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Foundation of Her Home

Barbara Bensoussan

With the petirah last week of Rebbetzin Miriam Salomon, wife of Rav Mattisyahu, who ran a “chesed” factory, we lost a true eishes chayil

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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THE EISHES CHAYIL “She put in so much effort for others. She understood people; she could tune in to their situations and their challenges”

E very house has a foundation. Although invisible, it holds up the house, giving it the support it needs to stand strong. This is an apt analogy for the akeres habayis, the Jewish wife, and the tzniyus she strives to attain. An eishes chayil holds up her home, quietly, unobtrusively. Limited exposure doesn’t detract from the crucial nature of her role.

Rebbetzin Miriam Salomon a”h, who passed away on 5 Kislev, embodied this type of tzniyus. As the wife of Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha, you might expect to find her name and her words of wisdom everywhere across the media. But you’ll search to no avail — there’s nothing on record.

She wasn’t a speaker or school principal. She wasn’t a community activist. Nevertheless, as matriarch of a large family, the helpmate of a gadol, and the mother for an entire community, she held up the house of Klal Yisrael in her unassuming way.

Within the four walls of her home, she accomplished astonishing amounts of chesed, rising early in the morning and going to bed at impossible hours. In addition to her own ten children, she took in many other “children” over the years. She cared for all the Mashgiach’s needs, allowing him to devote himself full-time (more accurately, overtime) to the klal. “She looked and acted like one of us, but she was so much above us,” says Mrs. Esther Fried, a friend from Gateshead and later Lakewood. “She had a certain nobility, yet she was so down-to-earth — so normal. And she was extremely warm — when she came to our simchahs, she’d hug and kiss us like family, with a smile that lit up her whole face.” Faigy, a family friend, told a Salomon daughter at a simchah, “You don’t need chandeliers here. You’ve got your mother’s smile to light the room!”

Yekkeh Parents, British Girlhood

The Rebbetzin’s parents, Reb Avraham Tzvi and Sarah Falk, were exceptional people. Both hailed from Germany. Before World War II, while still a bochur, Avraham Tzvi was recruited to teach at a girls’ seminary in Hamburg. “He was very clear-minded, very idealistic,” relates Rabbi Zevi Falk, a nephew of the Rebbetzin. “He only agreed to take the job if Rabbi Rabinow — the rav who felt he was the only person who could do the job — would agree to a daily kvius with him.” The female head of the seminary was a young woman named Elsbeth (Sarah) Klaber. Both she and Avraham Tzvi were rounded up during Kristallnacht and interned in Buchenwald. Both were eventually released and made their way to Britain as refugees. Someone proposed their shidduch, and Avraham Tzvi married his former employer.

Once in Manchester — then a burgeoning new Jewish community — Mr. Falk was one staunch early member of congregation Machzikei Hadass. He opened a seforim store, and his wife taught at a local non-Jewish school. The couple had four daughters and two sons; Miriam, the eldest, was born in 1941. “They brought them up differently than most people of the time,” Rabbi Falk says. “There weren’t any Jewish schools in Manchester then, so Rebbetzin Salomon never attended a Bais Yaakov or seminary. But her parents instilled a deep ahavas Torah in their children.”

The result was a family that grew to include such marbitzei Torah as Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk, Dayan Ahron Dovid Dunner, and Rav Mattisyahu Salomon. Miriam married the promising young talmid chacham in 1960, in her parents’ backyard. “My grandparents were very dedicated,” Rabbi Falk says. “On the day my Aunt Miriam got married, my grandmother got up and went to teach. Then she came home, changed into her Shabbos clothes, and proceeded with the wedding.”

The new couple moved to Gateshead, which was a materially spartan yet simchah-filled town where doors were never locked and neighbors routinely “adopted” the children of kimpeturin acquaintances for weeks at a time. “It was a different era; women didn’t work outside the home, children came home at noon for dinner, and the entire emphasis was to rebuild Torah after the war,” Faigy says.

“They were a unit, like one person.” Rav Mattisyahu Salomon being maspid his eizer k’negdo

Like most of their neighbors, the Salomons lived on a shoestring, but eventually bought an attached house at 16 Windermere Street. Rav Salomon’s mother lived next door and after the Rebbetzin’s father was widowed, he moved into the house on the other side. (An elderly aunt, various bochurim, and families needing lodging would also occupy those spaces at one time or another.)

Rav Mattisyahu, who lost his father at age 16, had always eaten meals with his mother, and his new wife insisted he continue during the week so she wouldn’t eat alone. Rebbetzin Salomon was also concerned that her mother-in-law simply would not be bothered to cook only for herself. “Their children say that for 20 years they never saw their father eat a weekday meal in their house,” relates Rav Shmuel Yeshaya Keller of Telshe Chicago, who spent time in Gateshead, where he learned b’chavrusa with Rav Mattisyahu.

In his hesped, Rav Salomon stated that he never knew if they had money or not, as his wife managed everything. His son, Rav Yaakov Yehuda, recalls that when Rav Mattisyahu expressed interest in owning his own set of Shulchan Aruch, she went to a seforim store to ask how much one volume cost. “Take the whole set; you can pay it out over time,” the owner said.

But Rebbetzin Salomon deferred. “I don’t want any chovos,” she said. “I’ll take one volume at a time.” Little by little, she bought the whole set.

The Salomons lived simply, but with dignity. “She was always bekavodig,” recalls a friend who knew them in Gateshead and Lakewood. “Her sheitels were always kept up; she always looked nice.”

Gateshead Days

The Rebbetzin was “always busy” during her Gateshead years, remembers Miriam Jaffe, whose mother Rebbetzin Shulamis Bitton (later Rebbetzin Blau a”h), became a close friend as the two women raised their families. Rebbetzin Salomon was always organizing shiurim or parties, making meals, or taking care of immediate and extended family.

“My parents didn’t have a phone,” Mrs. Jaffe says. “Mrs. Salomon told my mother, ‘Shulamis, my phone is your phone!’ They were constantly back and forth in each other’s homes.”

The Rebbetzin had many friends. “I don’t think anyone disliked her,” says Gateshead friend Rebbetzin Sara Gurwitz. “She was a pleasure to talk to — sensible, practical, with a sense of humor and tremendous simchas hachayim.”

When Rav Mattisyahu became mashgiach, his wife remained untouched by her rise in status. “She wasn’t the ‘rebbetzin-y’ type,” remarks Rabbi Keller. “No one even called her ‘Rebbetzin’ until she came to the US.” She and the Mashgiach were down-to-earth and approachable. The Rebbetzin was known for her infectious laugh and sense of humor. “Even when things were difficult, she could put a different spin on it and we’d end up laughing,” Tova Keller recalls.

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