Wednesday, July 15, 2020

After reading the beautiful recollections of Marvin Oppenheim’s triplet grandchildren in last week’s edition, I wanted to share an additional perspective.

Nechama and I moved to our first house in 1975 across the street from Ruth and Marvin Oppenheim. Our connection as neighbors transitioned to a feeling of family. In 1979, as we were preparing for the birth of our third child, we arranged with Marvin to be on call to babysit in case we had to make a middle-of-the-night-run to Columbia Presbyterian across the GWB. Sure enough, it was 4 a.m. Friday morning and Ruth, noticing the lights had gone on in our house, woke Marvin up. At 6:34 a.m., Eli was born just at netz haChamah (sunrise). Over the years when we would reminisce or retell this story to others, Marvin would always get emotional—we always joked that he was like a “godfather” to Eli.

When we regrouped after the shalom zachar (which had been arranged in record time by the two grandmothers), we noticed that Marvin had not only gotten our other kids out to school that morning, but had fixed the loose cabinet doors in the den as well as other items in the kitchen.

I relate this wonderful story because it demonstrates what really drove Marvin the “fixer,” namely, his interest in gemilut chesed—helping others. In fact, his well-deserved reputation of being the consummate osek be’tzorchei tzibbur really flowed from this very same interest in gemilut chesed. Furthermore, his vocation of later years, where he received monetary compensation for work done throughout the homes in Teaneck, always bore additional satisfaction for him, because at its source, he was helping others.

Marvin had a breadth of Torah knowledge. There was never a time when a discussion arose about the Parshat hashavua where he did not have insights to contribute. Similarly, he always had meaningful contributions to offer during his decades of attending the Daf Yomi. Yes, his quirky sense of humor carried over to his Torah insights as well. One of his best was pointing out the onomatopoeia in Shmuel HaNavi’s incredulity to Shaul HaMelech about the cacophony he heard from the sheep, that should have been killed in the war with Amalek, by using the word “MEH, eee HaTzon…”. Marvin subscribed to the now defunct Jewish Observer published by Agudas Yisrael, and it was the basis of some lively “discussions” we had over the years.

Marvin was a person of great emunah. The decision to bury a sefer Torah with him was extremely appropriate and can best be described as the Gemara refers to Chizkiyahu HaMelech -- קיים זה מה שכתוב בזה. This one fulfilled (משה בן יעקב) what is written within there (התורה).

יהי זכרו ברוך

Yehi zichro baruch.

Rabbi Tuly Polak has lived with his family in Teaneck for over 40 years. He has been privileged to offer shiurim in different venues and is currently the maggid shiur at the SWEAT Minyan.

By Rabbi Dr. Israel “Tuly” Polak