For nearly a half century, Raizel Faskowitz fascinated the community with her memories of pre-war g’dolim who visited her family and imparted lessons of Torah and musar that she passed down to her numerous descendants. The last living link to the namesake of Yeshiva Madreigas HaAdam died on Sunday, December 9, and was buried in Jerusalem. “My mother was an extraordinary person. She was the last person alive who remembered dialogue with Rav Boruch Ber. They were alive in her eyes,” said Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Madreigas HaAdam. “She grew up in the loop of roshei yeshivah.”
Rebbetzin Faskowitz was born in Bialystok, where her father, Rav Avraham Yoffen, served as the rosh yeshivah of a local branch of the Novardok yeshivos. Her maternal grandfather was Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, the Alter of Novardok and author of the sefer Madreigas HaAdam. Both were leaders in the Musar Movement that emphasized lessons in moral conduct and discipline as part of one’s Torah study. “If you learn the musar and s’farim, then you can be proud of your ancestry,” Rabbi Faskowitz said. “It was a kind of extreme musar. Novardok felt that all of musar was futile unless you wage war against the soul. Once you know your flaw, break yourself down. Then rebuild yourself layer by layer. It was a scary musar.”
In her early years, the Yoffen family moved around the Bialystok, Grodno, and Pinsk regions, following her father from one community to another where he taught musar. Their home welcomed Torah thought leaders such as Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski. “She was shaking as she brought tea to the Rosh Yeshiva,” said Rabbi Faskowitz. “She had a strong perception of greatness.”
In 1939, the Soviets and the Germans divided Poland between themselves. Those who lived in eastern Poland were more fortunate, notwithstanding the anti-religious fervor of the Communists, from whom Rav Yoffen fled in 1921. Taking advice from the American Joint Distribution Committee, the family moved to Kovno, Lithuania, where Jewish refugees gathered and pressed against the gates of foreign consulates with the hope of securing exit visas.
In the United States, Orthodox Jewish activists succeeded in lobbying the Roosevelt administration to admit four roshei yeshivah and their families at a time when strict immigration quotas spelled doom for Europe’s trapped Jews. “It was a long trip to Moscow, then Vladivostok, and then Kobe, Japan, and finally to San Francisco,” said Rabbi Faskowitz. On the same set of trains and ships was Rav Chaim Boruch Faskowitz, who would later marry Raizel. But they did not yet know of this. From San Francisco, Chaim Boruch continued to Montreal where he learned at Mercaz HaTorah, followed by a stint as mara d’asra in Winnipeg.
The Yoffen family crossed the country and settled in Borough Park. In 1945, as world Jewry began to rebuild, Raizel Yoffen married Rav Chaim Boruch Faskowitz and they built their own bayis ne’eman. For nearly a decade, they lived in Rochester and then in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. They settled in Fresh Meadows, Queens, in 1969. “The yeshivah was her house and she was very independent,” said Rabbi Faskowitz. When the yeshivah expanded, she happily gave up her “makom kavua” for the talmidim of Madreigas HaAdam. She moved in with her married daughter Michele Treister a few blocks away.
Rebbetzin Faskowitz is also survived by her other daughters, Bryndie Tuchman and Miriam Solo. Her son, three daughters, 14 grandchildren, many more great-grandchildren, and talmidim of the Yeshiva, all recall her sharp memory in Torah and musar, as she asked how much they had learned, and shared the knowledge that she picked up in those pre-war years when leading roshei yeshivah deliberated with her father.
“She asked what blatt and sugya they were learning,” said Rabbi Faskowitz. There was no happiness if there was no learning.”
By Sergey Kadinsky