In Brooklyn’s heavily Orthodox, increasingly Chassidic Boro Park neighborhood, the sound of the shofar, blaring out of open synagogue windows throughout both days of Rosh Hashanah, provides a soundtrack for passing drivers and pedestrians.
But, as in any area, especially in one filled with young mothers and aging Holocaust survivors, many people can’t make it to shul to hear the tekiahs.
Who knows how many people are homebound or hospitalized? Who knows how many of them can’t blow shofar themselves or don’t have anyone in the family who can? Who knows how many people need a shofar blower to come to them?
Marty always did.
A successful businessman who took early retirement after a serious accident, Marty immediately devoted his time to his community. For years, he had spent his Shabbat afternoons visiting people in the hospital. After his accident, he became a volunteer at Boro Park’s Bikur Cholim Chesed Organization. He was a daily presence, several hours a day, at the social service agency that runs a wide variety of programs for its specialized clientele.
“He gave his life for Bikur Cholim,” says Sara Preis, project coordinator for the Family Crisis Intervention Program of the Bikur Cholim Chesed Organization.
“He had tremendous simchas hachaim [love of life] . . . even though he was in tremendous pain all the years.”
He was always “Marty”—never Mr. Einhorn, or Elimelech, his Hebrew name.
At the Bikur Cholim, Marty concentrated on people’s medical and spiritual needs, arranging visitors for the infirm and recommending physicians to people who lacked his connections in the medical community.
He also lined up shofar blowers.
In the weeks before Tishrei, he would make a list of people who couldn’t go to shul for the shofar blowing. He’d send volunteer ba’alei tokeah to them, to homes and hospitals. He’d call the volunteers until the day before yom tov, reminding them to call the people whose homes they would visit in the coming days, to put the homebound at ease.
I was one of Marty’s shofar blowers.
I had known him casually, seeing him at the Rosh Hashanah minyan at the Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center, where he’d push residents’ wheelchairs or bring them a tallit or machzor, and I’d assist a friend who was doing the same thing.
I always sensed in Marty a quiet dignity, a regal but down-to-earth presence, a man due the respect of an elder though only a few years separated us.
In a neighborhood of men with long beards, he was clean-shaven with a well-trimmed moustache. In a neighborhood where shtieblach predominate, he kept going to Beth Israel, a large synagogue around the corner from his home. In a Yeshivish and Chassidic neighborhood, Marty, lifelong strictly Orthodox, called himself traditional.
One year, Marty heard that Heshy Friedman, a mutual friend of ours, had trained me how to blow shofar, how to conduct myself in the atmosphere of a hospital on Yom HaDin, what to say and what not to say. Marty sent me to Lutheran Hospital, a few miles from Boro Park. The experienced ba’alei tokeah, older men with families, didn’t want to make the trek. “You’re young,” Marty would tell me. “You can do it.”
Each year we’d speak for weeks before Rosh Hashanah. Marty gave me names and addresses of people in Boro Park who needed a shofar blower—before or after I’d go to Lutheran. Then he’d give me more names. After yom tov, he’d call to find out how it had gone.
I have no idea how many Jews heard the shofar on Rosh Hashanah over the years because of Marty. “In the hundreds, for sure,” Friedman estimates. Probably more. I’ve returned to Lutheran Hospital for nearly twenty years; each year, I encounter a few dozen Jews and hospital staffers, many of them nonobservant, who wouldn’t hear shofar had Marty not dispatched a volunteer.
Over the years, I became friends with Marty and his wife, Judy. They would invite me for dinner the first night of Rosh Hashanah.
Last year, I had the greatest merit of my life—I was able to blow shofar for Marty in Maimonides Hospital, next door to the Geriatric Center.
Marty was recuperating from surgery for a brain tumor.
Both days of yom tov, after finishing my rounds at Lutheran, I would go up to Marty’s room. Before I would blow, he’d ask how my tekiahs earlier that day had gone. How many people? What kind of people? Any good stories?
He was feeling better each day, he said.
We spoke over the phone in the weeks afterward.
“You’ll come for dinner,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be only on Rosh Hashanah.”
It wasn’t to be.
Marty’s health deteriorated. In the months after Tishrei, he passed away.
This year, as usual, the patients at Lutheran Hospital will hear the shofar, because of Marty’s chesed.
And Marty, I am sure, will hear the shofar blown by a choir of angels.
Steve Lipman, a staff writer for the Jewish Week in New York, is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.