Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rabbi Neuberger

I don't have words to describe Rabbi Neuberger, nor the tremendous loss that Klal Yisroel is experiencing with his פטירה. This was a man who loved every single Jew, and literally saved hundreds of them-both spiritually and physically. Governors, mayors, government officials-they all called him for advice, as did former students and plain old laymen. My mind kinda boggles when I think of what his reward is in the עולם האמת.

One story my father always told about him-one Yom Tov, the phone rang. To the surprise of his children and grandchildren, Rabbi Neuberger answered the phone. After a hurried conversation, he hung up and turned to his gaping viewers.

"This was a case of פדיון שבוים, the saving of Jewish captives (something for which it is permitted to break Shabbos). I therefore was not only allowed to, but was required to answer the phone, even though it was Yom Tov, because there are Jewish lives hanging in the balance. And for that, we must do whatever we can."

The article below was written by the editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, a Jewish magazine that covers all types of Judaism in Baltimore. The full article can be found here.

On a cloudy early Sunday morning I sit over a cup of hot tea and don't feel as if the world is quite the same. The feeling has intensified since learning about the death of Rabbi Herman Neuberger.

For those who don't know the name and don't understand, he was everything. He was 87 years old and up until his death I guarantee you he had more energy than you or I. He was not old as much as he was enduring and moving forward despite age.

On one level, there was no one else we know who national and state politicians needed to see more than Rabbi Neuberger. He'd listen to them, encourage and offer advice if he agreed with them or not. Just three weeks ago, he sat with Governor Ehrlich in his modest Ner Israel Rabbinical College office, and reminded the state's top official that winter was coming and that there were plenty of poor people who couldn't afford the rising costs of heat.

He asked the governor what he planned to do to help. U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, a long time friend of Rabbi Neuberger's, has visited the Mt. Wilson Lane office countless times. Friend and confidant, it was Rabbi Neuberger who she came to for a final validation of her desire to run for the U.S. Senate.

There are other, perhaps more difficult stories. Again, the modesty of his study didn't suggest that he'd been on the phone for hours rescuing fellow Jews be they from the threat of Islamic puppet states to the killer anti-Semitism behind a Communist regime, it was Rabbi Neuberger who got them out. The stories could consume the space of a library.

But then there are the localized accounts of people with no where else to turn, who needed direction, who needed help. And who knows what the help was. Nobody knew, because when they came to him for help, he would take care of it in a dignified, personal manner.

Two personal stories.

When my sister passed away in December of 2003, it was a very, very difficult time for my family. I wasn't entirely up to facing anyone during the shiva period. One afternoon during shiva, there was a knock on my door. It was Rabbi Neuberger. He came in, sat down in my living room, and all that I can say was that after he left, I felt as if my thoughts, my feelings during shiva were more focused or directed.

He didn't know my sister, but while he was there, I felt love, I felt strength.

Whenever I had the opportunity to meet with Rabbi Neuberger, before we'd get down to the subject of Jewish journalism, he'd first ask about my children. He knew where they were attending school, and he wanted to know "what the older one's doing" and "what's the younger one doing?" He wanted to know what seminary "the older one" would attend in Israel. He wanted to know about her fiance, now husband. And then, he'd talk to me about the issue he had in mind. Some of the time, he'd have difficult points to bring up. But all of the time, we left with warmth.

There was a time when I lived in Detroit that I questioned whether or not I'd want to stay in the business of Jewish journalism. On a visit to Baltimore, I was able to get on Rabbi Neuberger's calendar. I remember meeting with him at his Yeshiva Lane home. Most of what he said to me was very personal, very powerful. But he did say at the time that I couldn't leave the profession, that it was sometimes going to be hard, but to be brave and to keep doing what I was doing.
As recently as a handful of months ago, he reminded me of that conversation and told me to keep moving forward. His words had a way of penetrating all of the nonsense cluttering my head.

I know for sure there are literally thousands of lives he has impacted.

That he died after lighting his Shabbat candles says everything. Here was a man bringing light onto the world his entire life. One more time, he kindled those lights.

Now it's up to us. But for so many, there's going to be that desire to pick up the phone and call Rabbi Neuberger to get his advice or opinion. We're going to wonder what he'd do in certain situations. He made this world better. I hope we can live up to the lessons he taught us.

Note: I wrote this the night that I heard about it (Motzei Shabbos), and blogger said it "had errors," and it never showed up, so I assumed that it got lost in the Internet Black Hole. I only knew it showed up 'cause I checked my email and I have my blogs emailed to me...I'm not sure why it came up now (11/1), but I still mean it!

Incidentally, the mayor and the governor were both supposed to have been at the funeral, as well as some other government people...and the governor of MD definately went to be Menachem Avel his children. That's just the kind of person R' Neuberger was. As an aide said "I've never seen Governor Erlich change his schedule on two hours notice. EVER!" But for this, he did.

1 comment:

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

What beautiful and touching words, you give the Rabbi with your tribute to him.

May you, his family and all who have been touched by him be comforted among the mourners of Zion.