His Story/Her Story: Giving a great lady her due: Rabbanit Bracha Kapach

"On November 26, Rabbanit Bracha Kapach passed away; somehow the news of her death seems to have been swallowed up by other news items that same week."

Rabbanit Bracha Kapach 521 (photo credit: Adam Ross)
Rabbanit Bracha Kapach 521
(photo credit: Adam Ross)
On November 26, Rabbanit Bracha Kapach passed away; somehow the news of her death seems to have been swallowed up by other news items that same week. This amazing and modest woman deserved the recognition she received in 1992 by the city of Jerusalem (Honored Citizen) and the Israel Prize in 1999, the ultimate recognition of her special contribution to society and country.
Thirty years earlier, her learned husband, the late Rabbi Yosef Kapach, had also received this award, a unique achievement for a couple. During her life, Bracha received 26 different certificates of honor.
Rabbanit Kapach was born in San’a, the capital city of Yemen, in 1920. Her parents, the Zadoks, began sending their daughter to deliver bread to the poor when she was eight years old. This act made a deep and long-lasting impression on her; throughout her life, she never turned away anyone in need and was adept at seeking them out. Bracha was betrothed to her cousin Yosef at the age of 11 and gave birth to her first child when she was 14. The couple made aliya three years later (she lost one of her three sons en route, but is survived by one daughter along with the two sons).
An early encounter with poverty in Jerusalem, as mentioned in the eulogy written by her granddaughter Einat Kapach (that appeared in Yediot Yerushalayim) occurred while walking down the street and hearing a woman crying out for food. She entered the abode, and after assessing the dire situation, proceeded to feed and care for her.
She once discovered a woman whose home was in shambles; she had not eaten for three entire days, nor had she bathed. The rabbanit got help in order to empty the room of piles of debris and clean it thoroughly; she made sure this woman was attended from that day on.
Einat’s most incredible story involves neighbors, an elderly couple living in a tiny room with an outhouse in the courtyard. When the wife was hospitalized with pneumonia one winter, their abode caught fire while the husband was attempting to light a heater. The neighbors ran to the rabbanit, screaming that her old people were aflame! Upon arrival, she discovered the man lying in bed, declaring that he wanted to die. Bracha proceeded to extricate him, battling the smoke, dragging him outside like a firefighter and saving his life.
After settling in Jerusalem, she initiated project after project. One of her first centered on embroidery; she set up a boutique of sorts offering dresses for brides. Her most well-known project, “Naomi’s Treasure” (her mother, and later, her daughter’s name) was a clothing charity. An entire room of the Kapach home was devoted to collecting, sorting and organizing used clothes according to the needs of those lacking. Everything was done efficiently and without fanfare; the needy were never embarrassed, always receiving whatever was promised. She also married off innumerable couples and followed their personal progress for years.
Moving into her neighborhood, Nahlaot, demanded involvement in the community.
The rabbanit would appear at the door of a new neighbor and explain that there were thousands in need of food for Shabbat. One was expected to cook or contribute to this project every Friday. As Passover approached, she went into high gear, having established a Passover provision charity on her own over 50 years ago. Wine and matzot were distributed to thousands, all engineered by this petite Yemenite powerhouse.
Bracha was not afraid of anyone, not the seemingly tough kids in the neighborhood nor school principals. She would start conversations with potential delinquents and convince them to attend informal classes, or to return to school. She organized classes for the poor and for the elderly, as well as summer camps for those with limited funds.
She once explained that by 8 a.m. she finished all her “work,” that is to say, whatever needed to be done in her house and for her family: cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. By doing so, she considered herself to be “free” all day. Her willpower and belief in altruism was incredible.
When asked if she was concerned that people might be taking advantage of her, she shrugged, remarking that this was not her problem. They would have to live with themselves; she gave to whoever asked her for help.
Her daughter told me that years ago, the rabbanit saw the local women wasting their time in idle chatter, so she began inviting them to her home for coffee and cake – which cleverly metamorphosed into weekly lessons. She gave classes for women at two different synagogues every Shabbat that lasted for years and, like all the impressive selfless acts that she initiated, made a deep impression upon these women.
Ultimately, Rabbanit Kapach gave new meaning to the expression “a woman of valor.” Rabbanit Bracha Kapach officiated at the wedding of this writer and her husband, Uri Melammed, and prepared their ketuba. The bride wore the outfit provided by the rabbanit, worn at her own henna ceremony 30 years before!