For many hundreds of alumni from the Atlantic Seaboard NCSY Region, when Mrs. Miriam (Twerski) Lowenbraun passed away in June in Baltimore, we lost our second mother, our confidante, our advisor and our best friend.
Rabbi Yitzchok and Mrs. Lowenbraun were the regional directors for 18 years. Mrs. Lowenbraun was usually behind the scenes at Shabbatons but when she spoke she did so with authority and power. Those who were lucky enough to go to her sessions always walked away with much more than an education in Torah; we experienced first-hand what a great Jewish woman truly could be.
For two weeks before Mrs. Lowenbraun’s passing, I could not reach either her or her husband. I usually talk to one of them several times per week and I was hoping they would surprise me at my oldest son’s wedding, just as they had come to his Bar Mitzvah and brit. On June 1, one hour before the wedding, Mrs. Lowenbraun passed away and so I knew why I could not reach them. I was in shock. I could not control my devastation and my tears. I called Rabbi Lowenbraun (my lifelong rebbe) but I don’t remember leaving the emotional voice mail he described to me later.
What I do remember vividly is that as I stood under the chuppah I felt her presence. We talked about the unbelievable joy of Levi’s wedding and how she was now able to help walk him down the aisle and dance with his kallah. Sarah Beth Solomont (NCSY regional president before me) described the exact same feelings as she and her husband Rabbi Ari Solomont married off their oldest under the same Israeli sunset at the exact same time. This was the only way she could dance at both weddings simultaneously!
I was at their home in Baltimore more times than I can count, usually among dozens of other guests either sleeping in the dorm upstairs or walking what seemed like miles to come for a meal. Rabbi Lowenbraun was the king at the head of the table and Mrs. Lowenbraun sat right next to him and joyously argued, with deep passion and incredible intelligence, every point he made. I was shocked to learn later that all Jewish couples did not engage in intense intellectual Torah debates at their Shabbat table.
Miriam’s brother Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, (the Hornasteipel Rebbe) shared that his two older sisters (Ruchel and Miriam) went to public school because there was no day school yet in Denver, but were home schooled by their father in Jewish studies. They were sent away to Bais Yaakov in New York when they were only 12. It took four days by train to come home. None of us knew but Miriam first found out she was ill when she was 17 when she was only given a few months to live. The few months turned into 50 years in which the constant pain never stopped her at all. Besides her family and NCSY, she had two masters degrees, had written books but never published then, and was a pioneer in alternative forms of education.
Rabbi and Mrs. Lowenbraun were true soul mates. He never thought for a second that she would ever be interested in him but Hashem smiled on him and she agreed to be his wife on one condition: They would have an open home just like her father’s in Denver. Rabbi Lowenbraun said this was hard for him, especially when there were 30 NCSY’ers in front of him in line for the bathroom on Shabbat morning. Her two most special times were Shabbat and Yom Kippur. When she lit candles an unexplainable extra light was always there except for the last time she lit, when it seemed less bright. She would dress up to cook for Shabbat and then daven maariv for 45 minutes or more at 2:30 a.m. Her kitchen was the Beis Hamikdash — her candles were the Menorah, her challah the Lechem and her Maariv the Avodah.
Miriam asked NCSY’er Dr. Nosson Westreich to come to her hospital room and made him promise to speak at her funeral. He said she asked him so we would not be jealous as he was there from the beginning and represented all of us NCSY’ers. He talked about how we all had very loving relationships with our own parents and in a very healthy way Rabbi and Mrs. Lowenbraun were our parents as well. Miriam had a great relationship with all our parents; her love had no limits and just expanded. He told the Lowenbraun kids how special they were for sharing their mother with all of us and that they should know how worthwhile their sharing was.
One Sunday morning after staying up all night at the NCSY banquet, she told the NCSY’ers the story of the Bluzhever Rebbe in the Holocaust. He was standing next to a non-believer and the Nazis were forcing them to leap over a pit; those who fell into the pit where immediately shot. Neither thought they could make it. The Bluzhever jumped and made it and the other fellow did too. The non-believer asked him how he made it over and the Bluzhever said he reached into shamayim and held on to the coattails of his ancestors. How did you make it, the rebbe asked? I held on to your coattails, came the answer.
When I visited Rabbi Lowenbraun recently, I walked into the kitchen and strangers were there. I expected to see Miriam; it was unreal not being able to talk to her. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with that, but thank God her coattails are so easy to see.