“If you need something to get done, you’d best ask a busy person to do it.”
This adage is especially apropos when describing Mrs. Aliza (Besser) Grund, a”h, who passed away last week. Aliza Grund was the renowned head of N’shei Agudah; the woman who accomplished the seemingly impossible.
Where other people may have seen barriers and obstacles, Aliza saw potential. She found solutions and ways to make things happen, nourishing ideas from their inception with tenacity and brillance—many of which ultimately evolved into great movements.
Despite her numerous responsibilities and never-ending workday, Aliza was first and foremost a loyal daughter, devoted wife and doting mother, as her daughter, Mrs. Rivka Sender, recalls.
“What was so remarkable about my mother was the way she made us a priority. Everyone remembers my mother as a klal person, doing big things and juggling so many responsibilities, but we remember a mother who was completely present and focused on our needs. She had her travel agency in the house so that she didn’t need to leave us to go to work. I remember her schlepping to Manhattan with me to buy supplies for a school project, helping me study for tests and just being there.”
“Even when my mother was dealing with numerous complicated situations at once, it was never about the project but about the individuals involved. Her clients at the travel agency, the people she helped through the Agudah, those who called her at odd hours, she gave each person all the time they needed. Every person was treated with sensitivity and respect.”
Her daughter also shares her memories of the tremendous honor her mother showed her own parents: her father, Rabbi Chaskel Besser, zt”l, and, tbd”l, her mother, Rebbetzin Ahuva Besser.
“My mother’s life revolved around her parents and what they needed. In our home, my mother didn’t just speak about kibbud av va’eim, she lived it.”
For many years, Aliza would host her elderly parents in her home for the Yomim Tovim. Although she reveled in attending family simchahs, if her parents needed her, she would gladly forgo an event, spending time with them instead. She would regularly bring her mother nourishing meals, and she would make sure her mother’s freezer was always full. She would accompany her to all her appointments, and she did all this while juggling her many other responsibilities. Most importantly, all who remember her attest that she did this with such love and enthusiasm, because being there for her parents was the greatest privilege for her.
She taught us all by example that it’s not all about us; one should give of oneself for a higher cause without seeking recognition or praise.
Aliza was a powerhouse, a woman who worked around the clock for the community, focusing on the bigger picture, yet never forgetting the individual, the man or woman waiting anxiously to hear that everything would be okay. Whether arranging for a niftar to be flown to Eretz Yisrael at the eleventh hour against all odds, introducing a doula program to Maimonides Hospital through N’shei Cares, lobbying the powers-that-be in Albany to pass a bill mandating insurance companies to pay for infertility, or a thousand other things, Aliza never backed down. She identified a need in klal Yisrael, and used her considerable clout, stamina and professional contacts to get things done.
Following in the footsteps of her illustrious father, who was a member of the nesius of Agudah and the founding Chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission, Aliza began volunteering for the Agudah from a young age.
She led N’shei Agudah, which spearheaded, among other things, the classic Bnos program, giving thousands of Bais Yaakov girls a sense of identity and belonging. They galvanized the Ladies’ Auxiliary, discreetly raising large sums for those in need. The Yarchei Kallah women’s program, seminary girls’ trips to Eretz Yisrael, trips to Sarah Schenirer’s school in Krakow, and so much more.
Aliza famously never took a salary, refusing to accept remuneration for the hours upon hours she spent helping, guiding and advising. Her day job, as the CEO and owner of Voyages Unlimited, a successful travel agency, was an extension of her askanus work at the Agudah. She was the woman to contact after a sudden petirah, when myriad arrangements were needed to get the niftar on the next flight to Eretz Yisrael, often succeeding where traditional channels had failed. On one memorable occasion, a plane had already left the gate without the niftar, when Aliza used her connections and diplomacy to have it return and pick up the aron!
She would work on these emergencies late at night at all times, whether it was Erev Yom Tov or Motzaei Shabbos, refusing to accept remuneration for overtime.
Her longtime colleague, Mrs. Matti (Berkowitz) Atlas, who worked alongside her at the N’shei Agudah for 42 years, shared, “We would go to Albany together many times to lobby politicians about causes that were important to frum women. Aliza commanded respect and attention in her own quiet way, without making waves or demanding to be heard. She never spoke about the things she did, and she never tooted her own horn.
“She was a private person who didn’t speak much about herself. She was very diplomatic. If a new initiative was suggested, she would make sure it was the right thing to do, ask daas Torah, and then, when it was approved, she would move heaven and earth to get it done. She would also do lots of research to make sure the idea could be implemented, and the best way to go about it. If something needed to be done, she saw it all the way to its conclusion; there was no cutting corners or taking shortcuts. She did everything in a manner that embodied yashrus and mentchlichkeit.”