My Zaidy, the youngest of nine children, was born in 1921 to R’ Yosef and Yenta Greenfield. That same year, the family left their home in Zolynia, Poland, and arrived in New York on erev Yom Kippur when Zaidy was only an infant. The Greenfield family lived in Brownsville, where R’ Yosef opened a small grocery store. This enabled the family to eke out a living while remaining shomer Shabbos. With only an icebox to cool the food, the perishables in the store would spoil after a long hot Shabbos day. R’ Yosef, who was a poor man, nevertheless kindly donated the milk, cheese, and butter to needy families every erev Shabbos in the summer. Tragically, Zaidy lost his mother when he was only seven years old, and his older sisters became his surrogate mothers.
It was of paramount importance to R’ Yosef to provide a Jewish education for his children. It is hard to imagine, but there were no yeshivas near the Greenfield home in Brooklyn at that time, and there was no mother to escort the orphan to a yeshiva further away. R’ Yosef therefore hired a private melamed to learn with Zaidy after public school, but this tutor left much to be desired. For example, when Zaidy was reviewing parshas Noach with his father, the melamed had teitched (interpreted) the pasuk, “Velo matza hayona mano’ach,” as “The dove did not find rest from Noach,” rather than the correct translation that the dove did not find rest. At this point, R’ Yosef realized that in order to guarantee a superior Jewish education for his son, he must send him to yeshiva, and therefore registered Zaidy in Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem (MTJ), located on the Lower East Side. This decision made a major impact on Zaidy’s life. Although my Zaidy was already twelve years old, he was initially placed in a shiur for younger students. He progressed quickly, however, and was soon among the best in the highest shiur.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, arrived in America when it was referred to as the treife medina, and gave a proba (tryout shiur) at MTJ to be hired as rosh hayeshiva. During his pilpul shiur, the balabatim sat in the back row smoking cigars as Reb Moshe discussed a stira (contradiction) in Rashi in eizehu neshech. After the shiur, the balabatim, who were not able to follow the shiur, approached the fourteen-year-old bachurim and asked them, “Was it a good shiur? Should we hire Rabbi Feinstein?” Zaidy and his friends, not grasping too much of the shiur either, and who had never heard of a stira in Rashi, said yes, and Reb Moshe was hired!
Zaidy was in Reb Moshe’s first smicha class in MTJ, and formed a lifelong bond with his Rebbi. A manifestation of this close relationship was the sheva brachos that Reb Moshe and the Rebbetzin made for my grandparents. Zaidy regularly corresponded with Reb Moshe, but he did not just ask his Rebbi, the preeminent halachic authority of the generation, shailos in halacha. Zaidy also communicated with and visited Reb Moshe throughout the years to maintain their warm personal relationship, as well as for guidance in personal and communal matters. In fact, Zaidy is quoted numerous times in Reb Moshe’s sefarim. He sent Reb Moshe shailos which were printed in Igros Moshe and was also honorably mentioned in Dibros Moshe, when he was a bachur engaging his Rebbi in pilpulo shel Torah.
An illustration of the greatness of Reb Moshe and his fondness for my Zaidy can be seen from the following incident, which Zaidy related to us. Reb Moshe used to pace back and forth while preparing his shiur, and one day he noticed a tiny scrap of paper on the floor. It was apparent that it was from a sefer, but it contained just two words on one line, and one-and-a-half words on the next. Reb Moshe picked it up and challenged his prize student, Zaidy, “Fun vos kumst dos? (Where is this from?)” Zaidy recalled that although he did know the source, Reb Moshe identified the correct Tosfos in Menuchos.
When Zaidy received a job offer to become a Rabbi in Denver, Colorado, he naturally consulted with his Rebbi. Reb Moshe encouraged Zaidy to accept the position, and then asked his star pupil to walk home with him. Since Reb Moshe knew that Zaidy had already mastered the material and passed the required bechinas (tests), Reb Moshe proceeded to compose a hand written semicha (Yoreh Yoreh, Yodin Yodin) right on the spot!
Zaidy married Ruth (Rivka) Finkelstein on May 13, 1945 in New York. Bubby was born in 1919 in New York, and lived in the Bronx with her parents, Dov Nosson and Chaya Faygail Finkelstein. Dov Nosson, who had learned in the famous Lomza Yeshiva in Poland, was a shochet and later sold insurance, one of the few occupations that allowed one to remain shomer Shabbos. My Bubby was a secretary in the Mizrachi Office, a position she accepted because the offices were closed on Shabbos.
My grandparents moved from Denver to Cincinnati in 1947 for the chinuch (education) of their children. (At that time, there was no Jewish day school in Denver.) Zaidy was a Rav in Cincinnati for over 40 years. He also taught a gemara shiur in the shul as well as in the day school, where he also volunteered to be interim principal until a new principal could be hired. Zaidy was influential in raising the kashrus standards in Cincinnati. He performed weddings, levayos (funerals), bar mitzvas, and pidyon habens since he was the kohen. Zaidy connected to all types of people from all walks of life and was able to relate to all of them. In fact, there were several young people who my grandparents were mekarev and who ultimately attended yeshivas and seminaries. This was before the advent of the official “baal teshuva,” movement, and these grateful protégés maintained close ties with my grandparents while raising shomer Shabbos families. My Zaidy and Bubby kashered their own meat and chickens on a regular basis, and when Reb Moshe came to Cincinnati in 1968 for R’ Eliezer Silver’s levaya, he was hosted by my grandparents.
Bubby and Zaidy raised their five children in Cincinnati, where they attended the Chofetz Chaim day school. There was no yeshiva high school there, so the boys were sent to Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland to continue their Jewish education. After every bein hazmanin (school break), when it was time for the boys to return to yeshiva, Bubby would cry. Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, the Rosh Yeshiva, came to visit the Greenfield home one bein hazmanim, and offered to accompany the boys back to yeshiva. Noticing Bubby’s tears, Rabbi Gifter said “Rebbetzin, if you send them away, you will keep them. If you keep them home, you will lose them. Better to cry now than later.” This indeed proved to be true; all of the children remained frum bnai Torah.
When my grandparents moved to Baltimore in 1989 to be near their children and grandchildren, they quickly became respected members of the community. They joined the Agudah, where Zaidy is remembered for his duchening and his signature donation of $120 (amush) for his aliyas. In fact, many people commented at the shiva house that when they saw Zaidy duchening, they tangibly felt that all would be well.
Even though Zaidy was much older than the shul’s Rav, Rav Heineman, shlita, Zaidy recognized Rav Heinemann’s gadlus and readily accepted him as his Rav regarding psak halacha, as well as general guidance. Zaidy was a master orator, who would keep the crowd spellbound, and his speeches were the highlight of many an event. Zaidy learned Daf Yomi and was zocheh to complete Shas twice during his retirement. As my Bubby mentioned at the siyum, Zaidy enjoyed his retirement, which enabled him to have plenty of time to learn, “because he does what he likes; he likes to learn.” Zaidy regularly helped the grandchildren with homework and reports. Even now I wish Zaidy were here as I struggle to write this tribute.
My Bubby quickly became everyone’s favorite Bubby, and was remarkably interested in the day-to-day lives of all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, ke”h. She looked forward to their siddur parties, bar and bas mitzva dinners, performances, siyums and graduations. Additionally, she joined the women’s choirs and performances, where she awed the audiences. Bubby was always so pleasant, happy, and easy-going, and befriended everyone, young and old, and from all walks of life – from the cashiers in the grocery store to the nurses in the hospital. Bubby socialized with everyone when she was the devoted Rebbetzin in Cincinnati and maintained her friendly disposition even as she aged. Her caring, kindness, and trademark smile were part of her essence, as quoted in her high school yearbook over 75 years ago: “Nothing is impossible for a caring heart.”
Bubby was nifteres 23 Elul 5772. It was difficult for Zaidy to continue without his lifelong partner, and he was niftar in his sleep a short time later on 26 Shvat, 5773.
Yehi zichrom baruch.