I like to remember our old friends Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin in happier times past. My husband Chaim and I both knew them as singles before we met each other. We were each independently welcomed as Shabbos guests in their home on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. On a date I mentioned to Chaim that I was planning on eating the Friday night meal there. Without letting me know beforehand, he surprised me and showed up at the Shabbos table too. I felt awkward as I gazed across the table at the young man I knew would become my husband. I cornered Leah in the kitchen and told her that the Australian guy at her table was the man I was going to marry, only maybe he didn't know it yet! Leah discreetly jumped for joy and said she was so excited that two of her guests may get engaged. She told me that if we did then she was going to make our vort (engagement party). A few weeks later we did indeed get engaged and the Rubashkins made us a a beautiful vort, sparing no expense, extending the warmest hospitality as if we were their own mishpacha (family). I treasure the memories and the photos.
Sholom Mordecai and Leah were a role model couple for me as a new adherent to Torah Judaism. Their incredible strong marriage, and the warmth, generosity, and joyousness of their home, encouraged me to want to embrace a Torah lifestyle. They seemed to have it all--they were a young handsome couple with gorgeous adorable well behaved children, a fine home, a strong foundation in Torah knowledge, and a great sense of fun and humor. They attracted a constant stream of guests. Sholom Mordecai never seemed to tire of being a great host, constantly smiling and telling Chassidic stories, D'vrei Torah, and singing niggunim, often into the deep hours of the night. On Pesach he would go on into the wee hours of the morning. He never seemed to run out of vitality.
I knew that Sholom Mordecai's family had wealth but, it was never flaunted, as they were always down to earth and treated everyone with respect. They often had guests at their table from the fringes of society, but Sholom Mordecai and Leah treated all of them as if they were royalty. Sholom Mordecai worked extremely hard in the family business, but he would often express that his heart was not really into being a businessman and that he knew there was more to life than making money. He dreamed of being a shaliach of the Rebbe, and the little spare time he had available was spent doing a tremendous amount of shlichas work, all without fanfare.
When I became pregnant the doctor ordered complete bed rest for me. As soon as Leah heard this she insisted we stay as guests in her home the entire Pesach. She had a house full of small children and was running an open home while waiting on me hand and foot the entire Pesach-- all with a warm and happy smile. I remember she made the best Pesach potato kogel I have ever tasted. She kept saying the entire time how much she loved Pesach, as she slaved away for hours on end in the kitchen. Her eldest daughter Rosa Hindy was quite the little helper and she wore an apron that said 'Brooklyn Balabustah" on it----totally adorable! Sholom Mordecai enjoyed conducting a very long Seder and, if anyone at the table would start to nod off he would jokingly throw more matzah at them to wake them up. He would always say that life is short and it has to be enjoyed. He surely showed a gusto for living.
During those happy days some 20 years ago, if anyone had suggested that Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin's fate would have been anything but a fairy tale I would have simply laughed as it would have seemed totally preposterous to me. No one could have ever imagined the terrible tragedy that has befallen this wonderful family.
Often I think about Sholom Mordecai and picture him in my minds eye languishing in jail. I try to banish those horrific images and comfort myself in the knowledge of the strength of the man's character and his many merits. I also think about Leah and her ordeal and I am in awe of the great middos of this woman, a true woman of valour. When I find myself wondering why Hashem allowed special Yidden like these to go through such suffering I stop myself and remember that 'His thoughts are not our thoughts". We cannot ask too many questions like this lest we literally go mad as there is no comprehensible explanation. All we can do at this point is daven, and maybe that is really doing a huge amount.
In the meantime I like to think of my old friends Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin with great fondness and cherish the memories I have of them in happier times.
May Hashem grant a complete yeshua (liberation) for Sholom Mordecai ha Levi ben Rifkah.