“She was a woman of valor – a woman of yesteryear. Mrs. Brunhilde Dreyfuss made sure that beds in Kew Gardens Hills were tahor and kadosh for future generations.” Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, spoke at the l’vayah of Mrs. Dreyfuss, 96, who was the mikvah lady for the Kew Gardens Hills Mikvah for 35-plus years. “She made every woman who came to the mikvah feel like a bas melech. She made them feel important. She made sure that every kallah or convert had a positive mikvah experience,” he said.
“The mikvah was her baby,” Rabbi Steinberg related. She never complained if people came late or interrupted her Friday night dinner. She did everything with a smile, and nothing was too difficult for her. “It was a kavod to work with her all these years.” He noted how appropriate it was to hold the l’vayah at the Young Israel of Queens Valley, which was the location of all the meetings for the mikvah.
When the mikvah was first built, a Rebbe came to inspect, and he wanted to meet the mikvah lady. Mrs. Dreyfuss was apprehensive that he wanted to test her.
The Rebbe told her, “Remember one thing. Never let a woman leave this place without going to the mikvah.”
Rabbi Steinberg said, “She kept that all the years.” Rabbi Steinberg shared how she and her husband contributed to make this a vibrant Jewish community.
Mrs. Dreyfuss was born in Gudensberg, Germany, in 1926; her family left in 1935, when she was nine years old. She shared that the Nazis almost killed her father one night when they came to her house and beat him. All Jewish schools were closed. She recalled an arduous trip by train to France and then a small boat ride across the English Channel to Southhampton, England. After that, they traveled in a large boat to New York. It wasn’t an easy transition coming to a new country and not knowing English. Her family lived with an aunt and uncle in the Bronx.
After she married, she and her husband lived in Norma, New Jersey, a tiny town where her husband was the shochet and she became the mikvah lady there.
They eventually came to Kew Gardens Hills, and she helped her husband with his S&B Poultry business. Rabbi Steinberg offered the job of running the mikvah to Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss and they ran it together. Rabbi Steinberg wanted ehrliche people with high standards. Her husband ran the men’s mikvah until he was niftar.
The Kew Gardens Hills Mikvah opened in 1979; Mrs. Dreyfuss continued to work as mikvah lady until 2014, at the age of 88. It was hard for her to give it up. Even after she stopped working, they still called her with sh’eilos.
Her son-in-law, Rav Yitzchak Charner, Headmaster of the Torah School of Greater Washington, pointed out that she exemplified two midos: z’hirus, doing something with care, and z’rizus, doing it with alacrity and right away. She applied the proper balance to these two midos. “To her, everything was a facet of Hashem. When she saw a need, she thought about it, and did what needed to be done as quickly as possible.” She anticipated the needs of others. He experienced this personally. He also saw how she attended to the mikvah and took care of every detail. When she was away, she would call to make sure everything was done properly.
Rabbanim would ask her for her analysis of situations. He noted that there are countless stories of women who were not sure they wanted to be at the mikvah and who left with an elevating experience. Mothers wanted their daughters and granddaughters to experience her love and care at the mikvah. He shared that his mother-in-law and father-in-law were people of the klal. They were there to help others.
Rabbi Menachem Dreyfuss, one of her two sons, shared that she davened three times a day and sat for hours saying T’hilim and was meticulous in observance of halachah.
Her grandsons spoke and shared what a special z’chus it was for their children to get to know her. It was moving to hear the love and connection she had to her grandsons and her granddaughters and great-grandchildren.
She was niftar on Thursday, January 5. She is survived by three children – Rabbi Hershey Dreyfuss, Mrs. Rochel Charner, and Rabbi Menachem Dreyfuss – and many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. The family and our community should be comforted with the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim, and we should be inspired by her to carry on her regal legacy of avodas Hashem and dedication to klal Yisrael.
By Susie Garber