Family and close friends of the late Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg convened for a private reception at Lubavitch Headquarters this past Sunday.
The event celebrated the gift of a Judaic collection by Arthur Hertzberg and his siblings to the Central Chabad-Lubavitch Library of Agudas Chsidei Chabad. Speaking at the reception, Rabbi Shiya Hertzberg—brother of Arthur—thanked the Lubavitch library—one of the most prestigious private Judaica collections in the world, for receiving the Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech and Nechama Shifra Hertzberg Judaic Collection. “Our aim was that the library should be housed in tact,” he said about the family’s wishes for his father’s library. He spoke of the passion his father had for Jewish education, and the love of Torah scholarship that he cultivated in his children.
The event was also an opportunity to memorialize Arthur Hertzberg, who facilitated the transfer of his father’s library to Lubavitch prior to his own passing two months ago, on April 17. His daughter Susan noted that while many were celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday, her father always made the point that Judaism instructs children to honor their parents 365 days a year. In this and many other ways, Arthur was remembered for his love of Jewish values.
Master of Ceremonies, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, recalled hearing Rabbi Hertzberg speak at a Chabad House dedication in New Jersey. “He offered wonderful insight to the verse, ‘charity saves from death,’” said Rabbi Kotlarsky. “Arthur said that these words mean that when you care about something, the tzedaka you give for that cause or that idea, saves it from dying.”
Many spoke of his commmitment to Jewish scholarship nurtured in the warm, open, Chasidic home of his parents, and his ancestry of Belz Chasidim. Hertzberg was remembered as a contrarian, outspoken and often controversial in his opinions. But, said Eli Epstein, a friend who spoke at the reception, “all the values he embraced in life came from his parents,” who were devout in their Judaism.
Rabbi Hertzberg was a close friend and confidant of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of the Lubavitch educational and social services division. The relationship began, Rabbi Krinsky recalled, when Rabbi Hertzberg’s grandchildren began attending the Chabad school in Fresno, California. “Arthur was deeply appreciative of the close rapport that developed between the Chabad Shluchim in Fresno and his young grandchildren,” Rabbi Krinsky said. Over the course of a ten-year friendship, “Arthur spoke longingly of his parents and the yiddishkeit he grew up with,” said Rabbi Krinsky. During one of their last conversations Rabbi Hertzberg conceded ruefully that, “in my heart of hearts, I am a Chasid with a beard and frock,” said Rabbi Krinsky.
While Arthur regretted that he never met the Lubavitcher Rebbe in person, said Rabbi Krinsky, he was not shy about expressing his respect for the Rebbe and the work of Lubavitch. In an interview he once gave to the New York Times about the Lubavitch movement, he was quoted: “Lubavitch has made an enormous change in the Jewish world,” leaving him , he said, “absolutely staggered with admiration.” Rabbi Hertzberg went on to credit Lubavitch for giving impetus to the outreach activities of most of the other branches of Judaism: Lubavitch, he said, “are the ones who in a sense have shamed the rest of us.”
These deeply personal but perhaps lesser known affections for Lubavitch were most publicly confirmed by Rabbi Hertzberg’s desire to see the library of his beloved father go to the Central Chabad-Lubavitch Library. The reception was planned while Rabbi Hertzberg was yet alive, “and he set the date and wrote letters of invitation,” explained Rabbi Krinsky, “expecting to be here to celebrate with his family.”
Though saddened by his absence, said Rabbi Krinsky, “We and the Hertzberg family are gratified that we succeeded in honoring his wishes.”