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Golden Hearts in the City of Gold

Leah Gebber

As her stories circle and spiral and weave a web of history and destiny, there is one constant — the fundamental value to which Rebbetzin Avigayil Ravitz and her husband, Rav Avraham Ravitz ztz”l, dedicated their lives: making a kiddush Hashem.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"When my mother’s family disembarked on Ellis Island, her brothers shielded their eyes, so as not to see the treifeneh medinah,” Rebbetzin Ravitz begins her tale. She leans back in her chair in the spacious but spare room that was once her husband’s office. Behind her are large tomes, bound and rebound. A large wooden desk is home to a sophisticated telephone system, which rings often as children and grandchildren update the Rebbetzin with the latest events in their lives. “My grandfather sat and learned, while my grandmother opened a fleishig restaurant.” Confronted with ignorance — and apathy — the Fellers fought to import a vibrant Torah life to the squalor of the tenements. They were instrumental in establishing the Shlomo Kluger Yeshivah, imported esrogim, and checked on the matzah bakery. And yet, the familiar tragic erosion of values still played out. Rebbetzin Ravitz’s mother was the only one of her siblings whose children clung to Yiddishkeit. “I often wonder what made her different,” says Rebbetzin Ravitz. “A different neshamah, maybe.” Rebbetzin Ravitz’s parents, Aryeh Tzvi and Sara Leba Feller, moved to Eretz Yisrael, but the combination of heavy-handed British restrictions and Arab lawlessness drove them back to America. “Always, though, the dream was to come to Eretz Yisrael.” Rebbetzin Ravitz smiles as she remembers her parents’ excitement at any product exported from Eretz Yisrael. “There was a falafel mix — Chee Chee falafel mix — and we had to eat the falafel balls with relish and tell my mother how much we enjoyed them. One day, my mother found a sweater that came from Eretz Yisrael. She was so excited. ‘Look!’ she told us. ‘Now they’re manufacturing sweaters in Eretz Yisrael.’ ” Every Seder’s conclusion saw an extended “L’shanah Haba’ah Birushalayim.” For a full 15 minutes, the family danced, sang, and wept in longing, “Shoin, shoin, shoin Yerushalayim habnuyah.” Rebbetzin Ravitz’s parents had such a deep love for Eretz Yisrael that they were thrilled when a 25-year-old bochur from there was suggested for their daughter. Reb Avraham, a Chevroner bochur and the son of Rav Aryeh Leib Ravitz, av beis din of Tel Aviv, was in the States to settle the details of running the P’eylim organization in Israel. (Under the auspices of the roshei yeshivos, P’eylim fought for the spiritual vitality of the yaldei Teiman, the children of Yemenite immigrants who, in one of the most ignoble acts of the Zionist leadership, were forcibly secularized.) “My husband was extremely charismatic. My mother joked that he even managed to persuade me to marry him!” The wedding took place in Lakewood on 2 Shevat, 1960. “It was a simple wedding, there were no flowers, no photographer.” Rebbetzin Ravitz shakes her head. “You know, wedding photography is such a big thing nowadays. And I see kallahs posing for the photographer before the chuppah and I think: It’s your personal Yom Kippur. Use your time to daven!”

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