Memory Lane Morris Bienenfeld, z”l
Benevolence and Tragedy in Boro Park of Yesteryear
In the year 1920, a 17 year old young man from Poland disembarked the ship in New York, and set about making a new life for himself. He brought with him a tradition of greatness, and would profoundly impact the fledgling Jewish life in Boro Park of the late 20’s until the he would depart the world in a tragic way in 1948.
The Bienenfeld name was royalty in Chassidic Poland. For generations they served as Rabbanim in Warsaw, and counted themselves ardent Gerer chassidim. The name Shlomo Zali recurs multiple times in this family going back close to 200 years.
The most recent Shlomo Zali was the father of our Morris (Avraham Moshe) Bienenfeld. He lived in a town called Pruznitz (Przasnysz), where he married and raised his family.
He began to sell clothing out of a Pushcart on Pitkin Street. At the age of 19, This expanded to his entry into the clothing business first with a partner, and later for himself…where he would employ numerous people in the community who were in need of parnasah, and gave generously to many others.
His eldest son, ybl”ch, Marvin Binenfeld fondly relates having been born in Israel Zion Hospital in Boro Park, and his pidyon haben took place in the Linden Heights Shul on 9th Avenue. He explains that his father saw what Hitler, ym”sh was doing. He returned home in 1934 to Pruznitz and walked through town imploring people to leave—and most of the family came to America by 1937, except for one who tragically perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Reb Shlomo Zali’s family included a son in law, Reb Naftali Alter, a great-grandson of the Chidushei Harim, who also joined them in Boro Park—thus, the extended Bienefeld’s established themselves in the Boro Park community. They were preceded here by an uncle, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Yehuda Bienenfeld, who was a great Talmid Chacham, who refused to making a living off Rabbanus so he became a doctor—graduating NYU in 1884. He lived in New York City for twenty years where he was well-known, and served as the Chief physician in one of New York’s prison system, in addition to his private practice. He had a very big hand in establishing the Gerer Yeshiva Sfas Emes in Yerushalayim.
Morris was blessed with great financial success—the bounty of which he used to fuel the growth of Boro Park. The family resided at 1488 49th Street, and the other family members lived in the vicinity, sprinkled throughout 48th Street.
While Reb Shlomo Zali and his son in law Naftali would daven at the Sfas Emes shul which was then the most popular among the chassidishe yidden of Boro Park, and where Marvin recalls going to visit his grandmother on Yom Kippur during the break, Morris embarked on founding and building the Young Israel of Boro Park, serving as the president and building chairman of the new building on 48th Street. In his lifetime, he would only merit to see the steel go up on that building. At the time, Young Israel was located in what remains a distinguished looking edifice at 1363 50th Street.
Mr. Bienenfeld also served as the president of Yeshiva Eitz Chaim, the most prominent boys yeshivah in Boro Park of that time, and also served as a leader in its sister school Shulamith School for Girls. These were his public philanthropic endeavors, but what personified his generosity was his giving to the individual, caring about every employee—never having laid any of them off. Before the days of workplace insurance, Morris Bienenfeld would pay the medical bills of his employees.
Tragedy struck on August 24, 1948. Mr. Bienenfeld was on a plane en route to Minneapolis, Minn., for a meeting with the Dayton Company (today Target Co.) for a sales meeting, when the plane crashed, taking with it all 36 people on board.
The life of this leader and philanthropist was snuffed out in its prime, at age 45, when his giving and leadership was first beginning.
The funeral saw 5,000 people in attendance; everyone in Boro Park knew who he was, and revered him. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he left a total of $7,500 to his employees, in addition to bequeathals to organizations and institutions that he so generously supported in his lifetime in Boro Park of yesteryear.