The Life of Barry Youngerman, Zichrono Livracha (Of Blessed Memory)
August 7, 1946 – October 10, 2015
Barry Youngerman was born in the east Bronx in 1946 to Henry Youngerman and Sylvia Lieblein, immigrants who left Austria and Poland. He and his sister Sharon grew up in a moderately traditional home with a great love for the State of Israel and all things Jewish. Barry’s extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins all lived nearby resulting in frequent large family gatherings, especially for Jewish holidays, prominently Chanukah and Pesach. Framed on the living room wall was an original folk-painting commissioned by Barry’s grandfather in Vienna, Austria. The painting on canvas depicted the legendary Theodore Herzl gazing dreamily from his hotel balcony upon Barry’s grandparents, his father, and his aunt as they worked as halutzim in an orchard in the Land of Israel. Flying aloft above the family is a protective angel brandishing a huge flag emblazed in blue and white with a Magen David. Soon after the Anschluss as his grandparents escaped Austria a Nazi border guard thinking there was something valuable wrapped in the rolled up canvas stabbed the painting with his bayonet piercing the body of the guiding angel. This painting so prominently displayed in their home was one of the many influences in Barry’s life that led him to live a life of Jewish observance, learning, activism and solidarity with the State of Israel. Another was his early after-school lessons at the Bronx Jewish Center where he studied Hebrew and Jewish History and celebrated his Bar Mitzvoh.
Barry’s school days were filled with much success. Although he was most often the shortest kid in the class, he was most often the brightest. He skipped several grades in elementary school, attended the Bronx High School of Science, then went on to the City College of New York where he majored in history and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He was extremely strong academically and always modest when describing his accomplishments.
After college and a short stint in the graduate history department at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Barry returned to New York and wrote monographs for Facts on File, a library reference source and then wrote major portions for the annual World Almanac. His concise and highly acclaimed “History of the World” contained his byline for many years.
In 1973 Barry spotted a short advertisement in the Village Voice newspaper announcing Friday night services at New York’s Gay Synagogue. He was finally able to find a comfortable place to allow his Jewish and gay personality to thrive. Within a short time he put his writing talents to work and created the synagogue newsletter and was elected to the synagogue’s first Board of Trustees. He was immensely popular and the synagogue became the focus of his life. It was during this period that he met, Jeff Katz, his partner of twenty-six years. After helping to build the synagogue during the shul’s formative years, his love for Israel grew to become a passion and together in 1979 they made aliyah. Barry attended an ulpan in Jerusalem and the Hebrew he learned in Talmud Torah as a child helped him to master the language quickly. He worked for the Israel Government Press Office translating Hebrew news into English. He worked freelance as a translator and editor in Jerusalem for the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace. After five years he returned to pursue a new career as a computer programmer and quickly advanced in the field working for several Wall Street financial firms eventually reaching the position of Vice President of Informational and Technical Services. Yet Wall Street culture really did not fit his personality and he retired early to pursue a more fitting career as a writer and editor. He became a published author and an editor of young adult books.
At about this time Barry took a trip to Europe inspired by his father wanting to share ‘his Vienna’ with his children. After spending a week with their father and stepmother in Vienna, Barry and Sharon traveled to Lvov, Ukraine where they were met with a guide and a translator that Barry was able to identify through research and networking and embarked on a journey where they successfully found the schtetl where their mother was born, the shul where their uncle was a cantor and the graves of their mother’s parents.
Having spent many years in the Village-Chelsea area of Manhattan and attending the Young Israel of Fifth Avenue, Barry moved to the Upper West Side and joined the Lincoln Square Synagogue where he established himself as a regular minyaneer, wrote for the shul newsletter and took a leadership role in the security of the shul.
In addition, Barry’s activism strengthened a variety of neighborhood gay orthodox and traditional organizations such as Or Chayim, the Shabbat dinners at Rodeph Shalom, Eshel, and Friday Night Lights. He continued his learning of Jewish texts with local rabbis.
Barry’s sudden and shocking death leaves many family mourners. His sister, his brother-in-law and their two children and his step-brother and his wife figured prominently in his life. As Uncle Barry, his overwhelming devotion to Joshua Michael Simon is legendary. There are cousins, shul members and countless friends who will always remember his loving smile, his sharp inquisitive mind and his award winning skills.
Baruch Dayan Ha’Emet
Barry Youngerman, Dov Ben Tzvi Hersh, Zichrono Livracha
Eulogy given by Rabbi Shaul Robinson of Lincoln Square Synagogue
I was fortunate to have had a long and close relationship with Barry. His father passed away the week I became the Rabbi at Lincoln square Synagogue; the shiva for his late father was the first I attended as Rabbi of the community. And Barry was the first person in the shul to send me a letter of complaint!
I made a partial list of things that Barry has done for our community: He was the Chair of the membership committee – and was utterly devoted to welcoming and attracting new members – and during his time as head of the committee the community grew by over 100 new member families. Here are some other committees he was on: Security committee Greeting committee, sukkah meals committee, Tikkun Leil Shavuot committee and was the Dvar Torah coordinator. He was the editor of the “LSS Light” and served on the ritual objects committee designing the new building.
He loved Israel and over the last few years became more and more involved in Israel advocacy. He was a regular attender of Jewish learning and davening. Put simply Barry was one of the most energetic, involved, engaged members and volunteers that Lincoln square synagogue has ever known. His sudden passing is a shock and also leaves a massive void in our community.
But Barry was much more than Lincoln Square Synagogue.
Exactly a week ago he was in shul on simchas Torah, with Joshie, as the congregation danced around the wheelchair, and later Barry took Joshie up to the Torah for an Aliyah. His devotion to Joshie and his care for him, his love, was something beautiful and something extraordinary and we extend our deepest condolences to Joshie and to Nechama and Nina on this terrible loss.
Barry was also an incredibly thoughtful person – he took the time to engage with speakers and with divrei Torah and ideas that he heard. Barry was not only a kind person,. He was always smiling – he greeted new people, and regulars alike with an infectious smile; he was mkable kol adam bsever panim yafot.
I know more people are going to speak but I want to thank you Barry for everything that you taught me, about acceptance, about tolerance, about encouragement, about making a shul a safe place and a welcoming place.
Yesterday, Elana Stein Hain who cannot be here today, but was very close to Barry, emailed me about Barry. She told me “there’s a whole group of gay men in the UWS Orthodox community who basically saw him as their zaydie and best friend at the same time”.
The very last event in our old building on 200 Amsterdam Avenue was a panel on finding a place for Gay men and women in the orthodox community. After the event Barry emailed me as follows:
As you can imagine I was very happy to see the religious leadership of my shul take such a public stand in favor of including gay people. Putting aside all the details, that was what came across. My ulterior motives in this whole issue is to encourage gay and lesbian Jews to be more observant and connected to the wider Jewish community. Events like last night help that along. I wish more people could have seen the turnout for Ma’ariv, most of whom were out gay men who were happy to make up a minyan when required, which is what Orthodox Jewish men do.
Barry opened my eyes to lots of things, he helped educate me, and our whole shul, to becoming more inclusive, trying to create a safe space for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, and indeed regardless of anything.
Barry occasionally asked me to do things or support things that I didn’t feel that I could – but here is the amazing thing about Barry, that I say as musar for our entire fractured Jewish world, for our on occasionally head strong egotistical shul – he never, ever, threatened to leave the shul!
When I wasn’t comfortable hosting a speaker or a panel or a minyan he didn’t say –“Rabbi, I work for free for decades for LSS – I stand outside in the cold, I’m up late proofing divre Torah – if you won’t support me I, then I am done, I am not doing these things anymore.”
Surely he had a right to – surely many others, who do far less for the shul do exactly that – but never Barry, never once. Barry thank you for being my friend, my congregant, my teacher.
Yihe zikhro baruch