Growing up as a little girl in the New York City Housing complex called Pomonok, I viewed Saturday as a day for fun and visiting relatives. The highlight often was going to eat at a Chinese restaurant where we met many of the Jewish families who were our neighbors. I couldn’t imagine that much of what I and our family were doing conflicted with Halachah, the laws that guided Jewish observance. My family was a typical post-World War II Jewish family. My father and his three brothers worked on Saturday so that they could provide their families with clothing, shelter, and food. My mother kept a kosher home but some among her five sisters did not; this did not stop the family from staying close together and eating over on a regular basis. Looking back, I wonder how my Grandma, Grandma Chena Basansky, accepted this; but to her – despite saying T’hilim throughout the day and strictly observing Shabbos and the laws of kashrus – family unity was paramount.
My Jewish life was to change radically when the time came for my older brother to be bar mitzvah. When I was about seven in 1954 or 1955, my brother began going to Talmud Torah at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. I insisted that I also learn in the Talmud Torah. My parents felt that this was an extravagance, but after talking to the young Rabbi Schonfeld, they were told, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Serle. You can pay whatever you can afford. I want your children to get a Jewish education.” My mother immediately became a Rabbi Schonfeld booster, spreading the word to the Jewish neighbors that the Young Israel rabbi really cared and “was also very handsome.”
So began a relationship between my family and the Schonfeld family that lasted nearly 70 years. Rabbi Schonfeld taught my brothers Ron and Yaakov, and me, in the Talmud Torah. He officiated at my wedding and my brother Yaakov’s wedding, and attended many lifetime events including bar mitzvahs, brisim, and unfortunately l’vayos. My mother went to shul often, especially in her later years, and Rabbi Schonfeld always made sure to greet her. My father became a regular at the Shabbos morning Hashkamah minyan; he loved the kiddush. Most touching to me was the fact that when my mother was niftar in 2015, Rabbi Schonfeld, unable to attend because of some physical challenges, was maspid my Mom over the telephone. The attendees in the funeral home were transfixed and moved not only by Rabbi Schonfeld’s words but even more by the emotion in his voice as he spoke.
Today, I am strictly shomer Shabbos, and I have three daughters and a son, all of whom have shomer Shabbos homes and send their children to yeshivos and Jewish day schools. My three daughters made aliyah and blessed us with many grandchildren who are growing up in Israel under the light of the Torah. My younger brother Yaakov and his wife Atara live in KGH and have six married children, each of whom has a yeshivish home filled with the light of Yiddishkeit. This light in no small part was kindled by Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld and his empathetic accepting personality that knew that there is a spark in all of us that is just waiting to be lit. May his memory be a brachah for his family and for klal Yisrael.
sister of Yaakov Serle