Monsey Memories: The Rebbetzin on Homestead Lane
A City-Boy’s Journey to the Countryside in Monsey
It stood at the top of a hill, at the peak of Homestead Lane, which winds its way up from Main Street, and slopes down to Saddle River Road. It was an old brown house, with mint-green trimming—and on the deck around the back we would see our matriarch, the Rebbetzin, engrossed in davening for hours.
Everywhere in her old, thick, worn, siddur were lists of names, those in need of salvation—in health or otherwise. The Rebbetzin never forgot about them—just as she remembered the needy of old Monsey, to whom she would send food packages with her young messengers.
She was Rebbetzin Faigel Genauer, born and raised in Williamsburg of the Depression era, when food was scarce, and her father, the legendary Reb Nissen Pilchick would lose his job every week on account of his refusal to work on Shabbos.
But his spirit of tenacity was imbued in his children—every one of whom grew to establish staunchly proud chassidishe families, despite their childhood in New York of the 1920’s.
The fierce emunah gave her the strength to withstand the unfathomable test that she was to face, and surpass with heroism and tenacity.
Faigel insisted on marrying a talmid chochom, which she found in Rav Hirsch Genauer, zt”l, of the legendary Genauer family of Seattle. A first-generation American born into a family of ardent Czortkower chassidim—Hirsch went to learn in the famed Talmud Torah in Kelme, and returned to the United States, where he was among the founding talmidim of Beth Medrash Gavo’ah-Lakewood.
After their marriage, they were among the first kolel families in America—the nucleus of the Lakewood Yeshiva, which was actually founded in White Plains.
But Rav Hirsch’s heart yearned for Eretz Yisroel, and in 1952, they made the unheard-of journey to the holy land. But tragedy struck only a few months later, when he was killed by an Arab gunman, while bent over his gemara at the kitchen table. Hy”d.
In a subsequent letter to her father, she wrote, “Papa. You have taught us that if things don’t work out how want, we must want whatever has worked out!” That became her motto for the next half-century of her life.
She moved back to America with her five orphans, to Monsey of the 1950’s, and proceeded to raise them into remarkable people, each of whom has gone on establish families of ge’onim and talmidei chachomim, marbitzei Torah, and disseminators of Yiddishkeit around the world.
For her city-bred great-grandchildren, that home on 14 Homestead Lane was the place where we experienced raking leaves, and upon entering the house, we would immediately be asked to repeat Mishnayos into her tape recorder. No amount of Torah was too much, and would be rewarded for every Mishnah, and every bracha. The Rebbetzin understood the value of healthy eating before her time, insisting on blanching vegetables but retaining the vitamin-rich peels, and consuming many vitamins.
The Rebbetzin was niftar one decade ago, and 14 Homestead Lane became the site of a monstrous condominium. But for generations of Genauer descendants, and for her scores of admirers, the humble home at the peak of this hill was a symbol of a bygone era, and of triumph over tragedy.