mesirus nefesh, and a Jew’s tafkid in this world. I attribute this time I spent with him, together with the chinuch I received in my parents’ home, to my present kochos hanefesh.
“After my chasunah, I worked at Bayis Lepletos. One day a woman walked in with what appeared to be an infant, but in reality was a three year old child, and told us that she wanted to place her in our Home. The child, Toby, had spent the first one and a half years of her life in the hospital, without any stimulation or love. She was developmentally delayed, and so severely malnourished that her kidneys did not functioning properly and she was lacking teeth and hair! It was obvious to everyone that it would take a huge amount of time, and effort (and lots of love!) to get her to the level that she could enter Bayis Lepletos.
“I decided to take on this project. I assumed it would only be temporary, but it didn’t take long for Toby to become an integral part of my family. Both my husband and I invested a tremendous amount of time, effort and money into her care, and as a result I grew to love her and could not imagine living without her.
“Although Toby continued to have many challenges – she has borderline intelligence, and does things very slowly – she attended a regular school (in those days special education for chareidim did not exist in Israel) and was part of the crowd. And then the miracle happened. After twelve years of marriage, when Toby was twelve years old, Hashem blessed us with a son.
“Toby married at age twenty-nine. It was obvious that the young couple would need a constant support and supervision, which we are able to provide. Despite their limitations, they are very happy and living a normal life. They have three children, all boys, and all with special needs. My husband and I are raising them, with my daughter’s help.
“The two oldest boys had severe communication problems and did not speak a word until after they were five years old. In addition to communication problems, the oldest is also developmentally delayed. But although the two boys appeared to be lacking intelligence, the experts diagnosed the oldest as having normal intelligence, while the youngest is a genius.
“When the two older boys were eight and six, we wanted them to have a cheder education, but no cheder would accept them. Even the special education schools would not accept them; they told us they were severely retarded and that it would be a waste of time to try to teach them! So I realized that I had no choice but to open a special cheder for intelligent children with developmental delays and learning disabilities. The truth is that Hashem had been preparing me for this tafkid. During the forty years that I was the mashgiach ruchani at Chinuch Yerushalayim Girls’ School to be able to help those girls with serious challenges I studied child psychology, special education and didactic testing privately with some of the top professionals in the field.
“People told me I had no idea what I was doing. After all, I don’t have a formal degree, nor am I an official non-profit organization with worldwide connections. But my parents had instilled in me that if I see something that needs to be done, I should do it.
Before acting on my decision, I brought the two older children to Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlita for a bracha and eitzah. Rav Shechter was adamant that I do not place the children in any of the suggested frameworks. He told me that the younger boy will become a gadol b’Yisrael, and that I must do everything in my power to provide him with the proper chinuch al pi taharas hakodesh. He also told me that if I open a cheder for children like my grandsons, it will be a success and a yeshua for Klal Yisrael.
“Tzon Yaakov Cheder opened its doors ten days later with a total of two students: my grandsons. Within three months, these two “severely retarded boys" were reading beautifully, and ready to start learning Chumash. As more children joined the cheder, we divided the children into two classes.
“The following year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, I brought the Tzon Yaakov students to Rav Shechter for a bracha. Since the Rav does not see women during the month of Tishrei, I waited outside while the boys went in with their Rebbe. But Rav Shechter requested that I be asked to join them. As I entered, he said, “Ashreichem, ashreichem, scharchem l’olam haba ein l’sha’er.”
“Today, three years later, Tzon Yaakov is thriving, and several of our boys have graduated to a regular, mainstream cheder. All of these children were children that no one wanted; children that were considered “uneducable.”
“Shortly after opening Tzon Yaakov, I realized that the students needed to learn how to interact with more “normal” children. In addition, many children in the Eidah Chareidis community were in need of therapy or educational enrichment, but there were no options available al pi taharas hakodesh. So I opened an afternoon program for cheder boys with learning disabilities. The kids eat a hot lunch, have supervised play, and then work privately with special education specialists, paramedical professionals, and a kriyah rebbe. Once a week, all twenty four children pile into a minivan to travel to farm near Petach Tikva for therapeutic horseback riding!
“I’m presently working on establishing a special kindergarten for my youngest grandson, who is five years old. He has low muscle tone, and as a result is unable to walk and has great difficulty eating. It’s a tremendous amount of work to get it started, but since there’s a real need for it, I am sure that with Hashem’s help, it will succeed.
Binah: When do you sleep?
“Sleep? Older people don’t need much sleep! I usually finish everything after midnight, and then I get up before five am to clean the cheder and wash the floors. After that, I get my grandchildren ready for school. It takes me over an hour just to give my youngest grandson his breakfast, which is finely ground and fed through a bottle! While the youngest sleeps, I cook lunch for my family, as well as the children in the afternoon program. Afternoons and most evenings are devoted to private clients.
“Many children with developmental delays are really intelligent, but lack the ability to express themselves. They understand that they are different and need lots of encouragement. Children, all children, have so much within themselves, so much potential. It is our responsibility to believe in them and do everything in our power to enable them to reach it. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”