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Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel z”l

Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel, engagement photograph, Jerusalem, 1947

Yehezkel and Sarah  Lemel merited to live long, happy, and enriching lives, filled with Torah and good deeds, which extended over a very important period in the history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel: from the first years of the British Mandate until the State of Israel’s sixty-eighth year. For most of these years, they lived in the Holy Land, but they also lived in the United States for thirty-six years. In every year of their lives, and in every place they came to, they were a good influence on the men, women, and children (especially the children) in their environment, and inspired them with the spirit they themselves had – a spirit of love of Hashem, love of Torah, love of every Jew for his own sake, and love of the Land of Israel.

 

Yehezkel Lemel was born in Jerusalem on the 23rd of Elul, 5682 (1922). On the side of his mother, Shosha Yocheved, née Hartman, he was a seventh-generation Yerushalmi. His father, Asher Lemel (originally Rozenbaum) immigrated to the Land of Israel from Stolin, Russia, after he was orphaned. He became a ben-bayit of Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, ztz”l, and when he grew older, he became a collector of tzedaka funds in the diaspora for the Torah scholars of Jerusalem and its poor. He was one of the founders of the Chayyai Olam yeshiva. Yehezkel was brought into the covenant of Avraham Avinu on Rosh Hashanah; his mohel was Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, ztz”l, and Rav Kook was honored with being sandek. A few days later, Yehezkel slept in a sukka for the first time, as his father was so deeply attached to this first son of his that he felt he could not properly perform the mitzva of sukka if he was separated from him. This closeness between them lasted throughout the few years that they lived together.

 

Yehezkel (2nd from right) with his family, shortly before his father’s passing

Yehezkel was only six years old when his father passed away. He had three older sisters and three younger brothers, and the task of providing for all the children was beyond his widowed mother’s ability to handle. Therefore, he and his brothers were given into the care of the Diskin Orphanage, where they grew up. Life in the orphanage was difficult, but Yehezkel clung to the love of Torah and yirat shama’im that he had acquired in his parents’ home, and was able to leave just as he had entered: a faithful Jew who keeps Torah and mitzvot.

 

When he was grown, Yehezkel moved from the orphanage to the neighborhood of Battei Wittenberg. He was a handsome young man, blessed with skilled hands, a fine mind, and a sense of humor. During these years he tried his hand at various professions: bicycle mechanic, diamond polisher, mail carrier and others. During his free time, he persevered in his Torah studies, while also discovering a love of music. He joined a choir and became an aficionado of Hazzanut. In the waning days of the Mandate, he joined the Irgun Tzva’i Leumi, or Etzel, headed by Menachem Begin (of whom he became a great admirer), and took up a rifle in defense of the Jewish yishuv. After the establishment of the State of Israel, he also served in the IDF. Throughout his life, and despite all the hardships he faced, Yehezkel always had a happy, optimistic outlook, and a boundless trust in the Ribbono Shel Olam. He saw the role of hashgaha pratit in every situation, and loved to point out how Hakadosh Barukh Hu, using indirect methods and his own unseen influence, moves the world forward toward the goals he has set for it.

 

Sarah Lemel, née Rubin, was born on the 28th of Kislev, 5684 (1923), the fourth night of Hanukkah, in New York, NY in the USA. Her parents, Yom Tov and Charna Rivka Rubin, had fled Russia at the time of her war with Japan. They reached the United States, and settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sarah was the youngest of eight children in the family. Just a few months after she was born, her mother made a very courageous decision: to leave the United States with her children and her aged mother, and go to the Land of Israel, in order to save her children from the plague of assimilation and abandonment of observance which had overcome all her surroundings.  The couple agreed between them that her husband would remain, temporarily, in the United States until he could sell his business, and in the meantime would send the family a sum of money each month. However, in the depression years that followed, his business went bankrupt, and he lost all that he had. He was only able to be reunited with his family in the Land of Israel when Sarah was eighteen years old. Charna Rivka’s courage and self-sacrifice, her willingness to give up everything so that her children would have a chance to grow up as Torah-observant Jews with yirat shama’im, left an indelible impression on all her descendants.

 

Sarah (center) with her mother and grandmother, around the time they arrived in Israel

Sarah’s family settled in the Beit Yisrael-Sheikh Jarrah area, not far from the grave of the tanna Shimon Hatzadik. In those days, this area was at the edge of the city, and it was not rare for Sarah to have to get up in the middle of the night and flee, with the rest of her family, to a different location, to escape the armed Arab marauders who would try to invade the Jews’ neighborhood. Sarah studied at the Evelina de Rothschild school through eighth grade. She enjoyed her studies very much, and developed a love of reading and learning that she would retain throughout her life. However, it was necessary for her to leave school, in order to help support the family. She learned how to be a seamstress, and became so successful at it that even the wives of diplomats and British officers would order their ball gowns from her.

 

Yehezkel’s sister and Sarah’s sister were next-door neighbors in the Makor Baruch neighborhood, and they made the match between them. Yehezkel and Sarah saw at once how well-suited they were for each other, and after a short while, they became engaged. Their wedding took place on the 22nd of Elul, 5707 (1947), one day before the hatan’s twenty-fifth birthday. After the wedding, they lived in a “key money” (rent-controlled) apartment in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe or, as it was known in those days, “Montifiore”. But most unfortunately, the apartment was wrecked by a flood, which destroyed all their belongings. Having no other choice, the couple went to live with Sarah’s older sister – two growing families in one small apartment – and there they had a daughter and a son. These were the years of “austerity” after the establishment of the State, when there was widespread unemployment, and an Etzel veteran, like Yehezkel, could expect no help from institutions such as the Histadrut labor federation, which were under the control of their political adversaries in Mapai (as the Labour Party was known at the time).

 

Family members who lived in the United States urged Yehezkel and Sarah to move there, so that they could make a living, and even sent them steamship tickets. After much hesitation, they decided to go to the U.S. for a limited period of five years, to get better established financially. But as it happened, it wasn’t until thirty-six years later that Yehezkel and Sarah were able to move back and live permanently in Israel once again. In spite of the fact that they always yearned to go back, they lived happy and fruitful lives in the United States, and were involved in the life of the local community wherever they lived.

 

During their first years in the U.S., Yehezkel worked hard by day and studied hard by night. He earned a diploma, then decided to enter the field of education, which proved to be his true calling in life. In 5718 (1958), Yehezkel graduated with honors from the Hertzliya Teacher’s College in New York, receiving the degree Mechanaikh u’Moreh Ivri (Hebrew Instructor and Educator). He especially loved the Hebrew language, a love which stayed with him all his life, and he acquired an uncommon level of expertise in Hebrew grammar, to the point where, even when he was elderly and weak, he could say with confidence, “Ask me any question in Hebrew grammar, and I will answer you.”

 

After completing his degree, Yehezkel acquired a position as a teacher of limudei kodesh at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, or HALB, also known in Hebrew as Yeshivat Lev, in Long Beach, NY, and for the next thirty years, “Rabbi Lemel”, as he was known to his students and colleagues, taught there. He primarily taught first grade, but over the course of his career successfully taught every grade up to eighth. During his later years in Long Beach, he developed an unusual talent for helping “problem” children, who were supposed to be “incapable of learning anything” of limudei kodesh, due to learning disabilities or other problems that they had. Many years later, when his children were sitting shiva for him, they received a number of condolence visits from former pupils, who said frankly, “If it weren’t for the help that I got from your father, I probably wouldn’t be frum today, because he’s the only one who was able to teach me how to read and understand the Siddur and Chumash.”

 

Sarah, too, after her youngest child turned ten, went into education, working also in HALB as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant. Her ability to form a positive relationship with the children, and to bring an entire classroom to order and silence without raising her voice, seemed to the teaching staff to be almost miraculous. Both the children and the other teachers loved and respected her. Yehezkel and Sarah recognized the value of working as a team, and often would exchange with one another information and impressions they had about a particular pupil, in order to help him advance.

 

Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel at their daughter’s wedding, Long Beach, NY, 1974

Yehezkel and Sarah were also pillars of the community in the synagogue they belonged to, Young Israel of Long Beach. Yehezkel formed friendships with several of the other members, which he maintained for the rest of his life. He worked a great deal for the community behind the scenes, for example in arranging that on Shabbat there should be a communal kiddush and a shared seuda shlishit. On the High Holidays, he served as the hazzan for the local old age home. He also merited to serve as the driver of Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztz”l, during the one or two summers he spent in Long Beach, and he always treasured having had this opportunity to serve a renowned talmid chakham v’tzadik, and to receive his blessings. He engaged in collecting and distributing tzedaka, a responsibility he felt he had inherited from his father. He was careful, whenever possible, to involve his children and grandchildren in his communal work, to teach them how great is the mitzvah of providing for the needs of the community. And in all his endeavors, Sarah was his ezer k’negdo and full partner. She was known as an outstanding akeret-habayit who loved her husband and children, warmly welcomed guests, kept her house scrupulously clean, and was a superb cook. She kept close touch with her extended family, especially her sisters, but also opened her home to all sorts of guests, including children who were “off the derekh”.

 

Yehezkel and Sarah loved the Jewish people, wherever in the world they might be, and every Jew, however he or she might be. But they had a special love for Israel – the land, the people, and their language – and never gave up their goal of returning there. In 5749 (1989), they were at last able to realize their dream, when they moved to the neighborhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem, near their daughters who had previously made aliya. Other people might have thought this a good time to start taking life easier, but Yehezkel and Sarah were “anshei ma’aseh”, active people who hated to be idle, and continued doing pretty much the same things they had done while abroad. Yehezkel began working in a new school which had just then opened. His thirty years of experience teaching limudei kodesh in the diaspora had equipped him with a large store of wisdom, understanding, and pedagogic expertise, which he readily shared with his new colleagues, helping them to solve problems and get the new institution through its birth pangs successfully. He also took private students, some of whom were the children of his own former students from Long Beach, and continued to be involved with distributing tzedaka. He was also active in the Neve Nof synagogue, was a regular participant in its Daf Yomi chabura, and was one of the founders of its early minyan on Shabbat. In his last years, when walking was very difficult for him, he davened mainly in the building he lived in, in a minyan run by the talmidim of Rav Chaim Kreiswirth, ztz”l.

 

Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel at their granddaughter’s wedding, Jerusalem, 2008

Sarah did not continue working in education, but she maintained in Jerusalem a warm and well-run home, just as she had done in the United States, and was of great help to her daughters. To give just one example, among many that could be brought: Every Erev Shabbat, week in, week out, for over twenty years, she provided them with a first course and a soup for their Shabbat meals. Her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren (bli eyin hara) knew that her home was a safe haven, where they could always find a home-cooked meal and a sympathetic ear. She always wanted to do whatever she could for others, and especially for children. Her neighbors’ children loved to visit her on Shabbat evenings, and she welcomed them as her “adopted grandchildren.”

 

More than anything else, Yehezkel and Sarah treasured and cherished their love for one another and the shalom bayit they always maintained, which was founded on good communication and putting the other person’s needs first. During the last years of their lives, when they both suffered from serious health problems, the doctors and nurses who saw them were much moved by the caring and mutual assistance they gave to one another. Only at the very end of their days did their severe illnesses finally separate them from each other and from the home they had made together. Sarah departed this world on the 6th of Iyyar, 5775 (2015), and Yehezkel, who had become so weak that he could no longer remain at home, was forced to move into an old age home. The challenge of remaining, in spite of all that had happened, the same man he had always been – cheerful, optimistic, and full of bitachon – was the hardest he could have faced, but in the end he succeeded, and was able to accept his afflictions with understanding. On the 2nd of Shevat, 5776 (2016) he departed this world. May his memory and her memory be a blessing for their descendants, for their extended family, and for all Beit Israel.

 

 

Torah learning on WebYeshiva.org in Spring Semester 2017 is dedicated in the memory of Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel z”l by their loving family.     יחזקאל בן אשר למל ושאשא יוכבד ז”ל ושרה מניה פייגע בת יום טוב וטשארנה רבקה ז”ל
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