איש יהודי ושמו מורדכי
At the very beginning of 9th grade, in Bruriah High School, I met my best friend for life… Bayla Rindenow. Her locker was filled with pictures of her 8 siblings, 2 of whom were in the army, and pictures of her when she lived in Israel. She had lived in Israel for 6 years and had only moved to Passaic in 7th grade. Long story short, we became instant friends and by the time January came around, she flew with my family to Florida for winter vacation.
Fast forward. High school years were tough for me at home and the Rindenow house became my home away from home. I honestly think I spent more nights sleeping in Passaic than Monsey in High School. Countless shabbatot, countless school nights, and of course every vacation.
Rabbi Rindenow slowly became not only a father figure in my life but also my Rabbi in many ways and of course, a mentor. How many times did I unload on him? Cry in front of him? He knew me so well…. better than my own father in those years. He treated me like a daughter in the sense that I was not treated as a guest in their home; I was expected to do all the things he expected from his children. He would knock hard on our door Shabbat morning trying to get us to go to shul, and when we stumbled downstairs drinking a coffee and cheesecake (or pumpkin pie) at mid-day, he would make kiddush only after we said Birchat Hashachar. After every meal, he would make me a parev White Russian for dessert, I did not even need to ask. We would discuss halacha and hashkafa at the table and we would also dissect the Dan Brown books to understand what was inaccurate in his writing. He would answer every individual sneeze of mine with a “Bless You” in a different language. I loved his Torah, his voice, his vibrancy, and his humor. At the table, Bayla would always play this game where she would tell him he had something in his beard, and he had to guess if she was joking or not and if he looked down and there was something in his beard, he won and if there wasn’t anything, she won. I would watch this every Shabbat and think, “Wow, this is a real father”.
When Shlomi died, I asked him at the shiva if I can hug him. He said no, naturally, but at least he knew that the question was a valid one. I never saw him so broken and honestly, he never recovered, but I asked him that because it felt so weird not to be able to hug my father figure when he, and all of us, were in such deep agony and pain.
The years and months leading up to Rabbi Rindenow and Mommy Mindy, as I affectionately call her, moving to Tzfat were so thrilling. They were finally coming home. They would finally retire! And have a view of Meiron from their porch. He would learn and teach and spend time with his grandchildren and his good friend Rabbi Weingott and and and…
We went to them for Shabbat sometime in November and to see them settled in their new home was just pure joy. Rabbi Rindenow had my son, who was really struggling at the time, sit next to him and was engaging with him in such a sweet way. When he said hamotzi and cut me a piece of challah, and handed it to me, I started crying at the table. Everyone was kind of shocked. I couldn’t put words to my feelings but it was a mix of being so happy they were finally living their dream life in Tzfat after so many years of endless hard work, and me feeling so happy to be “at home” back at “my parents” Shabbat table in Tzfat.
When I heard he was sick, I just thought like everyone else, he would get better. When I heard he was put on a ventilator I believed it was just to stabilize his lungs and he would wake up soon. When Bayla and her brother Moishy flew to Israel I couldn’t fully understand why. Wasn’t it a little extreme? I mean, after all, he will be fine. When I went up to Tzfat to be with Bayla, Moishy and Mommy Mindy while they were going through this hell, I did not stop believing for one second he would get better. I said goodbye to them with so much belief everything would be fine on Thursday evening, and on my drive back home from Tzfat, he passed away.
Standing at his kever, 37 weeks pregnant, I could not stop crying and muttering over and over and over “thank you thank you thank you….”. No other words would come out…I just felt this huge mountain of gratitude and I could only hope his neshama heard me.
Two weeks later, I had a baby boy. He was born on Rosh Chodesh Adar, (which was also our 2nd anniversary!), and I knew this baby would be named after this tzadik. We named our baby last Shabbat: Noam Shalev Mordechai.
To quote a dear friend of Rabbi Rindenow, Rabbi Goodman, he was not just a yingal of Rebeim, he himself was a Rebbe. His grandfather was the last Chernobyl Rebee who was killed in the holocaust. But it was not just that he was a descendent of the Baal Shem Tov and the Chernobyl/Terwsky/Square dynasty… he was a Rebee himself. I honestly feel I named my 2-week-old baby after a great Rebee!
Today is Purim, which was his favorite holiday and on Sunday is Rabbi Rindenow’s shloshim. When reading the megillah today I was thinking how Mordechai Hatzadik played such an important role in the Purim story, but he did it quietly and humbly and bihester, in secret. You kind of think of him like a spy with a hood covering his face and a small notebook and pencil in his pocket where he is recording facts secretly. But he’s the tzadik of the story and at the end, he is paraded through the streets in full royal glory.
Rabbi Mordechai Rindenow was not on Torah Any Time, he was not a Gateway Rabbi, and he did not even sit at the head of his own table. He was as down to earth as it gets, he knew how to joke around and have a gevaltik hardy laugh where he could not even breath. He even went to the movies with us once, just to hang out with us teens! He was behind the scenes with his chesed and his bright mind. Mordechai Hatzadik was quietly changing the world from behind the curtain and Rabbi Mordechai Rindenow changed the world significantly and in abundance without ever coming out as machar rabbi or a kiruv display. He just did what he felt he had to do and changed and changed and changed people’s lives without ever flaunting it. It is now, that we have lost this great man, that it is time to walk him through the streets on a high horse dressed in dignity and scream “ככה יעשה לאיש אשר המלך חפץ ביקרו”. The King of Kings would want this.
He did not have national or international fame when he was alive because that’s not how he operated, but I feel it’s time now for all of us to unveil his greatness and shout it out on the streets. “מרדכי הולך וגדול” …His greatness will only grow with time.
I have not even touched upon his greatness and magnitude in this article, there is just too much to say. But I hope that people will keep sharing their stories about him so that we can keep his memory and greatness alive.
Please donate what you can to the family: https://www.gofundme.com/f/pdd87-rabbi-mordechai-yisroel-tzvi-rindenow-zl?qid=be126caf8c5e81f748b2a22e0d02b98f