Baruch Dayan Emet
This bulletin is dedicated to the memory of our beloved Rabbi Ervin (Matan) Birnbaum ז"ל
He has left us with a legacy
and an opportunity to follow his example:
To live each day to its fullest
for each day is a present
To say kind words
whenever we have the opportunity
A Letter from the President
It is with fond memories of Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum that I write to you today. Our Rabbi had the phenomenal ability to make everyone he came in contact with feel comfortable and at home in his presence.
That presence is still with us and it doesn’t take big changes to keep that feeling intact. It is all the simple little things that perpetuate that.
Take, for example, the simple step of getting back in the habit of having Kabbalat Shabbat once a month with a light meal after at our synagogue. Now that it has been occurring on a monthly basis, it has become almost like a family gathering for a specific celebration or honor with good talk and memories.
Take another example, Shabbat Kidushim. Before Corona, we would have tables of light eats and after the Blessing, people would stand, eat and have light conversation and quickly leave. The simple act of adding card tables and chairs encouraged people to sit and talk for a few extra minutes adding to the comfortable and homey atmosphere.
Additionally, with the return of a number of our Russian congregants, that homey atmosphere at Kidush allows a chance for all of us to interact together even if the languages are different. A simple thing like saying, “How are you?”, or “Is everything ok here?”, makes for a comfortable atmosphere that is inclusive.
So, as you see, it is the simple things that make things better. Volunteering to help enhance that sense of family and home is something we should all strive to do. If you come to think of it, join a group, come to events, help during holiday celebrations, and, well, just generally come around. It’s the simple act of showing up that can make all the difference in our Synagogue.
That’s how Rabbi Birnbaum would want it. Doing those simple things to reach out to each other to bring that feeling of comfort and home to everyone at Bet Israel.
Larry Hepner, President
When the Queen of England passed away, the citizens of her realm received only few hours notice that her health was declining. They had no time to take their leave of her majesty. In sharp contrast, Hadassah in her awareness of both the need of her husband’s congregants to say goodbye, and the joy that their love could bring her husband, told us when she sensed the time was near. We had the opportunity to write good wishes and fond memories before it was too late to share our good wishes and memories with him. This is just one small example of the special Birnbaum ability to bring light into dark moments and to share good wishes in every circumstance. The following quotes are from messages sent to Rabbi Birnbaum via WhatsApp in response to Hadassah’s now famous message, “Rabbi Ervin is very ill now. If you would like to write any memories and words of appreciation that, you have from your contact with him since he became Rabbi of Bet Israel in 1978, I will read your messages to him to comfort him. Hadassa
Always Special to be with you and your family you put Bet Israel on the map of Masorti Synagogues. Your smile made us feel better…. Edith Garfinkle
You greeted us warmly as you always did each time we arrived. And loved to remind me of the Italian song you know, "Avanti popolo"….Once when I sat behind you … I was singing Adom Olam, I remember you turning around in appreciation for our singing….. Myrale
Your very warm acceptance of others, always accompanied by an engaging sensitive smile..has brought healing to many….. Patricia and the Reform family down the road. My family and I send much love and so much appreciation for all you have done for us and for everyone who knows you. Harriet
We appreciate the conversations we shared, even when only in passing. Your dedication to the community has always been a source of encouragement. Your efforts for the Netanya Anglo community are very much appreciated. You are a wonderful rabbi
Rabbi Irwin, thank you for your wisdom, your advice over the years, when you were in an official position and when you were not, for the hand extended to everyone for the hugs and kisses you distributed (after asking permission.). We continue to pray for your recovery. Gideon and I and my family members wish you a complete and speedy recovery
Ervin has been the backbone of this community… I have learned a lot from you. The most important thing being to say kind things when you have them to say.
And from his fans at Shearim:
Dear Ervin, Hadassah Birnbaum family, Dear Ervin, you know, but I will remind you what a great missionary role you, Rav Irwin, have played and continue to play in the lives of Olim from the USSR and the CIS countries! How much attention care and parental warmth you give have given us -olim who came to Beit Knesset Israel and to a warm home for olim, “Shearim Netanya”. Thanks too you, Rav Ervin. We feel felt like Israelis. Fell in love with our unique Israel, and you brought many back to Jewish traditions. You Rav Ervin are a unique person, a MAN with a capital letter, a great patriot of the State of Israel. You are a great TEACHER and FRIEND! You are also a legend who really participated in the voyage of the famous Exodus. How many amazing places in Israel we visited with you, Rav Ervin, and thanks to you! Unforgettable nights on the ancient stones at the Wailing Wall with prayers on the eve of the ninth! Everything that you have done and are doing, Rabbi Ervin, is not forgotten by us Olim! Thank you and Kudos!!! We love you we pray for you and ask the almighty to help you be healthy!!! You are a lover of life and an optimist, and we still have a lot of work ahead of us! Hold on, our dear Rav Ervin we really need you!!!
Without a doubt, everyone who knew this man loved and respected him. These are some of the words he said at my father’s funeral and I think they reflect his approach to life. I believe they can bring us some perspective now – again his showing us the way forward, which is the only way he would go. re “We will meet on happy occasions in the future; we should simultaneously remember that this is part of life. It is a part of life, and this is part of life cannot be avoided. And therefore, we should try to take advantage of every day and enjoy every day. We will get the most out of every day with the love of those who are close to us, with the society around us, the beauty, the clouds in the sky, and the sun in the sky and to enjoy the good hours go on until our inevitable moment.”
Like every aspect of his life, his funeral was exceptional. His family managed to show their love and include everyone in the process. They reminded us of all wonderful things that are Ervin Birnbaum. The words that stand out most in my memory are those of Bat Ella and those of one of his Grand daughters. Bat Ella reminded us of his love of music which she shared with him. She brought that specialness to life. His granddaughter spoke of her special connection with him. How she would sit next to him on Friday nights. One week she was unable to make it to the family gathering, she told her grandfather that he would have to imagine her there next to him; this he agreed to do. Now she discovers it is her turn go forward imagining her grandfather by her side. It will not be that hard, she points out, because he made sure to leave her so many memories, which she can carry with her into the future. I feel that he also made sure to leave us with gifts as well. We will be able hear his music and imagine that he is with us as we move forward. Ervin was a man who did everything to the fullest. In doing so he managed to somehow share his enthusiasm with everyone imparting extra strength and good will with everyone he met
A brief word about the cemetery.
As he did throughout his life, here too our rabbi achieved the seemingly impossible. He escaped the Nazis. He transcended the religious- secular split in the Jewish world. Even as we bid him farewell he managed to escape the inflexible bureaucratic rules surrounding burial. While defiantly remaining fully within the spirit and law of Jewish tradition his family did exactly what suited their situation. Only after the funeral did I understand that he had chosen to be buried in an alternative cemetery generally used by families with issues regarding the halachic status of their Jewishness. In fact, I learned, it is an option open to everyone, and it allows the family to part from their loved ones as they see fit. Even in his last moments, our Rabbi showed us new possibilities for how to live in and leave this world.
After he left us the letters from congregants expressing there feelings came in like a flood. I have tried to collect them for us all to share. My hope is that each person will have a place to express their feelings and portray the different aspects of Rabbi Birnbaum multifaceted personality. He was a great man and each person was touched by this greatness in their own manner.
He was in his eighties when we first met him. He even gave eulogies for deceased members until being in his nineties when he was no longer physically able to do it. Getting to know Rabbi Birnbaum has been one of the greatest blessings Marsha and I ever received. I vaguely remember the first time we saw Rabbi Birnbaum - at least, I think it was the first time - at a Friday night dinner at Bet Israel. It must have been the year (winter 2010-2011) we rented an apartment at the Sea Opera and then, almost immediately, bought our apartment on Nitza. We hardly knew anyone in Netanya at the time and had no idea of who he was. He made Kiddush and motzi and the love and admiration for him around the tables was obvious and it was also obvious he was a very special person. And that was well before we knew anything about the amazing life Rabbi Birnbaum had already led. And he continued to be amazing and inspiring. Even then, at an age when most people we know just want to enjoy their "golden years," Rabbi Birnbaum kept adding meaning to his life, particularly through Shearim, making the lives of so many other people better. And he's been such an example to us and to so many others. I once heard Rabbi Birnbaum speak about his walks with David Ben Gurion at Sde Boker and mentioning that sometimes, as they walked together, his three sons would be with them, playing, running between their legs. For them, they were just out with their father as he walked with some old man. Rabbi Birnbaum remarked that they had no idea they were in the presence of greatness. In reality, they were in the presence of two greatnesses.
“HaMakom YeNachaim Otach”
Beyond the usual meaning of HaMakom, might I add another - the place that he filled in his lifetime. In this way perhaps a smidgen of comfort might actually be found davka in the very dimensions of the enormous, gaping chasm of his loss. That enormity represents – as you know best of all - a truly heroic life, of the most steadfast person I have ever met. Steadfast is perhaps not the precise word I am looking for, perhaps in fact no single word or book could ever do him justice.
In no one else have I ever seen that combination of self confidence and humility. He did not just believe that one person can make a difference, he proved it true, with an incredible inner strength and the ability to move mountains, but always with a gentleness that belied the power.
I deeply regret that as I am ill with Corona I missed the funeral, which I heard beautiful and fitting, and cannot come to pay my condolences. It happened that I urgently needed to talk to someone who was there, and when I couldn’t get ahold of them, I called the cemetery and asked if the funeral of Rabbi Birnbaum was over. Rabbi? The man asked. “They don’t bury rabbis here”. But of course, he was so much more than a rabbi. To the end, he was steadfast in his beliefs and capable of solving problems before they arose with an elegance well beyond that within the grasp of mere mortals.
He set a shining example for us all.
May his memory be for a blessing, forever.
Debbie Toubi and family
Dear Hadassa, Aiton, Liel, Dani and your spouses, and the extended family,
I can’t begin to imagine your loss of Rabbi Ervin, an exceptional man, and am really speechless. My family and I send our condolences and love to you all. Our thoughts are with you.
Rachel Krupnik and extended family
Baruch Dayan Emet! Our sincerest condolences to Hadassah and the entire Birnbaum family. May his memory as well as his influence continue to be a blessing.
I feel so so sad. I loved Rav Ervin so dearly , although I didn't often attend services and take part in community events. Ervin is so dear to my heart. I always felt his joy upon seeing me , the welcoming warmth of his smile and hug, the gentleness of his voice and his genuine concern will stay forever with me. Dear Ervin , I can already feel the presence of your absence. All my empathy for you , dear Haddasa , children and grandchildren who had the infinite privilege to live with him. ..sometimes an oxymoron can make SO much sense.........."I CAN ALREADY FEEL THE PRESENCE OF HIS ABSENCE".
"Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum taught us to love people and to see in each one a special person. He taught us how to make people feel better about themselves. He made all of us Russian-speakers who came to Bet Israel and to Shearim, Netanya, to feel that we are wanted and needed and that Israel is our home. We will always remember him with great love. Claudya Khenkin"
This is a loss for the whole world. He was one of the last greats from a generation that has disappeared. I was an honor to know him and feel his influence. His memory is a blessing which will sine on into the future. Sincere condolences dear Birnbaum family - our community has lost a true icon. I hope you hold on to the good memories always and may the Rabbi’s memory be for a blessing. Ervin’s memory will live on and brighten the darkness of his passing We were blessed to have him with us
I feel so so sad . I loved Rav Ervin so dearly , although I didn't often attend services and take part in community events. Ervin is so dear to my heart. I always felt his joy upon seeing me , the welcoming warmth of his smile and hug, the gentleness of his voice and his genuine concern will stay forever with me. Dear Ervin , I can already feel the presence of your absence. All my empathy for you , dear Haddasa , children and grandchildren who had the infinite privilege to live with him.
This summer we lost a friend, Netanya lost a friend, Israel lost a partner and the world lost a positive person who viewed obstacles as stepping-stones. Of course, we are referring to Professor Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum. Our remembrance is not an attempt to list all of Professor Rabbi Birnbaum׳s accomplishments to recall our personal observations. Dani Birnbaum, one of Rabbi Birnbaum’s sons summed it up that his father treasured family, love of Israel and love of music.
Suzanne and I made aliyot in December of 2009. We looked for a Conservative Synagogue and attended services at Bet Israel in Netanya. Bennie Seletsky welcomed us with open arms. We were told there was a rabbi but he was leaving soon. We attended services and began to meet the members. Each had an amazing story concerning their backgrounds.
The fall of 2010 was our first “High Holiday Services”. They were marvelous with our Rabbi Emeritus Professor Rabbi Ervin Birnbaum . We enjoyed his Dvar Torah. He was enthusiastic and loved to sing.
We finished Ulpan and learned of Tiyulim that Rabbi Birnbaum organized once a month from Netanya. Half of the filled bus consisted of olim from Russia and the other half were Anglo-Saxon olim originally from England, South Africa, and the United States. Hadassa, Rabbi Birnbaum’s wife, Aiton, Rabbi Birnbaum’s eldest son, and Ina, Russian guide who translated from Hebrew to Russian during the tiyul. Aiton was also a guide and translated from Hebrew to English. Hadassa contributed wonderful information during the tiyul.
We went to so many interesting locations in Israel. We even entered the West Bank on occasion. Singing was always part of the return to Netanya. Rabbi Birnbaum enjoyed singing and at times was accompanied by Sylvia Krueger playing her harmonica.
In a few years I became president of Bet Israel. Rabbi Birnbaum helped me understand the backgrounds of the members and the group of former Russians who attended and participated in services at Bet Israel. After the Torah being returned to the arc they would go to the social hall and have Batya Goldberg give a Dvar Torah in Russian, that had been prepared by Rabbi Birnbaum. They would then remain for the Kiddush. The rabbi would prepare us for the blessings with enthusiastic music.
Bet Israel did not have a rabbi from around 2010 until today. Non-members would have assumed Rabbi Birnbaum was our Rabbi. He would lead services, give Dvar Torah in Hebrew, English, and Russian. For Sukkot, Hannukah, Purim and other holidays Rabbi Birnbaum was the leader. He always had that marvelous smile. He also attended a Classical Music Festival in Eilat with a bus-load of Bet Israel members.
I am not trying to mention everything the Rabbi did during his lifetime. His impact on Netanya׳s Russian olim was indescribable. I presented to Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization for North American olim, his nomination for an outstanding person from the USA who contributed much to Israel. He was accepted but did not win. I was very disappointed.
He was in his eighties when we first met him. He even gave eulogies for deceased members until being in his nineties when he was no longer physically able to do it.
In the short time since his death, we still expect to see him come in on Shabbat and greet everyone. It was like watching the pied piper. We miss him for so many reasons but feel his presence everywhere. On the 5th of September, Shearim had its first weekly noon concert of the season: The location was filled to capacity. The Rabbi’s presence was felt during the entire hour.
We miss him so much and so glad we can be among so many who can say we knew such a remarkable human being.
I feel so so sad . I loved Rav Ervin so dearly , although I didn't often attend services and take part in community events. Ervin is so dear to my heart. I always felt his joy upon seeing me , the welcoming warmth of his smile and hug, the gentleness of his voice and his genuine concern will stay forever with me. Dear Ervin , I can already feel the presence of your absence. All my empathy for you, dear Haddasa, children and grandchildren who had the infinite privilege to live with him.
I'm reminded of the excellent book written by Charles Krauthammer,
"Things that matter." Rabbi Birnbaum spent his life doing things that matter. His was certainly a life worth living.
One month after the funeral family and friends gathered at the grave. In Jewish tradition, the end of the first month of morning marks a new phase in letting go of our loved ones.
In this spirit, the family spoke of their loss. The strength and dignity, which was apparent throughout the ceremony, is a tribute to our leader. Throughout the ceremony, we felt his positive impact on those around him.