A Glimpse of Greatness: A Tribute to Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a”h

By: BJLife/Margie Pensak

A Glimpse of Greatness: A Tribute to Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a”h 1
Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a”h

Baltimore, MD – December 30, 2020 – Although I, unfortunately, did not get to know Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a”h, well, I knew her well enough to know that she was unassuming, humble, and very special. I don’t think there was a time I spoke to her that she did not compliment me on my writing. Others have shared with me that she would just as liberally compliment them in a detailed way. She always selflessly looked to give the other person nachas. The following stories – collected from far and wide – provide just a glimpse of her greatness, for, in truth, volumes can be written about this extraordinary eved Hashem. She will be sorely missed in Baltimore and beyond by the myriads of people whose lives she touched.

Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger:

Rather than a single memory, I am enveloped by the goodwill aura of my friend, Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a’h.  Whether crossing paths at the JCC, meeting at a simcha, or on special occasions in the lobby of our shul, the feeling was one of immediate ease and understanding and mutual love…and awe.  Without having shared numerous and extensive dialogues — though certainly substantive ones over the years – there was a sort of peacefulness of having met up with someone who understood you on so many levels and could offer, just by her presence, the calm reassurance of the worth and joy of life despite the pain and challenge of it.  I can see and feel her warm, embracing and uplifting smile and pray that it will accompany me through life as I had hoped that she would. Tehai Nishmasa Tzerura Bitzror HaChaim.

Esky Cook:

If I were to describe Aviva Weisbord, I would say she was a great person through and through.  She came from importance and lived importance.  She was an outstanding granddaughter, daughter, wife, sister, mother, aunt and friend.  She always cared about everyone. 

When I first got married and moved to Baltimore, R’ Sheftel and Judy Neuberger made sheva brachos for us in their home on Yeshiva Lane – one week before Pesach! My husband, Rabbi Simcha Cook, was already good friends with them. I didn’t know anyone besides my cousin Mrs. Helene Mintz.  But I met someone at that sheva brachos whom I knew I wanted to be friends with – Aviva Weisbord.  We hit it off from the start. 

Over the years we became very good friends. She was comfortable driving on long trips so she drove me or my kids to Atlanta and New York when we needed a ride.  She helped me make sheva brachos for mutual friends, and waited for me to say what I can do – then she took all the other jobs that were left.

We were close neighbors on Yeshiva Lane. I watched how she helped her grandparents, parents and family, more than anyone can imagine.  We raised our kids together. She was a great friend who was wise and fun at the same time.

Just last year, we started seeing each other on a regular basis on Friday nights.  After she lit candles, she would come over to my home to visit.  We never ran out of conversation. But what was most special about her was that she was so intelligent yet so humble, refreshing, fun and funny at the same time. If you know the Weisbords, when I say funny, you know what I mean.

There was no end for our appreciation for one another. Over the years, she would always take the time to write me beautiful letters or thank you notes in her gorgeous handwriting. I treasure every letter she wrote to me.

While Corona put life on hold as far as get-togethers go, our friendship didn’t end.  We still talked or wrote emails to each other.  I lost a great friend but all the compliments she gave me, confidence she had in me, and our strong friendship, will always remain with me.  Even now, my connection to her amazing family will not end.  My family and I love the Weisbords, so I hope we can always stay close to them.

Tzirel (Cook) Rutstein: 

Dear Feige Miryam, Devora Meira, Ayala and the Weisbord Family, amus”h

While the thoughts and feelings are fresh on my mind, I want to tell you how uplifted I am by being with all of you as you deal with the devastating loss of your amazing mother, a”h.

Each of you, in your own way, expressed what a loss this is for your family and, of course, for the many lives your mother touched. But even in between your sharing how sad you are and the thought of going on without your mother around your families, you ALL are so refreshingly funny and real and say it like it is, no matter who the audience.

Your mother lived such a meaningful rich life, but most of all she, together with your father, yb”l, raised all of you to be such loving, friendly, warm, community-minded people and I feel sooo proud to be connected to your awesome family!

Every time I do something to help someone, write a note of appreciation to a friend the way your mother and my mother would write to each other over the years, or do something for my community – or most of all, to try to be there for my own kids – I’ll be thinking of your mother and how she lived her too short but full and inspiring life.

With love and admiration,
Tzirel (Cook) Rutstein

Aviva Sondhelm:

I was fortunate to be Aviva’s classmate in Bais Yaakov. Besides being a brilliant student, she was so much fun to be with. She would make everyone laugh with her witty skits. She also sang and played guitar.  I often joined her in entertaining the ladies of the Ner Israel Service League. She made good things happen. When girls complained that on Simchas Torah only the boys got to celebrate, Aviva arranged with her father to make a room available in Ner for the girls to dance and sing. She made a Kiddush Hashem at the JCC when we went to the office of the director to request an all-female drama group.  He asked why and Aviva spoke up to explain. He laughed and bet her that in a few years we would no longer be observant. She accepted the bet.

Anonymous:

Panic, debilitating anxiety, and fear are not the words you usually associate with being engaged. I worried all day and night about the choice I had made. How do I know for sure that he’s the One? I had never made such a big decision before and I was scared to death. Small concerns loomed like large mountains in my mind as I tried to connect with my soon-to-be-husband and plan a wedding. In the middle of all of this, I was introduced to Dr. Aviva Weisbord. I sat on the couch in her living room while she listened to my fears, talked me through my panic, and referred me to a therapist that could help me work through my engagement-related anxiety. With deep caring and thoughtfulness, she was able to cut through all the noise in my brain and identify exactly what I needed to move forward: a good therapist and a shortened engagement. I took her advice and after a lot of work and support from both of our families, I got married to my incredible husband just a short time later. Fast-forward ten years, Dr. Weisbord was there again when I really needed her. I reached out because I badly needed perspective on an issue I was experiencing and wanted to talk to someone who could guide me on how to proceed from both a hashkafic and mental health perspective. Dr. Weisbord gave me her opinion on the situation, but then expressed that she was concerned about me due to a number of serious stressors that I was dealing with at the time. For the second time, she referred me to a therapist who she thought would be a good fit and could support me while I navigated a challenging time. I write this with tears in my eyes and heart as Dr. Weisbord passed away yesterday. I know that I am just one of thousands whose lives she touched with small acts of kindness and caring that had profound ripple effects.

Karyn Toso:

My son-in-law, David Reidy, served with Rebbetzin Weisbord on the Board of Ohr Chadash Academy. He asked her what he should call her – Dr. or Rebbetzin Weisbord – she answered, ‘I worked very, very hard on my Ph.D., but I work harder at my job as a Rebbetzin and it is infinitely more fulfilling, so please call me Rebbetzin.’

Ethel Fischer:

It is most daunting to write about Aviva since our friendship spanned over thirty years. Whether our kids were connected, or we crossed path professionally, we shared many times together. I would have to say that if I would describe Aviva during all our encounters, she displayed wisdom, common sense, humor, patience, honesty, truth, and a commitment to Torah values. She was dedicated to the betterment of the Jewish Community with a rare sensitivity to the needs of each institution.  I learned a great deal from her not only on a personal level of a deep friendship but from the perspective of having a vision and carrying out the details of making that vision a reality.

My fondest memories are when we sat together planning a project or program from its inception and saw it come to fruition. Nothing was too difficult or complicated to do when she believed in importance of the project. I remember vividly our working on a program for the Federation of Jewish Organizations of Baltimore, when we highlighted women who had an impact on Jewish life.  She was so comfortable as we spoke that we actually used props to engage the audience in the lives of these famous women.

In my tenure at Israel Bonds, she spoke at many meetings to alert the women of the importance of addressing the needs of their mental health.  She never shied away from adding messages and sources from the Torah to confirm that the ideas expressed were not hers alone but part of our tradition. Her stories and humor captivated her audience!

During the years at WITS/MAALOT, we sat and wrote grants for hours. Her skills at editing and writing truly were amazing to behold. I believe that her impact at MAALOT, together with support from leadership took this institution to a high level of professionalism.

But my fondest memories of Aviva were when we were together, having a business lunch, filled with talk of life, our families, our own issues. Her compassion when I was going through a challenging time was incredible. She knew just what to say and do as a good friend. I shall be forever grateful for her phone calls daily to check on me, her visits to just schmooze were right on target. And there were times that we giggled together as if we were back in high school.

Of course, today – writing this from Eretz Yisroel – I remember that she was rooting for me to come to Israel. She actively assisted me when she came to help me at my home, the day my lift was packed.

I would be remiss if I did not mention her family and their support and love for our family. I am grateful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu that there was a weaving of our lives in many ways.

May our memories of Aviva be an inspiration for all of us of how to live our lives with dignity and meaning.

I wish Rav Beryl Weisbord, her children, and family strength and comfort during this time.

Fayge Friedman of SHEMESH:

What was so unbelievable about Aviva is that you had no idea what she was up to. She never in any way alluded to the “loads of chesed” she did, not even in an indirect way – which is truly remarkable!

I did speak with someone recently about Aviva and she casually said, ‘Aviva called me every Friday to wish me a good Shabbos’. I wonder just how many people she called! 

Another measure of her greatness is that she always introduced herself as Aviva. She never used the title doctor or Rebbetzin – and she certainly deserved both. She was a modest person who never spoke about her accomplishments. Someone asked me today, ‘Which boards was she on? ‘. I realized a better question would be, ‘Which boards wasn’t she on?’ 

The Matz Family:

The Weisbord family was a very special part of the Matz family in so many ways. Our son attended Ner Yisroel for Yeshiva and we went there for Rosh Hashanah the year he started. We, of course, were invited to the meals and it was as if they knew us their entire life. From that moment on, we became part of the family. Our daughter attended Bais Yaakov in Baltimore and that was her second home.  Whenever I visited my daughter in Bais Yaakov I stayed with the Weisbords. We would sit around the kitchen and Aviva would tell us stories about her days in Bais Yaakov. It was a very, very special time for us. When we were going through a very hard time – when our daughter was getting a divorce – Aviva was there for us, again, and fought very hard so that my daughter would receive her get right away. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for us. She and Rabbi Weisbord were a team of pure chesed. There is so much more, but our hearts are so saddened that it’s so hard to put into words the way we are feeling. We want the family to know that she will always be in our hearts.

Susan Schiller:

After my husband and I moved back to Seattle in 2008, we used to come to Baltimore periodically for simchas.  Once — I do not remember why — Yechezkel was not with me for one visit.  We had no car in Baltimore during that visit, and I don’t remember how I got to the bagel store.  I think a friend gave me a ride there, and I picked up bagels to take back to Seattle for Yechezkel.  Afterwards, my friend dropped me off at Aviva’s office in the JCC on Park Heights.  Aviva and I spent about an hour schmoozing together, and I planned to walk back to our apartment.  However, Aviva would not hear of it because there had been a number of burglaries in the neighborhood in the previous few days, and she did not want me to walk.  She insisted on driving me home.  After we said our goodbyes, I went upstairs to our apartment.  A short time later, Aviva called.  She was on her way back to our apartment — because I had left the bagels in her office.  I said, “Aviva, you have so much to do!  Please just take the bagels home and enjoy!”  But not Aviva.  She said, “No.  You bought them for your husband. I want you to be able to take them to him.”  And back she came — with the bagels — despite the additional time it took from her already overloaded day.

Chavi Wealcatch:  

Rebbetzin Weisbord was so incredible in her accomplishments, a giant in so many ways, yet so reachable. A number of years ago, in the wee hours of Bedikas Chometz night, I came up from our basement to find two prowlers at the top of our steps. I shrieked and they fled from the house, robbing me of my purse but leaving me with a new ever-present fear.

Over the first days of Yom Tov, I couldn’t get the memory of that moment out of my mind. Every two steps, particularly at nighttime, I was looking over my shoulder afraid to see someone behind me. What could I do? I was so shaken and so afraid of this becoming my new reality. I tried to think of who could help me out of this – someone who I know, someone who will care. Aviva Weisbord? But what chance was there that I’d reach her on this Chol Hamoed Pesach evening?

I should have known. My call was immediately answered and she listened to my story. I learned a lesson of how to listen, validate, and give advice that would help me – the suffering person – from where I was coming, not with any prying questions, only care for me. She told me in her signature down-to-earth way, ‘Of course, you are traumatized! That is everyone’s worst nightmare!’ Validation.

She then explained that physical movement could be a distraction to help the brain stop thinking about my fears. Real concrete help. So, each time that horrible dread came over me I jogged in place or did a few jumping jacks. It got me through that first few weeks enabling me to function again.

Linda Hurwitz 

shared with me that she was hurting and wanted to tell her family why, so she sent them this letter:

Dear FAMILY,

For those who don’t know, I studied with Aviva for two years when I was Chair of the Board of The Associated.

She was brilliant, extremely knowledgeable, but what I remember the most are her values, priorities and positivity in everything she said or did.

Every study session, Aviva would start with something wonderful happening with her family, whether a wedding, birth or just a special experience.

I would see Aviva almost every Friday morning at Dunkin’ Donuts where she would buy specific donuts for each of her Baltimore family members for Shabbos.

She adored her family, her life and her people and could not help but give and give and give.

She bought me Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Lessons in Leadership, a stunning copy of Pirkei Avos and a quotable pin that I stare at on my desk every day: “DO IT WITH PASSION OR NOT AT ALL.”

In the Sacks book, Aviva wrote:

To Linda –

My very special friend who teaches me about leadership and life by the way she lives and the work she does.

With appreciation and awe,

Aviva

Aviva made it her business to truly know every one blessed to have her in their life. I know I join many others when I state that she will live in me for my lifetime guiding me in generosity, learning and positivity.

You will be desperately missed, A+, which is what I called her because she was A+ in so many lives, Including mine.

With such sorrow and sympathy for her beautiful family and extended family,

Linda

Rebbetzin Ettie Rosenbaum:

The Weinberg and Kulefsky families go back since the Ner Yisroel – Garrison Boulevard days. My personal attachment to Aviva grew when the Weisbords moved across the hall from us, as a young couple, on Yeshiva Lane. I was a high school student at the time; back then, I was the only girl my age living on Yeshiva Lane since it was in its beginning days. The Weisbords home was my go-to place. From that point on in my life, Aviva had always given and given and given to me – never was I ever able to do anything for her. She never took anything in return and she never needed or asked for anything from anybody. That was Aviva! She was just there to give. She was like a combination older sister-mother for me. She was there every step of my life, correcting my book reports, driving me to drivers ed, and being my confidante who I knew I could always turn to – there was nothing she wouldn’t do for me!

Aviva was an early riser and she would get up early to make sure that she was dressed and that she finished davening before her children got up. This way, she was able to devote her attention to them without feeling rushed; it enabled the day to start calmly and it changed the way she was able to send her kids off to school.

Aviva is really the one who came up with the idea to start a women’s learning program. She had a private practice in psychology at the time and was seeing a client who was a georis who mentioned to her that there were no shiurim for women in Baltimore. Hearing there was a need, Aviva approached me and said, ‘I know what you are going to do next – we’re going to open up a women’s program. I laughed at her because I said there was no way in the world that I would teach women. She said, ‘Yes, you will!’ Through Etz Chaim, enabled by Rabbi Porter, we opened up WITS. I really believe that our women’s program is a catalyst for so many women’s shiurim in Baltimore today. When Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Itzkowitz came up with the idea of starting a seminary in Baltimore, they approached Rav Weinberg, zt’l, Aviva’s father. Seeing that her father was very much behind the idea, Aviva jumped on the bandwagon and became a founder of WITS/MAALOT and was its president for 23 years. As busy as she was – and she was very, very busy – she gave the position her all.

Never did you feel like you were talking to a woman who was in a rush or so busy. She gave you all the time – and her ear. She was a great mother and a wonderful grandmother – always taking her kids out when they were young and, later, her grandkids. She was just a superwoman! She was an esha chachoma – she was such a smart woman – and Aviva’s koach was that she understood people.

For a long time, there were over 200 women on the daily call-in Tehilim line, davening for Aviva. They were from all walks of life and Jewish denominations from across this community – and beyond, in New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and elsewhere. Everybody loved her. She was phenomenal; one of a kind; there was nobody like her!

Aviva remembered certain dates that meant something to people and would call them up on those days. She would call her relative, Mrs. Zwicka, a”h, every single night for 20 years, from the time she became widowed, to check up on her.

I thought I was so close to Aviva, but after speaking with so many people since her petira, I am hearing how they feel they were so close to her, too.

Jodi Reches:

At the conclusion of class today, I took a few moments to tell my students about Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, a’h.  I told them that, as one of the Founders of WITS/Maalot, Dr. Weisbord is directly responsible for the opportunity they have to attend a college program and pursue higher education in a Torah environment.  I often tell my students that it is not a contradiction to be a Bas Yisrael as well as being a successful, accomplished professional in the secular world.  If there was anyone who was a prime example of this, it was Rebbetzin Dr. Weisbord. 

In this context, I shared with my students one of my favorite Rashis.  Parshas B’chu’ko’sai starts off “Im B’Chu’ko’sai Tay’lay’chu –if you go in my laws.”  Rashi states that this means “She’ti’hi’yu Ah’may’lim Ba’Torah — that you should be immersed in Torah.”  But a commentary on Rashi stated that the Rashi should be read, “She’ti’hi’yu Ah’may’lim — that you should go out in the world and work and it should be “Ba’Torah— that Torah principles should guide all of your actions and business/professional dealings.”  This was Rebbitzen Dr. Weisbord.  In her myriad of professional and communal involvements, she was M’kadesh Shem Shamayim — she sanctified G-d’s name.  And while we can only hope to emulate her even just a little bit, she is certainly the model we should look to as our compass going forward. 

After class, I received this email from a student:

Hi Dr. Reches,

I just wanted to thank you for sharing some words about Rebbetzin Dr. Weisbord at the end of class. I and many others did not know her personally, but felt very saddened by her petira, and we really benefited from hearing a little about her.

Her neshama should have an aliya.

Have a good night.

Rebbetzin Dr. Weisbord, from your place next to the Ki’say Ha’kavod – G-d’s Holy Throne, you are already inspiring the next generation of Bnos Yisrael, and we know, that as we eagerly await an end to this terrible Ma’gayfah (plague) you are advocating for us in Shamayim (Heaven.) 

T”hay Naf’sha Tzi’rura B’tzror Ha’Chaim.

May Aviva bas Harav Shmuel Yaakov be a melitzas yosher for her family, community, and Klal Yisrael, and may the Weisbord family find comfort in knowing that the gaping hole in the heart of the Baltimore community is felt by all.

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