July 16, 2024
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Elegant, Eloquent and Exemplary: Esther Manischewitz

Teaneck—Over 200 people gathered at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck last week to pay tribute to a woman who was one of the pillars of Modern Orthodoxy in this now thriving community, as well as a beloved and respected institution in her own right.

Esther Manishewitz, who passed away on November 15th at age 91, was remembered fondly by scores of friends, neighbors and family members at the memorial service which took place on December 16th.  Her daughter, Sharon Kaplan, told JLBC that there were many people, including her sister Leora Kalish, who were unable to attend the shloshim because of extremely heavy traffic on the George Washington Bridge which is currently undergoing construction.

“The whole community came out for my mother,” Mrs. Kaplan. “It was amazing and a huge outpouring of love for my mother, who just touched people’s lives.”

Several speakers, including Mrs. Kaplan, spoke warmly about the grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of four at the memorial service. Among those addressing the audience were Rabbi Steven Pruzansky Bnai Yeshurun’s rabbi, Steve Parnett, one of Mrs. Manischewitz’s sons-in-law and grandson Zecharia Barnett. Another grandson, Yonatan Barnett, made a siyum in honor of the shloshim.

Mrs. Kaplan admitted to being amazed by the many Teaneck residents of all ages who felt unusually close to her mother.

“It really crossed generations,” said Mrs. Kaplan. “Usually when younger people come to pay a shiva call, they are there visiting the children of the person who died. But so many people of all ages told me that they were there because they themselves were friends of my mothers. One person felt so close to my mother that he told me ‘I feel like all of Teaneck should be sitting shiva for Esther Manischewitz.’”

Esther Manischewitz was born Esther Ostrosvky in Israel in 1922 and her parents were among the founders of the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, where she was later both a neighbor and a student of noted biblical scholar Nechama Leibowitz. At 25 years old, Esther Ostrovsky came to the United States for a visit which turned into a permanent move after she ended up meeting her husband, William Manischewitz.

The Manischewitzes moved to Teaneck in 1953 and were discouraged to discover that the synagogue that they thought was Orthodox, in fact, allowed mixed seating.  In time, the Manischewitzes, along with four other Teaneck families, banded together to create the first Orthodox synagogue in the area.

“My mother was so dedicated to the community and while there were five families who created the first Orthodox synagogue, it was my mother’s impetus and my father’s dedication that really did it,” said Mrs. Kaplan. “Her parents were the founders of Kiryat Moshe and she learned from them and was the one who suggested the name Bnai Yeshurun. She really poured all her energies into cultivating this community, a strong Modern Orthodox community that is truly one of a kind.”

Mrs. Manischewitz managed to imbue Teaneck with her love of the State of Israel.

“Teaneck is very Mizrachi and Zionistic oriented with a strong connection to Israel,” reported Mrs. Kaplan. “Many kids from Teaneck go to study there and many families eventually make aliyah.”

Long time Teaneck resident Honey Senter remembered Mrs. Manischewitz fondly.

“She was an elegant lady, just royal and regal,” said Mrs. Senter. “She was modest, soft-spoken and a very classy lady.”

Having lived in Teaneck for 40 years, Mrs. Senter has known the Manischewitz family for decades and she made special mention of Mrs. Manischewitz’s daughter, Ofra Parnett, who she described as “a special person.”

“She is one of the heads of our chesed committee and chesed isn’t her middle name, it is her first name.  Where did she learn that from?  Her parents.”

Another family friend spoke of Mrs. Manishewitz’s unique blend of humility and aristocracy, something she likely acquired in her early years.

“Esther lived our people’s history in first person.  Listening to her talk about growing up in pre-state Israel was like stepping back in time.  Whether it was hearing about growing up with heroes like Rav Aryeh Levine, sharing a courtyard with Rav Kook, or going to school with Nechama Leibowitz, listening to her, you had the sense of you were in the presence of nobility, the nobility that created the State of Israel, but all of this was said with a modesty that belied the hero she was.”

Mrs. Manischewitz was buried in Jerusalem on Har Hamenuchot, next to her husband William, who passed away at age 80 in 1996.

By Sandy Eller

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