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20 Tammuz 5765 - July 27, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Rebbetzin Raizel Portugal of Skulen, o"h

by Betzalel Kahn

Rebbetzin Raizel Portugal, o"h, the wife of the Admor of Skulen ylct"a, passed away in New York at the age of 80 on 7 Tammuz. With her passing US Jews lost an eishes chayil and tzadekes whose entire life was one constant stream of mesirus nefesh for kodshei Shomayim and Jews, both in communist Romania and later in the US.

The Rebbetzin was born on the 17th of Teves 5686 (1926) to HaRav Menachem Zeev (Wolf) Stern, the rov of Vishva, Romania. Before the Holocaust her father served as the rov of Lubash, Hungary. When the war broke out the family moved to the Romanian side of the border where the deportations had not begun, and thus their lives were spared. After the war her father served as the rov of Vishva and the outlying areas.

At the age of 24 she married the Admor of Skulen, the only son of the previous admor, HaRav Eliezer Zussia Portugal of Skulen, the author of Noam Eliezer and Kedushas Eliezer, and later the founder of the Chessed LeAvrohom institutions in Eretz Yisroel. Her parents moved to Eretz Yisroel that same year, while she moved to Bucharest with her husband, where they lived near her in-laws.

Her husband was known as an exceptional oved Hashem since his childhood. Their home became a center for physical and spiritual rescue of Jews after the fall of the Nazis and under the Communist rule in Romania, particularly orphans. The government authorities viewed his spiritual work as a challenge to Communism and accused him of trying to supplant the state as the orphans' guardian in order to send them to Eretz Yisroel. The Admor was jailed, but through chasdei Hashem the authorities were forced to release him. Despite the danger, the Admor remained in Romania until 5720 (1960). He was loathe to leave the country until the last of his "children" had reached safety.

During this period the well-being of all of Romanian Jewry was hanging by a thread. His father-in-law's home was the only address for all matters of holiness and Jews would come calling day and night. The Rebbetzin played an active role in supporting her father-in-law's activities, particularly by serving as a translator when he had to appear before the authorities and when he spoke before Jews who knew only Romanian. She was a spiritual lighthouse for the brokenhearted. Whenever a Jew came to her for assistance she would demand as her payment chizuk on his part in keeping Shabbos, family purity or educating children for Torah.

Not waiting for people to come to him during his ten years in Romania, he scoured the length and breadth of Romania and Moldavia in search of Jews to strengthen in Yiddishkeit. The Rebbetzin o"h would accompany him and she was often sent to strengthen emunoh in various capacities and would fulfill her task faithfully. In Romania she worked with her father-in-law zt"l on efforts to redeem Jewish captives, although appearing before the Communist authorities was fraught with danger.

In the winter of 5719 (1959) she was scheduled to move to Eretz Yisroel with her husband but the authorities took them off the ship and threw them in prison. She went hungry because she did not want to touch the non-kosher food. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5719 (1959) the Admor, zt"l was imprisoned with his son, the Admor ylct"a. They were put in a notorious prison together with dangerous criminals, isolated from one another, so that they would not conspire together. The charges: smuggling children to Eretz Yisroel and spying for the US and Israel. She remained at home with her mother-in-law and small children, suffering for an entire year. On Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5720 (1960) the Admor zt"l and his son, the Admor ylct"a, were released and the family left Romanian soil.

In the US, the Admor's court knew no rest. He did not set up institutions for his Chassidim but worked for the spiritual rescue of yaldei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel by founding the Chessed LeAvrohom institutions. This was the essence of his life: totally giving over his life in order to extract good out of evil.

In the US they lived at first with her father-in-law. Fifteen years before his histalkus his father instructed him to open a beis medrash in Boro Park. Almost every other Shabbos her husband would travel far and wide for the sake of Chessed LeAvrohom institutions and she was largely responsible for making all the necessary arrangements.

Her spiritual work increased following the histalkus of her father-in-law over 20 years ago, when the mantle of leadership was placed on her husband. She headed the Chessed LeAvrohom Ladies' Auxiliary and organized events for women, where she would deepen emunoh and bitochon. She would invest great efforts into fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnosas kallah, spending weeks on end helping to build new Jewish families.

Seven years ago her health began to decline but she refused to give up any of her spiritual endeavors. She spent the last three weeks of her life in the hospital while Jews around the world prayed for her recovery.

The levaya set out from Boro Park on 7 Tammuz at 6:00 p.m. and she was buried in Monsey in her father-in-law's plot. She left behind a generation of rabbonim: HaRav Yeshayohu Yaakov, the rov of Beis Medrash Me'or HaGola in Montreal; HaRav Meir; HaRav Ephraim Chaim Yehuda, the rov of the Skulen beis medrash in Monsey; HaRav Tzvi Noach, a marbitz Torah in his father's beis medrash; and HaRav Shmuel Mordechai, a prominent marbitz Torah veyiroh in Boro Park.

Her sons-in-law are HaRav Chaim Dov Stern, a rov and rosh kollel of Kollel Chessed LeAvrohom in Bnei Brak; HaRav Shimon Yoel Weinberger, a dayan and moreh tzedek for Skulen Chassidim in Williamsburg; and HaRav Dovid Leib Klughoft, the rov of the Strelisk beis medrash in Boro Park.

Rebbetzin Raizel Portugal of Skulen, o"h, is also survived by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


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