Mrs. Egosah Reichmann transmitted joy, warmth, and a love of Yiddishkeit into everyone she touched
Egosah Reichmann a”h, whose shloshim has just passed, was known for her combination of joie de vivre, elegance, and strict adherence to Yiddishkeit. “So many people described her as ‘regal,’ ” says Breindy Koenig, her daughter. “But ‘regal’ sounds stiff, as if she were standoffish or formal. That couldn’t be more untrue! During her shivah, the most-repeated thing people said was how tremendously warm, friendly, and approachable she was.”
The daughter of a diamond merchant, Egosah Reichmann had her own sparkle. She was a people-lover who could connect with anybody, from the household help to politicians and diplomats. While her bearing was aristocratic, her attitude toward other people was profoundly democratic.
A Jew was a Jew regardless of title or financial status, and every human being has a tzelem Elokim, deserving of respect. At the same time, she held herself and her family to high standards of behavior and Yiddishkeit, insisting that they always be presentable, well-mannered, and considerate of others.
Although her husband Reb Beri (Albert) and his brothers would eventually achieve financial success, the Reichmanns remained down to earth. “My parents always lived normal lives,” says son Duddy Reichmann. “Money was primarily considered a means to do chesed and ma’asim tovim. Any luxuries that were acquired — first-class airline tickets, jewelry for my mother — were my father’s initiative, as he loved to care for her graciously.”
Money doesn’t buy class, they say. But Egosah Reichmann always had class. She came from chassidic nobility. Her father, Reb Yosef Aryeh Feldman, was an Antiniya chassid who served as rosh kahal of their town of Satmar, Romania.
Her mother’s side boasted proud yichus: Her paternal grandfather, Rav Efraim Fishel Feldman, wrote the sefer Yados Efraim, while her maternal grandfather, Rav Yaakov Prager, wrote the sefer Shu”t Sheilos Yaakov. Her great-grandfather was the Maharam Schick, a venerated Hungarian gadol.
Egosah, originally called Nissel, was the youngest of 11 children, five boys and six girls. One of her sisters married the Sadigura Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Friedman.
The family fortuitously left Europe for Eretz Yisrael just before the war, when Nissel was about five years old. “Her father was kind of a chassidic Zionist,” relates daughter-in-law Chani Reichmann. “They say he bought tickets for lotteries supporting the State of Israel. When they arrived in Eretz Yisrael, the immigration officer changed the children’s names to Hebrew versions. Breindel became Bruriah, Faigel became Tzipporah, Gittel became Tova, and Nissel became Egosah” [sisters Chava and Esther retained their names]. The new Hebrew names endured.
Breindy speculates that the catalyst that impelled her grandparents to leave in 1938 was the conscription of two of their sons into the Romanian army. Fortunately, those brothers escaped and joined the family in Eretz Yisrael. The married Feldman children also came. One of them had a daughter, Leah, who would marry Moshe Reichmann a”h and become Egosah’s sister-in-law.
The family settled in Tel Aviv, where their father set up a diamond business. “Their first dwelling was a small, one-bathroom apartment at 5 Rechov Bialik. While they had the luxury of their own indoor bathroom at their disposal, the bathtub wasn’t available Erev Pesach, because the carp was in the bathtub,” Breindy says.
In the tumultuous period before the establishment of the State of Israel, Nissel, now Egosah, grew up as an erliche frum girl. Her classmates considered her well-off because she brought sandwiches with sardines for lunch.
Aware of her privilege, she often gave away much of it. It was an example she learned from her mother, who gave large amounts of tzedakah and would regularly host less fortunate people at their dinner table. Thursday night was bean soup night and was memorable because a regular, fondly called “Bundlach,” would fill his pockets with handfuls of beans.
Egosah’s vibrant personality was evident from an early age. She served as a Bnos Yisrael counselor, and one of her charges, Ada Halpern, later married her husband’s younger brother Isaac. Egosah taught Hebrew in various locations in Eretz Yisrael, including ma’abarot that housed newly arrived immigrants from Yemen and Europe, giving her a window into the plight of refugees and Jews of other origins.
When she was about 21, a cousin related to both the Feldmans and the Reichmanns suggested a shidduch with a bochur named Yissachar Dov (Beri) Reichmann. The Reichmann family, originally from Hungary and Vienna, had fled to Tangiers in Morocco, where they built a foreign currency business and established a small Ashkenazic community comprised mostly of refugees.
Beri came to Israel in 1953 to meet Egosah. She was a petite, pretty young woman with an outgoing personality. Beri, at over six feet, towered over her physically, while being more reserved in nature. “They went out for a gazoz, a soda water, on Allenby Street,” daughter Libby Gross says. “He asked her, ‘Mademoiselle, will you come with me to Morocco?’
“She answered, ‘No!’ But he came back a few months later, and this time she accepted.”
“All the Feldman girls were spunky,” Breindy says when I comment that it must have taken tremendous pluck to pick up and leave her family to move to a strange country where she knew none of the local languages and had no friends or family. Egosah’s son Duddy agrees.
“She was a courageous girl. During the War of Independence in 1948, she and a friend wanted to see what was happening in Jerusalem, so they snuck out after curfew — which was illegal then — and made their way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
Later in life, she didn’t hesitate to accompany her husband on trips to the former Soviet Union to support refuseniks and build yeshivos, even though they sometimes had to talk in the bathroom with the shower running to avoid being overheard by the authorities. The children say that their mother derived her strength from knowing that her husband, ever attentive and supportive, would always take good care of her.
Egosah didn’t have to leave her entire family behind when she married and moved to Tangier. During her final sheva brachos, Moshe Reichmann and Leah Feldman announced their engagement, and within the year, Egosah’s niece and her new husband joined the family in Morocco.
In Tangier, Egosah picked up Spanish and French. She collaborated with architect Samuel Toledano to set up a Jewish school, where she taught until her son Efraim was born a few years later. The Reichmanns retained fond memories of their years in Tangier and were always happy to reunite with friends from those days.
After the war, the European refugees began to drift away, and in 1959, she and her husband would again set out for a new country when they joined the other Reichmanns in Toronto.
“At first, they lived in a rented apartment in the St. Clair area, where the Jewish community was then located, and then they bought a house on Glencedar in the Eglinton Avenue area,” Duddy Reichmann says. “They stayed there until just prior to my older brother’s bar mitzvah.”
Thereafter, the Toronto Jewish community continued to shift north, and the Reichmanns moved to Forest Wood Road, where they remained. Duddy recalls that Efraim’s bar mitzvah took place in their home on Forest Wood. They held most family simchahs and tzedakah events in the house because they felt that was the purpose of a lovely, spacious home.
Toronto in the 1960s was a far cry from the thriving Jewish community it is today. The frum community was small, and there was only a handful of families active in communal matters. Egosah and her friends were quick to join other community members active in the hachnassas kallah society and the Bikur Cholim. Her daughter-in-law Chani Reichmann (Efraim’s wife) came to Toronto from Boro Park as a kallah and remembers hosting a tea in her home for her mother-in-law’s friends to raise hachnassas kallah money. “She’d go every week to Baycrest, a senior home, to talk to the people, or drive people who needed rides,” Chani recalls.
While Egosah moved far away from her family when she married, she remained in close contact with them. After the move to Toronto, she’d travel to Eretz Yisrael often to meet up with her mother and sisters, and regularly saw her siblings in New York and Montreal.
As her children grew bigger and her mother grew older, she’d travel twice a year to Israel: once before Pesach to help her mother prepare, and again with her children in the summer, where they’d stay in Netanya on vacation.
Egosah loved to give and would arrive with suitcases full of gifts. “My mother would visit her mother every day, but for the rest of us it wasn’t so interesting — we didn’t speak or understand Hungarian,” recalls Breindy. “She’d send us out to the ice cream store.”
Adding Color to the Story
The devotion of Reb Beri and Egosah Reichmann to each other was exemplary. “I learned from my grandparents how a couple should treat each other,” says grandson Yossi Reichmann. “There was so much love and respect between them. She took great care of my grandfather, but he did everything for her. After she became ill, he was constantly focused on what would be best for her.”
Egosah accompanied her husband on many of his trips, as he didn’t like to travel without his wife; when she didn’t, she made sure his needs would be met. “My mother supported my father in business meetings and political meetings, whether he was traveling to Eastern Europe or meeting the queen of England,” Duddy Reichmann says. “She took meticulous care of him. She was very proud of him and what he did, and he was likewise proud of her.”
Her son-in-law Shimshi Gross compares their partnership to the collaboration between the writer and illustrator of a book. “My shver was the visionary, the person who laid out the narrative, but my mother-in-law was the one who added life and color to the story,” he says. When it came to chesed and tzedakah causes, she handled the personal side, following up with the individuals, institutions, and causes they sought to help.
As the children grew and the Reichmann fortune grew with them, Egosah made sure they were raised in a normal, modest fashion. “She kept us grounded,” Duddy says. “We could have been spoiled, but we weren’t. Family suppers were held punctually each night with no phone calls allowed, and the children were expected to eat what was put in front of them. She wouldn’t let us leave leftovers on our plates, saying we shouldn’t waste food because there were people who needed it.”
While Egosah had tremendous joie de vivre, with an infectious laugh and love of fun, she also came from a European, chassidic family with strong ideas of what was proper. Duddy Reichmann remarks that his mother was always tastefully dressed. The family Shabbos table was a formal affair, and the children were expected to sit at the table the entire meal. The men were expected to wear hats and jackets (the hats could come off during the meal, but not the jackets). Yossi Reichmann remembers his grandmother calling, “Hats!” before bentshing.
She served simple, delicious Hungarian food. Granddaughter Toba Dessler remembers she didn’t like cholent as a child, but would feel nervous if she didn’t eat it — her grandmother would exclaim, “If you don’t eat cholent, you weren’t at Barg Sinai,” The challah was never to be dipped into sauces or mayonnaise; her grandmother considered that unrefined. But Egosah did love song, and zemiros were an essential part of Shabbos meals.
“My mother wasn’t strict, but she had a strong sense of standards,” Breindy says. “Certain things were simply clear and natural to her. You speak respectfully to others, you don’t interrupt, look at people when they talk, make an effort to look good, and do everything properly. When a woman lights Shabbos candles, she automatically sits and davens Kabbalas Shabbos. It was years before I realized not every mother does that!”
Shaping the Next Generation
When the Reichmann children married, they’d come to their parents’ home for Kiddush every Shabbos and often stay for lunch. Egosah chose to be called “Ima” by her grandchildren, as she didn’t want to feel old. Often the grandchildren slept over and were treated to hot cocoa in the morning or trips on Sunday.
“She was the fun, cool grandma,” granddaughter Rivkie Colman recalls. “She was the life of the party, the life of our family. But we also saw how seriously she took her Yiddishkeit, in a very natural way. We couldn’t go anywhere too early in the morning because she had to get dressed and daven a full Shacharis and say her quota of Tehillim.”
“She never napped on Shabbos,” says grandson Yossi Reichmann. “She’d stay up and play Rummikub and Scrabble with the kids, get down on the floor with the little ones.” Granddaughter Hadassah Soskin remembers that her grandmother loved learning the parshah every week and told bedtimes stories straight out of Navi. “She was inquisitive; she loved to learn,” Hadassah says.
Egosah was an avid Tehillim reciter. She’d daven for each and every one of her children and grandchildren each night next to the mezuzah in her bedroom, which had a note in her own handwriting beside it with the words “Bechol derochecha do’eihu, veHu yeyasher orchosecha,” a reminder to maintain awareness of Hashem in all our daily actions.
She was famously extremely scrupulous about Pesach. While the Reichmann family were Oberlanders who ate gebrochts, to Egosah this felt like eating chometz, and she refused to allow it. She kept a locked gate to her kitchen so that the help couldn’t enter without her supervision and didn’t allow matzah on the dishes, lest they become gebrochts.
“The entire Jewish calendar was very important to my mother,” Breindy Koenig says. “All the zemanim were very real in our family. The Nine Days were really sad, really heavy! The gardener didn’t come; my mother didn’t get her manicure. We wouldn’t dare ask to go out on a trip or for a pizza. And on Tishah B’Av, all of us had to sit on the floor and read Eichah, which seemed endless to me as a child.”
Yet Egosah also loved parties. When the Toronto Kollel was established, she’d host parties in her home for the avreichim on Purim and Simchas Beis Hashoeivah. She was equally open to impromptu gatherings.
Yossi Reichmann remembers accompanying his grandparents on a trip in the early 2000s to visit the Reichmann family’s alter heim in Hungary and Vienna. When they encountered Jewish students in the street as they walked to their Shabbos seudah, they invited them on the spot to join the meal.
“She was fun and classy,” says niece Libby Brachfeld. “She was also refreshingly honest and direct.” Breindy remembers going shopping with her mother on Eglington Avenue, where many of the stores were owned by nonobservant Jews. Egosah didn’t hesitate to tell the owners, “When will you begin to close on Shabbos? You won’t lose any money by doing so.” It was a statement that would have been considered offensive coming from anyone else, but she said it in such an affable, natural manner that no one was offended.
“She did this long before it was the fashion to be into kiruv,” Breindy notes. Egosah was pained to see people driving to shul on Shabbos and would let them know as much.
“She didn’t mince words, so you always knew where you stood with her,” says son-in-law Shimshi Gross. “But no one would feel hurt, because she combined it with warmth.”
Big Shoes to Fill
Throughout the shivah, the many visitors who knew her commented on her unique combination of characteristics as an elegant, cheerful, fun-loving, and vivacious lady. They also commented on her erlichkeit, strict standards, davening, chesed, and community work. There was no “and” to Mrs. Reichmann; she was a whole person who served Hashem naturally and was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend.
As her granddaughter Hadassah says, “She’s left us with big shoes to fill, and a hole in our hearts.”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 792)
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