A Yahrzeit Remembered

By Arthur Frisch, Prepared by Michelle Halle, LCSW.

8 Tamuz marks the 52nd yahrzeit of Esther Gerber, a name that might sound familiar but you’re unsure why. Allow me to tell you about her by glancing back at this town’s infancy, a town that most of you never knew. Esther Gerber was a Lakewood businesswoman before it was in vogue. She stepped forward during a crisis, earning her place among the supporters of Torah education in an era when doing so was a financial commitment most couldn’t undertake.

Esther’s was one of the pioneering families who settled in Lakewood. Her father owned the first department store in town (the store stood where Bagel Nosh is currently located). My parents, like the other Holocaust survivors in Lakewood and its surrounding towns, owned a chicken farm. After school, I used to help my mother deliver the eggs to her customers in town. Esther was a regular customer and when I first met her, she was in her 90’s, with a shock of white hair. She had a slight frame and stooped posture which belied her inner strength and resolve.

We delivered Esther’s eggs to the store, a place which appeared even older than she was. It was dark inside and the wooden floors creaked when you stepped on them. The planks were slippery when wet, so on rainy days, she and her niece, Miss Lee, put down cardboard to make sure that none of their customers slipped.

Week after week, we delivered her standing order – 2 dozen eggs – and week after week, she would ask me the same question – where did I go to school? Every time I told her that I went to Bazalel Hebrew Day School, she had the same response. She smiled as her eyes brightened up and seemed to fill with tears. Once, I asked my mother why Esther always asks me the same question and always tears up when I answer.

“Tata shaina, one day you will see,” my mother replied. She didn’t answer my question until a few years later, but I learned to be patient.

In those days, Congregation Sons of Israel was in Lakewood’s East side, on Park Avenue and East Fourth Street. Later, the shul members built a beautiful building on the corner of 6th Street and Route Nine. The ‘new shul’, as it was called, had a simcha hall which was named The Esther Gerber Auditorium, in memory of our customer Esther. Many simchas took place in the hall, and every year the Day School held their 8th grade graduation there. Once, there was even a levayah in the hall. But the namesake of that hall never hosted a simcha there. Her own levayah was attended by a few surviving family members and a mere handful of friends. I know, because my parents, were among those attendees.

After coming home from Esther’s levaya, my parents told me why Esther became emotional every time I told her that I went to Bezalel Hebrew Day School. They revealed that years earlier, the plumbing system in the Day School had completely shut down. At that time, the school building was a large old house and one day the pipes just rusted away. Community leaders approached Miss Gerber asking her to make a donation to The Plumbing Fund. Esther responded to their appeal by asking about the total cost of the project. Without batting an eyelash, she wrote a check for the full amount, $10,000. (Today, that would be comparable to nearly $75,000.)

Who had that kind of cash in the early 1960’s? Certainly, none of the chicken farmers whose children attended Bazalel Hebrew Day School. Esther Gerber’s donation kept the school running, and she was happy to do it because the Day School children were the light that illuminated her life.

After Esther died, my mother, a’h, visited her kever whenever she was in the Bais Olam visiting my grandparents’ kevarim. My mother whispered something in Yiddish and then placed a stone on Esther’s matzeiva. Since my mother’s petirah, my sister and I have continued this tradition. We remind Esther Gerber of the great mitzvah she had done and let her know that she is always remembered by the Frisch and Berlin families.

May her Neshama have an Aliyah.

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  1. Very nice piece. Please also note that Esther Gerber also loaned all the money for the simcha hall to be built in the “New Shul,” this is why the room was dedicated in her honor.

  2. Thankyou for an informative, beautiful and touching article. We have made and enjoyed simchas at Esther Gerber. May her neshoma have an aliya and especially with each and every event.

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