Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Shevat 5764 - February 18, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Rabbanit Shulamis Alpha, o"h
by A. Cohen

A large crowd of bnei Torah, roshei yeshivos, dayanim and rabbonim led by the rabbonim from the family of the Rav of Kosova, accompanied Rebbetzin Shulamis Alpha o"h, the wife of HaRav Eliezer Alpha zt"l one of the most prominent survivors of Novardok and one of the rabbonim of the city of Haifa, on her last earthly journey after passing away at the age of 98 on 9 Kislev, almost three months ago.

Rebbetzin Alpha was born in Adar 5666 (1906) to HaRav Meir Karelitz, the Gavad of Lanovitz and the Chazon Ish's eldest brother, and Rebbetzin Miriam Leah, the daughter of the head of Vilna's rabbonim, HaRav Shlomo HaKohen the author of Cheishek Shlomo, her namesake who passed away 30 days before her birth. Her father replaced the late baal HaCheishek Shlomo as a member of the Vilna Rabbinical Committee and, as the right-hand man of the Chofetz Chaim and HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt"l, the girl grew up in the shadow of gedolei hador who came to visit "the Jerusalem of Lithuania"--the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Chaim of Brisk, HaRav Meir Simchah of Dvinsk, HaRav Grodzensky and others. Rebbetzin Alpha would often recall various occasions when her father or her uncle the Chazon Ish sent her on important errands to HaRav Grodzensky, and throughout her lifetime the image of these Torah greats never faded from her memory.

During this period, her father set up in his own home a large home for orphans, named after the Vilna Gaon, and the young Shulamis cared for the lonely orphans devotedly. Her relatives from the Steipler's family and from HaRav S. Greineman's family also stayed in their home for an extended period and she gladly helped tend to the young children.

In 5690 (1930) Shulamis married HaRav Eliezer Alpha Potashnik, one of Novardok's Torah greats. The match was made during the time of the Steipler's wedding and Sheva Brochos when R' Eliezer, who had been the Steipler's chavrusa in yeshiva, came to take part in the joyous occasion. The Steipler proposed to his brother-in-law HaRav Meir Karelitz that he choose R' Eliezer Alpha as the groom for his eldest daughter. After the week of Sheva Brochos, as R' Eliezer prepared to return to yeshiva in Bialystok, the Chazon Ish called him into his chambers, assessed him, and immediately went to notify his brother Rav Meir that this was the right boy for his eldest daughter Shulamis.

Many gedolei hador participated in the wedding, held at Vaad Hayeshivos, and HaRav Grodzensky was given the honor of being mesader kiddushin.

After living for several years in the city of Gorelitz, Ukraine, where her husband served as rosh yeshivas Novardok, HaRav Hillel Witkind sent them a certificate authorizing them to move to Eretz Yisroel where a position for a ram at Yeshivas Beis Yosef in Tel Aviv was waiting for her husband. In 5695 (1935) they arrived.

Upon their arrival they stayed in the home of her uncle the Chazon Ish, who had moved to Eretz Yisroel two years earlier in Tammuz 5693 (1933). During this period the Steipler and his family, who had arrived in Nisan 5694 (1934), were also sharing the small, one-and-a-half-room apartment.

Rebbetzin Alpha would often recall this period with nostalgia, describing the nights when the men would sit in the hallway, her husband learning with the Steipler on one side of the table and the Chazon Ish learning on the opposite side.

Afterwards they settled in Haifa, arriving empty-handed and having to spend some of their first days sleeping outdoors. Nevertheless she stood by her husband devotedly as he went about setting up a yeshiva in the city together with his close friend, HaRav Meir Segel.

During the years of their residence in the port city of Haifa which all immigrants passed through upon entry, numerous guests stayed in their home. Whenever the Rebbetzin heard a boat was arriving with chareidi Jews on board she would go down to the docks and invite them to her home, particularly on Fridays to host them on Shabbos Kodesh, serving them with warmth and cordiality, and providing their every need.

During her recent illness, as she lay in a state of semi- consciousness in a hospital bed, she refused to eat until her granddaughter assured her the food was kosher lemehadrin, explaining that she must be particularly careful about what went into her mouth since the Brisker Rov ate in her home for an entire Shabbos, relying on the kashrus in her kitchen.

In Haifa her elevated level of ruchniyus was fully revealed as she stood by her husband for over 50 years of harbotzas Torah, kiruv and upholding Yiddishkeit. Their home was a center for Haifa's entire chareidi community.

To all of her acquaintances Rebbetzin Alpha was known as a woman of loftiness and regality, bestowed with superlative tznius and extraordinary middos. Although she could suffice with minimal material comforts (for years she hung clothes up on a line tied from one wall to the next rather than buying a wardrobe), she showed great concern over other people's subsistence. For many years she would pay visits to sick people lying in the hospital, striving to revive the spirits of Jews in distress. Every day she would make calls to people in need of a good word, spilling out warmth and kindness over the phone line. She also took in orphans and others in need of a warm and caring home, raising them like her own children and even arranging their simchas as if for her own children.

Fourteen years ago, in Shevat 5650, she lost her husband and moved to Bnei Brak to be near her growing family, bearing her pain quietly and remaining strong in her simple faith. She continued to stand firm when faced with the tragic passing of her son-in-law, HaRav Reuven Fine, providing strength and encouragement to her entire family, with faith and an acceptance of the Divine Judgment with love.

Her tefillos were remarkable and many Jews would come to her home to receive brochos and seek her advice on various matters. Until close to the time of her passing she had a surprisingly clear mind and continued to receive visitors with her usual graciousness. Recently her condition declined and early Thursday morning she returned her pure soul to her Maker.

At her levaya, which set out from her son's home, hespedim were delivered by HaRav Nissim Karelitz, Gavad Ramat Aharon, who burst into tears as he spoke; HaRav Menachem Tzvi Berlin, rosh yeshivas Rabbenu Chaim Ozer; her grandson HaRav Moshe Alpha, a ram at Yeshivas Shaarei Yosher; and her grandson HaRav Shabsai Fine, a ram at Yeshivas Tiferes HaTalmud.

When the procession reached Yeshivas Beis Meir, named after her father, her nephew the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Tzvi Rotberg, eulogized her. She was buried before sunset at the Zichron Meir cemetery alongside her great husband, her father, her uncle the Chazon Ish and the Steipler zt"l.

Rebbetzin Shulamis Alpha o"h, is survived by her sister, Rebbetzin Soroh Rotberg; her sons HaRav Shlomo, HaRav Shmaryohu Yosef, HaRav Chaim Ozer and HaRav Yaakov Moshe; her daughter Rebbetzin Yehudis, the widow of HaRav Reuven Fine, rosh yeshivas Torah Vodaas; grandchildren, great- grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren bitterly mourning the loss of a tzadekes from a bygone generation.


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