A Life Of Kindness And Torah
Senior Copy Editor
av Goldman was the last of the
European rabbonim in this city.
He witnessed a world that no
longer exists, and he planted seeds for
the next world."
That is how Rabbi Shmuel Irons,
head of the Kollel Institute of Greater
Detroit, eulogized Rabbi Dr. Leo Y.
Goldman, 94, who died Thursday, Dec.
27, 2012. The rabbi's funeral was held
Saturday night at Hebrew Memorial
Chapel in Oak Park. Burial was Monday
Born in eastern Poland, Rabbi
Goldman lost many family members
in the Holocaust. The longtime rabbi
at Congregation Shaarey Shomayim
on 10 Mile in Oak Park, he attracted a
following, including many Holocaust
"[In the 1950s], survivors started to
come from Europe," recalled the rabbi's
friend Michael Weiss, who spoke at the
funeral. "They found a home in Shaarey
Shomayim. They found a home in the
home of Rabbi Goldman.
"And then the Russian people started
to come. Again, they found a home in
Shaarey Shomayim. Especially, he could
speak their language?'
Son Joseph Goldman said of his
father, "He epitomized what chesed
[lovingkindness] should be. He also
epitomized what Torah should be."
One incident just after World War II
ended had a profound effect on Rabbi
On Sept. 30, 1945, inside the near-
ruin that once was the Great Shul of
Vilna, Lithuania, Rabbi Goldman,
then a Russian army officer in his 20s,
approached a father holding his 5-year-
It was Simchat Torah and, in a city
that once called itself home to 100,000
Jews, of which 3,000 survived, the shul
has been stripped of almost everything,
including the Torahs.
Rabbi Goldman asked if the boy were
Jewish, then said, "During the war, I
traveled many kilometers as a soldier,
and I did not see many Jewish chil-
dren alive. May I take him as my Sefer
In place of dancing while holding the
Torah, the soldier danced while hoist-
40 January 3 • 2013
ing the boy who, to everyone
in the sanctuary, represented
the rebirth of the Jewish
Although they parted ways
after that day, the experi-
ence had a huge impact
on both their lives. Rabbi
Goldman would devote his
life to teaching and com-
forting the Jewish people.
And the boy, who had been
hidden by a Polish nanny
and raised Catholic until
the end of the war, began
his return to Yiddishkeit
that day. Today, he is well-
known as Abraham Foxman,
national director of the
Rabbi Leo Goldman and Abraham Foxman in 2010.
Anti-Defamation League in
New York City, who serves
as a protector of the Jewish
Coming To Detroit
people and fighter against
Rabbi Goldman was born in
Although he never heard
Poland in 1918, became a rabbi
in 1938 and was drafted into the
what happened to the boy,
Russian army during the war.
Rabbi Goldman's memory of
He saw action, was significantly
the story became the subject
of a song, "The Man From
wounded and was moved further
Vilna," which was written in
east to recuperate in an Uzbekistan
hospital. It was there he met his wife,
2004 after he met a Toronto songwriter
Sonia, a Lithuanian refugee. They were
on an airplane. The song turned out to
married in 1943.
be pivotal in reuniting the two survi-
After the war, they moved to Sweden
In 2007, Foxman shared his story
and eventually to Oslo, where Rabbi
Goldman became chief rabbi of Norway.
with a group of Israeli soldiers and
Birthright Israel participants at Yad
After a period in Oslo, the couple
Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in
realized that Norway wasn't a place to
Israel. Someone asked him if the soldier raise a Jewish family. Working through
a Lithuanian refugee organization, they
were still alive.
A woman who worked at Yad Vashem moved to Detroit in 1948, with the
financial help of local philanthropist
said she would do some research and
Louis Berry. There, the rabbi and Sonia
find out. She found a story about the
raised three children — Joseph, Rose
song in a Chabad-Lubavitch news-
paper. Connections were made and,
in January 2010, Foxman met Rabbi
In Detroit, Rabbi Goldman became
Goldman's daughter Vivian Aronson in
rabbi at several shuls, including
the Tyler Shul and Young Israel of
Northwest in Detroit.
When she showed him a 1945 photo
of her father as a Russian soldier,
In 1959, he built Shaarey Shomayim
Foxman was overwhelmed.
in Oak Park. After the synagogue was
On April 8, 2010, Foxman walked
torn down to make way for the 1-696
into Rabbi Goldman's Oak Park home.
freeway, he led services at the Jewish
Community Center in Oak Park as well
The little boy and the Jewish soldier
as in his home.
would be able to hold each other again.
"I've been waiting a long time
Although Rabbi Goldman knew no
English when he came to the U.S., less
Foxman said at the time. "It's so emo-
than a decade later, in 1957, he earned
a Ph.D. in education from Wayne State
Said the rabbi's grandson David
University. He also served as a mohel
Brystowski, then 15, "It was an emo-
tional and inspirational moment, like
for 40 years until the 1990s.
long-lost family members reconnecting.
"For many years, I sat next to him
It is a feeling and a moment that I will
in the Vaad HaRabbonim [the local
keep with me for the rest of my life?'
board of Orthodox rabbis], many, many
meetings, many hours dealing with the
many concerns of this community?' said
"I also sat with him at the Vaad
HaChinuch [rabbinic board of edu-
cation] at Yeshiva Beth Yehudah [in
Southfield] dealing with issues that
affected education, and education was
very dear to him.
"And he could speak on the field of
education with perhaps more than the
experience that all parents have or all
"He devoted many years and received
a doctorate in education, and it was
telling in the meetings?'
When Rabbi Goldman's wife died
in 1982, he became a chaplain at
Providence Hospital in Southfield and
Royal Oak-based Beaumont Hospital
until he retired in February 2010.
"He would visit not only those of the
Jewish community, but their room-
mates who were not Jewish and speak
to them?' said Rabbi Irons.
"He left a rich legacy to all of those
who were touched by him in this com-
munity?' said Rabbi Irons.
"He had such a deep and profound
love of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of
Israel], the people of Eretz Yisrael —
such pride. In his lifetime, he witnessed
a time when the center of Jewry was in
Eastern Europe. Its heart and its mind
were in Eastern Europe. He saw its total
destruction and its rebuilding in Eretz
Yisrael, and all it of its facets?' said
Remembered Joseph Goldman, "The
last time my father got up to talk, he
said to his grandchildren, 'Who would
believe I am alive and Hitler's dead?
Am Yisrael Chai [the Nation of Israel
Rabbi Leo Goldman was the beloved
husband of the late Sonia Goldman.
He was the devoted father of Joseph
S. (Shelley) Goldman, Vivian (Michael)
Aronson and Rose E. (Dr. Henry)
Brystowski. He is also survived by many
loving grandchildren and great-grand-
Interment was in Israel.
Contributions may be made to
Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, P.O. Box 2044,
Southfield, MI 48037, (248) 557-6750,
www.detroityeshiva.org ; Yeshivat Akiva,
21100 W. 10 Mile, Southfield, MI 48076,
(248) 985-1625; or Women's Orthodox
League, c/o Shaindy Freedman, 14640
Sherwood Court, Oak Park, MI 48237.
Arrangements by Hebrew Memorial