This past Friday, we lost yet another of our old timers at the Old Broadway Synagogue, Yisrael Liberman. I must have originally met Mr. Liberman while walking north to Old Broadway while he was heading south to Ramath Orah, but I only got to know him about ten years ago. At the time, our rabbi, Abe Weschler was courting Mr. Liberman and trying to win him back to Old Broadway. Some time before I began attending Old Broadway in 1993, Mr. Liberman had finally had it with Old Broadway (I heard that he did not approve of the dovish politics of another member who was given the opportunity to speak from the bimah) and left to attend Ramath Orah, another local synagogue. In 1999, Rabbi Weschler was doing his best to bring Mr. Liberman back to our flock. He and his wife Tirtza would often have Mr. Liberman over for Shabbos dinner. It was at such a dinner that I finally got to know Mr. Liberman. I recall that he was boasting of his strength - that he could easily do 50 push-ups, and would gladly do so on the spot. I declined his generous offer, but this would forever prove to me that Mr. Liberman was a shtarker - a strong man. Before Rabbi Weschler left Old Broadway (to join the Air Force), Mr. Liberman did come once - vindicating, perhaps, Rabbi Weschler's efforts. Fast foward a couple of years. Mr. Liberman, unfortunately suffered a severe stroke. Amazing, he largely recovered. With the help of his young roommate, Michael, and his friend, Doug, Mr. Liberman now returned to Old Broadway, which was quite a bit closer than Ramath Orah. We did not talk about whatever issues had caused him to leave Old Broadway in the first place, and we were glad to have him back. I think he was glad to be back to. When he felt up to it, and if we would ask him several times, he would agree to lead musaf in the Shabbos morning service. He had a beautiful voice and sung the prayers in a sweet, Polish-Ashkenazic Hebrew. He would say "Burkhi es hashem hamvurekh" as opposed to "Barkhu et hashem hamevorakh," and so on.
Only after his death did I learn a few biographical details of his life. He grew up in Lodz, Poland, where his family were Gerer Chasidim and his father Fischel, was an important community leader. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, his father was murdered soon after. Mr. Liberman was in the ghetto until the great deportation in 1944, when he and his mother were sent to Auschwitz. Miraculously, both survived. A heard a story that during the death march out of Auschwitz in late 1944, sick and starving, he collapsed as was put on to a pile of corpses. Somebody saw his mouth moving - he was apparently davenning Shacharis - and realized his was alive and rescued him. Ultimately, Mr. Liberman came to the United States and rebuilt his life. He worked as administrator for the Bialystoker Home for the Aged, married, and had three children, Fischel, Fay and Chaim.
With the assistance of Michael and Doug, Mr. Liberman became a regular at Old Broadway. I gave him an aliyah whenever I could, and he gave us his idiosyncratic personality which was often impatient, but was still warm and accepting. Like the other old timers, Mr. Liberman was a link to the past which enabled us to understand who we are as a community, so that we can flourish in the future.
Since Mr. Liberman was born into the Chasidic world, it was perhaps appropriate that he left this world through Chasidim as well. His daughter Fay, herself part of the Gerer Chasidic community, arranged for his funeral in Boro Park. The coffin was wheeled through a room full of Chasidim who were bedecked in their Shabbos kapotes and shtreimels. We - the Old Broadway people and they - the Chasidim - followed the coffin on the way to car. From there, Mr. Liberman's body was flown to Israel, where is was greeted by Chaim and buried in the Har Menuchot cemetery outside of Jerusalem. A fitting sendoff for a very special human being. We will miss Mr. Liberman. May his memory be for a blessing.