Obituary: Esther Marcus

Rebbetzen whose true beauty lay in the simplicity and integrity of her life


Descended from a long, unbroken rabbinic dynasty dating back to Joel Sirkiss, Chief Rabbi of Krakow, and Rabbi David HaLevi Segal, Esther Marcus, who has died in Johannesburg, aged 95, had made the transition from Poland, to South Africa and London. She was the mother of Barry Marcus MBE, the dynamic rabbi of the Central Synagogue in Great Portland Street, London and was known for her warmth and quiet dignity. Her family had a long history in South Africa where Rabbi Marcus had served in one of Johannesburg’s largest communities, and in Israel.

Esther was born in Slonim (then Poland, today Belarus) where her father Rabbi Shlomo David Grawitsky was a widely respected Torah scholar and a student of the Chofetz Chaim. Rabbi Grawitsky left Poland and made his way to Cape Town in 1929, followed a few years later by his wife Lieba, their two sons and their daughter Esther. Rabbi Grawitsky was appointed Rabbi of Woodstock Synagogue and served on the Cape Town Beth Din. Esther was educated in Cape Town.

In 1939 Esther married Rabbi Nochum Leib Marcus, who had been a student of the famous Mir Yeshiva, a Lithuanian yeshiva in Mir, now in Belarus. After relocating a number of times during the Second World War it has evolved into three yeshivas, one in Jerusalem, with a subsidiary campus in Brachfeld, Modi’in Illit, and the other two in Brooklyn, New York: the Mir Yeshiva, and Bais Hatalmud.

Rabbi Nochum Leib Marcus had arrived in Cape Town in 1934 to be reunited with his family. By a strange co-incidence, his father had sailed on the same ship as Esther’s father in 1929. So when Rabbi Marcus arrived in Cape Town, his father introduced him to Rabbi Grawitsky and from there the introduction between Esther and Nochum Leib was made. Esther supported her husband, who served as Rabbi in Cape Town, for close to 50 years.

Her grandchildren describe her as quiet, humble, and wise. “Her Yiddishkeit was internalised and she had a deep love and dedication to Torah values. She was happy with simplicity and appreciated the important things, enjoying her grandchildren as much as she would enjoy an inspirational Dvar-Torah. She was a true Eshet Chayil.

Esther Marcus was known for her absolute commitment to her family and to traditional Jewish values. She conducted her life with quiet dignity and inner strength.

Tributes were paid to her true beauty which lay in the simplicity and integrity with which she lived her life. She is survived by four children, Rabbi Barry Marcus, Shlomo, Ruth, Joseph, 13 grandchildren and 30 great grandchildren.

Esther Marcus: born November 21, 1921. Died May 27, 2017

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