Marvin Oppenheim, of blessed memory, passed away on April 25 from COVID-19. But he wasn’t just a statistic. Our Opa, our grandfather, was so much more.
Our Opa spent his entire life connecting with people, making them smile and helping them out. That meant being there for his students in the New York City public school system, where he catered his teaching to the needs of each student. That meant helping fellow members of his shul at any hour of the day, where he was one of the leaders in his community and fixed everything that needed to be fixed.
Of course, that also meant being one of the pillars of his family.
We got to see him very often growing up. He made sure there were plenty of things to do at his house, and stocked the basement with toys and games, from train sets to paper to draw on to old Fisher-Price toys saved from when our dad was a kid. He cared about making sure we were happy and entertained.
We’d also always go to stay by them for most holidays. On Rosh Hashanah, we’d hear him sound the shofar at our youth groups, knowing that he would do it all over again for another minyan. Before even coming home for lunch, he would pay a visit to people who couldn’t come to shul so they could also have the chance to hear the shofar and fulfill the mitzvah.
Every Pesach Seder, Opa would share Torah thoughts with us and ask to give “just one last d’var Torah” right before Birkat Hamazon. He’d tell countless stories and always made sure we had something to think about even right before the meal ended.
We also got to travel a lot together, visiting Lancaster, Newport, Boston and other locales on the East Coast during yeshiva week winter break. During the long car rides, he’d joke that instead of saying “are we there yet?” we should whine, “how much longer, I’m hungry”—and we’d always get a reply of “two more hours” no matter how far we were from our destination.
Funnily enough, he used to wear a Yankee hat on our family trips to Massachusetts; not because he was a particular fan of the team, but because he enjoyed making people laugh when they commented on it.
His sense of humor stood out. He particularly loved wordplay: “want a snack” became “want a smack,” “you grew some” jokingly turned into “you gruesome,” and “Atlantic Ocean” was made into the “pedantic ocean.”
Whenever we went to Oma and Opa’s to hang out or for dinner, Opa always shared some wisdom with us. We could never forget the time he showed us around his workshop and made us each wooden statues, or the time when he put out a plate of liquid mercury and taught us how its properties work.
He was one of the smartest people we’ve ever met—perhaps even the smartest. Opa was incredibly knowledgeable on every subject you could think of. He knew how roller coasters work, how bed springs were made in the 1700s, and, most of all, he had an incredible and in-depth knowledge of Torah and Jewish learning.
He taught us about the Netziv, Rabbi Schwab and other luminaries. He also guided us through writing and learning our Bat and Bar Mitzvah speeches, encouraging us to speak clearly and succinctly.
For years, he sent us and our cousins daily emails. Sometimes he wrote up a Torah thought from his encyclopedic mind, sometimes he shared a joke, oftentimes it was a combination of the two. He told us he wanted to share the knowledge he had learned over the years, but many times he was sharing his own thoughts and new ideas as well.
In those, he’d jokingly refer to himself as the “RaMOpp”—Rabbi Moshe Oppenheim, a title we thought he definitely deserved.
Every email ended with the following two lines, with no comma:
Opa, we love you so much. It’s so unfair that our time with you was cut short. But we’ll forever treasure the memories we have with you—from every family dinner, vacation and holiday. Every single moment we were lucky enough to share with you. We learned and gained so much from you, Opa, and this isn’t an adequate send-off at all.
But at least we can say that your memory is already a blessing.
The Oppenheim triplets are from Fair Lawn. Oren is a former Jewish Link columnist; he and Aliza attend the University of Chicago. Zachary attends the University of Pittsburgh.