In Memory of an 'Isha Chashuva'
Editor's Note: Mrs. Mindy Lamm Z”L, wife of YU president emeritus Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, passed away on April 16 2020. She was 88 years old. Born in Brooklyn NY, Mrs. Lamm attended Beis Yaakov and studied education at Hunter College. In 1954 she married Rabbi Lamm and became deeply invested in the Yeshiva University Women's Organization. In her lifetime, Mrs. Lamm touched many people in the Yeshiva University community. Dr. Karen Bacon, The Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel, former chair of the Judaic Studies Department at Stern College for Women, graciously agreed to share their thoughts about Mrs. Lamm with The Commentator.
It has been many years since Mrs. Mindy Lamm (a”h) and I sat together on a panel discussing the role of women in Judaism, yet I remember the event clearly. It was in another time, and now it feels as if it was also in another world. Women were taking up their positions in every walk of professional life, but the Orthodox Jewish community had yet to keep pace. I knew this well. As a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Yeshiva College in the mid-‘70s, I often heard the “guys” talk about their imagined futures: they would be successful physicians and their wives would welcome them home each night with a hot dinner and a welcome smile. The only thing missing from the picture was a pair of slippers. And so, when Mrs. Lamm and I discussed the topic at hand, it was against the backdrop of the secular world of the liberated woman and the Orthodox world of the emerging woman.
That panel discussion was the first time I had the privilege of being in conversation with Mrs. Lamm, and a privilege it was. Everything about her reflected the characteristics of an isha chashuva. I am not sure she was so very tall, but she appeared tall to me, tall and imposing. And yet she was the epitome of graciousness, warm and smiling. After some introductory remarks, we each talked about our lives. The details were less important than the themes. Hers was a theme of commitment: commitment to Judaism, to husband, to family, to community. By comparison, my theme, women’s professional development and achievement, seemed small and empty. Of course, women’s lives need not be either/or of these two models, but in those days everything was polarized, or at least was presented as polarized.
Since that time I have had the opportunity to see Mrs. Lamm on many occasions. I saw her live out her commitments at all levels. I saw her courage in the face of adversity and her steadfastness in the face of criticism. I saw a noble woman fulfill her life’s mission and I encountered many who admired her. I also internalized the commitments she expressed so eloquently during our panel discussion. Regardless of profession or professional achievements, commitment to Judaism, to family and to community comes first. May her memory always remain with us as a blessing.
— Dr. Karen Bacon, The Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean
Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Mrs. Lamm a”h always expressed great interest in women’s learning, including her own. Over a number of years, she attended classes at Stern College — and she brought with her a small group of bright and committed friends who did the same. Each student took courses in which she was interested, and they all prepared for class faithfully and well. My colleagues and I marveled at these efforts — none of them expected a “free ride” — they participated, they asked questions and they responded. Indeed, there were more than a few times in my experience when these more mature students helped to raise the level of participation and intensity among the undergraduates. Mrs. Lamm was the informal, always understated, director of all of this, bringing friends along whom she thought would gain from the educational experience, which was her own quiet goal as well. She always expressed profound gratitude to those who taught, which was not necessary, and she was always thankful for the nachas that she experienced studying with the undergraduate women of Yeshiva University.
In addition, Mrs. Lamm organized lectures and shiurim in her apartment for larger groups of women. She would invite faculty members from Stern College and from other parts of the university, several times a year. (I suspect that at least as far as Stern College was concerned, her “consultant” in these matters was her daughter Sarah a”h, herself a wonderful presence at the college.) The groups that Mrs. Lamm brought together consisted of capable and interested women — she would introduce them to us and talk about how we were the “illustrious faculty of Yeshiva University” even though some of us were too young and too inexperienced to be very illustrious. She always asked for “real Torah” and “real learning” for this group, and we were happy to try to live up to that request. Each time, Mrs. Lamm was careful to say that an honorarium would be sent along. Protests in that regard were met with the simple response that this is the right thing to do; very Mrs. Lamm.
At the end of these sessions, the audience seemed to be very happy (or at least very polite); and the lecturers were happy because they had just taught a great group of eager students something of importance to them. For her part, Mrs. Lamm always had a big smile for everyone and was full of compliments for those involved, because she knew that she had helped Jewish women learn in a substantive way, provided them with a pleasant social environment in which to do so and raised the reputation of Stern College and Yeshiva University, all at the same time. Such was the hokhmah, sensitivity and generosity of Mrs. Lamm a”h. יהא זכרה ברוך.
—Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law at Yeshiva University