|Dr. Lawrence Zigelman and his father, Rabbi Abraham Zigelman.|
As the sun set last Yom Kippur, Dr. Lawrence David Zigelman stood next to his ailing 94-year-old father, Rabbi Abraham Zigelman, and recited every word of the closing Ne’ilah prayer aloud with him in the back of the sanctuary at the Young Israel of Fort Lee.
When the synagogue’s rabbi, Neil Winkler, asked his best friend why he had done this, Dr. Zigelman responded, “I don’t know how many more Ne’ilahs I will have with my father,” Rabbi Winkler recalled.
It was, in fact, the final Ne’ilah that either man would recite.
The Zigelman family is reeling from the deaths of father and son just 12 days apart – the 66-year-old pediatrician on November 7 and the retired pulpit rabbi on November 19. They now lie side by side in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
Though Rabbi Zigelman – the spiritual leader of North Bergen’s Temple Beth Abraham for 55 years – was in failing health, Dr. Zigelman showed no signs of illness until he experienced chest pain on the very night that he and his wife, Shaindy (Sherry), were to have dinner with Rabbi Winkler and his wife, Andrea, before the Winklers’ move to Israel on November 18.
“David was already writing his father’s eulogy the night he died. It was on his desk and they quoted from it at his father’s funeral,” said Rabbi Winkler, who spoke at Dr. Zigelman’s funeral and Rabbi Zigelman’s burial. He had been close with Dr. Zigelman since high school. Each was best man at the other’s wedding, and it was Dr. Zigelman who persuaded Rabbi Winkler to apply for the job of rabbi at the Fort Lee synagogue in 1978.
Shaindy Zigelman spoke with the Jewish Standard shortly after she, her mother-in-law, Beatrice, and her sisters-in-law, Reena, who lives in Chicago, and Aviva, who lives on Long Island, completed their second seven-day shiva in the course of one month. She sat with them as well-wishers poured in to mourn the well-loved rabbi, and only afterward focused on processing the loss of her husband of 44 years.
“This Shabbos I was alone with my kids, which is what we chose, and it was the first time we were able to mourn David, to talk about him and share stories,” she said. “That was really important.”
Ms. Zigelman works part time in the office of Pedimedica in Closter, where her husband practiced for 20 years.
Ms. Zigelman said that her children, Michelle, 38, and Moshe (Marc), 35, were extraordinarily close with their grandparents both geographically – the elder Zigelmans retired to Fort Lee – and emotionally. Shaindy and David Zigelman used to take their children out of the Moriah School of Englewood for a few days every winter so they could vacation together with Bubby and Zeidy.
“My son lost his two best friends – his father and his grandfather – within 12 days,” she said, her voice breaking. “From the day we got married, we accepted one another’s parents as another set of parents and we loved them equally. We were lucky; they were all nice.”
The words “warm,” “charming,” and “soothing” often are used to describe Rabbi Zigelman’s manner. He had sparkling blue eyes; someone once described him as “the Cary Grant of rabbis.”
At Rabbi Ziegelman’s funeral at Gutterman & Musicant in Hackensack, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood eulogized him as “a devoted pastor and an extremely accomplished sermonizer…. He went out of his way to speak in a way that was at once informative but also down to earth.”
Rabbi Zigelman served as a U.S. Army chaplain and for many years as North Bergen’s police and fire chaplain. His daughter-in-law said that once he was called in to help save a Russian immigrant couple trapped in a burning building. The couple spoke only Russian and Yiddish and were terrified of the uniformed personnel trying to rescue them. “My father-in-law explained in Yiddish that the police here were not like the police in Russia, and he got them out before the building collapsed.”
Dr. Zigelman apparently inherited his father’s ability to soothe, and both his patients and their parents benefited. His wife related: “One mother who came to pay a shiva call said she always thought she was a terrible mother, but David would tell her at every visit that she was a terrific mom, and she began feeling more confident and better about herself. ‘But then I heard him say the same thing to another mother,’ she told us, and a woman sitting across the room exclaimed, ‘That was me!’
“He always felt that if he made mothers believe they were good mothers they’d be good mothers. They never felt stupid because he always gave them confidence.”
As for his patients, she added, “He was their friend, not only their doctor. There were kids who would call him if they had a fight with their parents. Some of his patients cried when they got too old to remain in his care, but they came back a few years later with their own children.” The Winkler and Goldin children were among Dr. Zigelman’s patients.
A Pedimedica partner since 1976, Dr. Zigelman wrote “The Pocket Pediatrician: An A-Z Guide to Your Child’s Health,” published in 1994.
Speaking about Rabbi Zigelman, Rabbi Winkler also used the term “A to Z.”
“When he became rabbi in North Bergen in 1951, there was no Teaneck, no kosher restaurants. He went into a local bakery and convinced the owners to let a mashgiach [kosher supervisor] come in to make sure it was kosher. His priority was to provide for his community, and he did that from A to Z, like his initials.”
Rabbi Zigelman, the last surviving member of the first ordination class at the Lower East Side yeshiva of the sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was described by Rabbi Winkler as “never judgmental, always accepting. He tried lovingly to teach people. He made so many friends, religious and not. He was a wonderful, professional, polished rabbi. Everything was always well thought-out and well-presented because he respected his audience.”
The family abided by Rabbi Winkler’s advice not to tell Rabbi Zigelman of Dr. Zigelman’s death, fearing that the news would endanger the rabbi’s already fragile health. The father and son were extraordinarily close, Shaindy Zigelman said. She asked Rabbi Winkler to speak “as a friend” at her husband’s funeral at Gutterman & Musicant, which was attended by an estimated 1,000 people and officiated by her sister’s husband, Michael Samter.
Rabbi Goldin said of the two men: “The father and son were like yin and yang. On some level, you feel as if God wanted the two of them to have one another.”
The family requests that memorial contributions be sent to the Young Israel of Fort Lee, 1610 Parker Ave., Fort Lee, NJ 07024; or to Emunah Women of America, 7 Penn Plaza, Suite 205, NY, NY 10001, Att: Clifford Wasser.