Family history blogging is a little odd, when you think about it. You spend a lot of time contemplating departed relatives and burial places, taking mortality in stride. But it doesn’t provide a cushion for reality. When a loved one dies, even someone elderly, it still comes as a shock.
I felt a jolt even though it wasn’t my loved one who died this past weekend, but the father of Jill Leibman Kornmehl. And in fact I’ve never met Jill or even talked on the phone to her. But for the last couple of months I’ve spent so much time corresponding with her about the Kornmehl family that it was jarring to get an email from her the other evening, in response to a question about Viktor Kornmehl, that “my dad died and I am in Philly sitting shiva.”
It was Jill who provided me with the dual subjects of this blogging challenge, Viktor and Ezriel Kornmehl, and with many of the details of their lives. She is an indefatigable family history sleuth.
I know Jill would never think to take this blog outside the realm of the Kornmehls, her family by marriage, and I didn’t want to disturb her in this time of mourning by asking questions, so I thought I’d do a little sleuthing of my own.
I didn’t know anything about Jill’s father except his last name and the fact that Jill was “sitting shiva in Philly.” I googled “Jill Kornmehl Philadelphia Leibman obituary”and found a notice in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
LEIBMAN, NEIL, of Merion Station, Father of Faith Leibman, Dr. Jill Kornmehl Esq. and Dr. Joseph Leibman; He is also survived by 11 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. Family and friends are invited to Graveside Services 11:30 A.M. Sunday at Mt. Sharon Cemetery (Section M) in Springfield. The family will return to the late residence and requests that contributions in his memory be made to Lower Merion Synagogue.
Lower Merion Synagogue was next.
Paydirt! On the history page of the synagogue, I read:
One hot, humid summer day in 1954, as Eric Korngold, Leon Korngold, Neil Leibman, and Leo Levin, were walking home from Shabbat morning services in Wynnefield, Neil suggested that they start an Orthodox synagogue in Bala Cynwyd. Leo liked the idea and immediately appointed Neil be the first president.
The four families, Julie and Eric Korngold; Sylvia and Leon Korngold; Louise and Neil Leibman; and Doris and Leo Levin formed the nucleus for the first minyanim of the Lower Merion Synagogue. During the synagogue’s first two years, Shabbat services were held at Shalva, the home of Sylvia & Leon Korngold. Rental facilities were used for the High Holidays. Yeshiva University supplied student rabbis. And indeed, Neil Leibman did serve as the first president of the Lower Merion Synagogue, and assumed that position three other times.
The congregration grew, and they became the largest Orthodox Synagogue in the greater Delaware Valley, but still “try to maintain that small, hameishe-shul feeling.”
Next, a look at the online memorial guest book revealed the following:
Neil received a full military funeral as befits a man who was both heroic in military battle and heroic in his battle with the ravages of PD [Parkinson’s disease].
On another site I discovered he had been 87.
I wasn’t sure about Neil Leibman’s profession. I temporarily confused Jill’s father with Neil Liebman the chiropractor for the Philadelphia 76ers, but “our” Neil Leibman was thoughtful enough to spell his name “e” before “i” rather than the more common reversal.
Then I thought, it doesn’t really matter. I knew three essentials: He was a proud member of the Jewish community, a man who bravely served his country, and a good family man.
This last I’m just guessing at. I don’t know anything about Jill’s relationship with her father, but I don’t think you become a kind and generous and funny person, which Jill is, if you don’t have good parents as role models.
So rest in peace, Neil Leibman. And Jill — you take it easy, y’hear? I’ve got this covered. For at least a week.
This is the 19th day of the Family History Writing Challenge, a bit sadder than most.