‘Life in the end is memory’

‘Life in the end is memory’

Remembering the remarkably full life and many intersecting worlds of Rabbi Ozer Glickman

In 2011, Rabbi Glickman and his youngest child, Oren, went to a soccer game.
In 2011, Rabbi Glickman and his youngest child, Oren, went to a soccer game.

The mystery about Rabbi Ozer Glickman of Teaneck, who died last Monday at 67, was how he found enough time to do all the things he did.

The personal characteristics that were on view when he did all those things — his intellect, quickness, depth of knowledge, empathy, and overwhelming kindness — could be attributed to nature, nurture, genetics, luck of the draw, or gift of God, depending on the onlooker doing the attributing, but the question of how his days expanded to allow all of them seems unanswerable.

A decade or so ago, perhaps addressing the question, Rabbi Glickman made a CD called “Bain HaZ’manim.”

“Bain HaZ’manim” — literally between the times — is a term that yeshiva students use when they’re talking about the times between holidays and school terms, the brief but cherished times when they’re relatively free of the constraining demands of schedules and able to take advantage of that liberty.

“Bain HaZ’manim,” considered less literally, evokes liminality, openness, the time when constraints fade to allow unlikely connections to evolve and different worlds to open up onto each other.

It is perhaps fanciful but possibly appropriately fanciful to imagine Rabbi Glickman as living in such a liminal world, because he managed to live in so very many worlds at the same time. It seems almost as if an hour for us somehow was two hours for him, that in his 67 years he amassed a century of experiences and friendships.

Or imagine, perhaps, a Venn diagram. Rabbi Glickman is at the center, in a circle with his family, the center of his life; his wife, Ilana, their six children, and their rapidly expanding cluster of daughters- and sons-in-law and grandchildren.

(To be specific, that’s Tony and Ilana’s children, Dov, Dalia, Ron, Maya, Avigayil, and Oren; their daughters-in-law, Shoshana and Aimee; their sons-in-law, Matthew Engler and Yonah Heller; and their grandchildren, Idan, Lital, Oriyah, Maor, Samantha, Liam, Zoe, Caleb, and Jamie.)

Around that central circle there would be other bubbles — the worlds of Yeshiva University, Wall Street, other financial institutions, academia, music, poetry, Jewish texts, English literature, French literature, technology, data, race relations, presidential politics, Teaneck, Toronto, and so much more. Some of the bubbles would intersect, others would not. Some would be huge, others would not. The number and range of those bubbles would astonish.

Who was Ozer Glickman? How did he do all those things?

Even his names showed how many worlds Rabbi Glickman inherited and made for himself.

Anthony Scott Glickman, who was known as Tony, was born in northeast Philadelphia in 1950. Although it amused him to joke that his mother was French, in fact she was not, but she was fluent in the language, which she, and then he, loved. She read him “The Little Prince” in its original French, he said, as “Le Petit Prince.” Although he loved to say that his real first name was Antoine, it was not. But the love for literature that he got from his mother lasted throughout his life.

When he grew up, although he maintained his love for English literature — and his ability to quote poetry from memory, a skill lost to most of us — Hebrew literature, from the medieval to S.Y. Agnon to the contemporary, was his real passion, Dalia said. “One of the greatest thrills of his life was getting a private tour of Agnon’s home and study in Jerusalem this past November,” she said; and he was able to “daven mincha next to Agnon’s desk.”

Tony’s mother, Susan Kaufmann Glickman, was 22 when she married, and her husband, Bernard Glickman, was 39. The couple had two children, Connie and then, two years later, Tony. Susan was a teacher; they both taught Hebrew school, and Bernard earned a Ph.D. from Dropsie, Philadelphia’s college of Jewish studies. The Glickmans were traditional, observant Conservative Jews.

Tony was a brilliant student and an unsettlingly quick study. He graduated from Central High School, Philadelphia’s answer to Stuyvesant or Bronx Science, an entrance-by-examination public school that gave the students smart and sturdy enough to get in an education that was both thorough and prestigious.

He planned to go to Haverford, “and he was accepted,” his daughter Dalia said, but then “his father died. It was the watershed moment of his life.” Bernard Glickman was 59, and Tony Glickman was 16. “His mother wanted him to be a rabbi, and he got a full scholarship to the joint program,” the academic undergraduate partnership between the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. At shiva for his father, Tony was persuaded to head off to New York for college.

“He was very unhappy there his first year,” his wife, Ilana, said. “He was in a strange place. His father had just died. He went home a lot on weekends.” But he soldiered on, graduated, and then entered rabbinical school at JTS.

“It’s a four-year gap in his resume,” Ilana joked. Half-joked, more accurately; although he later went on to become a luminary in the Orthodox world, Rabbi Glickman’s original ordination was Conservative. It was a different time then; JTS was full of luminaries, and many of them, ranging from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to Rabbi Saul Lieberman to Rabbi Moshe Zucker, taught Tony. And the boundaries between the Orthodox and Conservative worlds, while not negligible, still were far more porous than they are today. Still, “we always joked about the four-year gap on his resume,” Ilana said. “If you go to the wrong school, you can’t redeem yourself. And the fact is that JTS moved to the left, and we moved to the right.”

It was during his time at JTS that Tony Glickman met Ilana Arm, fresh from Southfield, Michigan, the daughter of a Conservative rabbi. She was a freshman at Barnard, just down Broadway from JTS, and she and her friends took their meals at JTS because Barnard didn’t have a kosher kitchen then. “I went there one night to eat dinner, sitting with friends, and he was sitting with friends and said ‘I have to get that girl’s phone number.’” He did, he pursued her by phone and she was wary, but eventually he was persistent enough so that she said yes, they had dinner, and she ended up having a better time on that first date than he did. “I was impressed with him, but he was less so, and he wasn’t going to ask me out again,” she said.

But she saw him going to the library at Barnard, “I scooped up my books and sat a few tables away.” He was courtly, they dated again, “that date lasted six or maybe it was eight hours, and I never went out with anyone else again,” she said.

Her parents, Claire and Rabbi Milton Arm, concerned that their daughter was so young to be involved with someone so intensely, convinced her to spend her sophomore year in Israel. She dutifully went; as it turned out, that was the year that Tony’s rabbinical program took him to Israel. The next year, 1972, they married. She was a junior in college, and he was a third-year rabbinical student.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, right, sits across from Tony Glickman at a class at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Soon, the young couple moved to the apartments in Teaneck — home to generations of observant young couples — and he got a job as education director at the Teaneck Jewish Center.

It was then, living at the apartments in Teaneck, that Tony and Ilana Glickman formed the friendships that were to redirect their lives. Most of the couples there were affiliated with YU. “I was very impressed with them, and my husband was too,” Ilana said. “Many of these young men had smicha from YU. They were working in professions — finance, medicine, law. They went to shul, and they learned on Shabbes afternoon. And yet on Saturday night they’d play pool, and they’d play football in Votee Park on Sunday morning, and they’d get together to jam on their guitars. It was so very normal. They learned, and they also were complete participants in American life.

“And they showed us that smicha could be — should be — lishmah. For the sake of learning. This was our first introduction to that idea.

“We saw the instability in Jewish professional life, and we didn’t want to struggle all the time,” Ilana said, and Tony’s restless intelligence wanted new avenues to explore.

Tony got a full scholarship to NYU’s business school, and earned an MBA in the conventional two years — but at night, while working full time during the day, and already as the father of two young children. He worked on a Ph.D. — that one he didn’t finish — and eventually he also got Orthodox smicha.

From his first job, as an analyst in a cubicle at Value Line, Tony Glickman went on to a series of jobs in finance, each more high-level than the one before. The growing young family moved to West Orange — Teaneck was too expensive then, Ilana said — and “we were there for 13 years. We made a lot of nice friends.

“And Tony was always into learning. We had a minyan on the block; he would give a little shiur, lead mincha or maariv, and give a d’var Torah. But it was always a hobby, not a profession. He sometimes was asked to speak professionally.”

Her husband led a minyan at a nearby shul that always drew crowds and often outdrew the main service, Ilana added.

“I can’t tell you how many people walked into shiva from West Orange,” she added. “To this day, they say, they remember the songs we sang, the davening, the camaraderie. We haven’t ever been able to recreate that.

“I was happy to criticize Tony, and I did plenty of that, but what he was good at he was good at, and he was really good at that. He davened beautifully. He really knew the nusach, and he also really understood the words, and you could hear that he understood them. He was a big stickler” for that kind of davening, where emotion and meaning intertwined, she added.

In 1994, the Glickmans had outgrown their house, and there weren’t any big enough close by the shul. Painful as the realization was, it was time for them to move. They found a nine-bedroom house in Teaneck — the previous owners had a blended family, so they needed all that space — and moved back to the town where they had been so happy. There are 17 years between the six Glickman kids, so by the time they moved the oldest had graduated high school and was in Israel, their next one already was at Frisch, and the next three started at Yavneh. The baby, then a toddler, was in nursery school.

It was during this time that Rabbi Glickman began his involvement with YU. He drove one of his sons to learn there on Sundays, and while he was waiting for his kid, he would pull out a text and learn in the beit midrash. Soon he found himself helping students, working with them, talking with them, and then that relationship became formalized. Eventually, he became a rosh yeshiva at YU’s rabbinical school, RIETS, and he also taught at YU’s law school, Cardozo, and its business school, Sy Syms.

Teaching was an addictive pleasure for Tony Glickman, and according to his students he had a gift for it.

In an entirely separate world, “he was very interested in finance,” his son Dov said. “He was an innovator in that space. He liked to say that he was one of the first people to work with spreadsheets on a Wall Street trading desk. Now they are ubiquitous, but they weren’t then.

“He was an early adaptor of technology in general, for both personal and business use. He always could see around the corner, see what would be big next. He was the first person we knew to have a fax machine or a car phone or a cell phone. We had a personal computer at home probably around 1982. And he was early onto the internet.

“His natural curiosity always pushed him to new ideas, wherever they came from — academia or the world of technology.”

He also had a real gift for music; he was self-taught, played mainly piano and guitar but could pick up other instruments as well. “He had perfect pitch and the ability to play by ear,” Dov continued. “He picked up a number of instruments — a harmonica, a recorder, whatever.

“He always had a very strong connection to music; it brought together his religious and musical interests.”

He also wrote music.

“He composed the music that accompanied my mother to the chuppah,” Dalia said. “My sisters walked down the aisle to the same scored piece.”

That’s also where the CD, “Bain HaZ’manim,” came in. He wrote most of the music on that CD, his son Dov said. He made it with two friends; although it was never intended to be a money-making venture, it was popular in the Jewish world for years.

This picture, taken in 2017, includes almost the entire family.

Tony’s musical tastes ranged far beyond the Jewish music that he adored, and that spoke to his soul. “For friends, and just for fun, he was into a whole range of things,” Dov said. “Growing up when he did, he liked the Beatles, he liked Steely Dan. He liked soulful music — a lot of Motown, Mahalia Jackson, spirituals.”

Was there anything that Rabbi Ozer Glickman couldn’t do? “He had no domestic skills and he had no sense of style,” Ilana Glickman said. “We had to remind him to get a haircut. We made an odd-looking couple — but we made it work.”

One of Tony Glickman’s passions was reaching out to people; he was active on Facebook, although often trolls would pursue him into closed groups. He developed many friendships that way; he would write back to people who wrote to him with questions or comments that struck him, and often he would maintain those relationships. He’d answer immediately with in-depth, closely reasoned emails. Sometimes those correspondences would lead to in-person meetings; at other times a friendship would develop based only on email. Often, Tony’s correspondents would plan to meet him, assuming that there would be enough time, sometime in the future, only to learn that time had run out.

Elanit Z. Rothschild Jakabovics lives in Washington, D.C., where she is president of Kesher Israel, a prominent Orthodox congregation. “Rabbi Glickman and I never met in person,” Ms. Jakabovics said. But when her shul hit the news — its rabbi is now imprisoned for spying on women in the mikvah — “he sent an email to Kesher, and it was very heartening. It was very sweet of him to send it.

“He wrote that someone had sent him the text of the speech that I gave at the shul and he thought it was inspirational. So I looked him up — I didn’t know who he was at the time — and I saw that he had a presence on Facebook. And I started following him. I quickly became a fan because of what he wrote and the types of discussions he had, the way he interacted with people. And the fact that he was a rosh yeshiva and still he had an online presence, and he was engaging with people in very substantive conversations, and he always tried to find the nuance.

“Everything isn’t all black and white. It’s easy to say that, but when you are having a conversation that is getting heated, and people on the right and the left are screaming at each other, it’s not so easy. But you couldn’t peg him as left or right.

“You couldn’t paint him in a box. It always seemed like he was trying to engage, instead of living in an ivory tower. He wasn’t living in an ivory tower.”

Ms. Jakabovics was struck by Rabbi Glickman’s openness and kindness, as well as by his intellect and breadth of knowledge. “There are I would say hundreds of people who have never met him but who had interacted with him online or by email or over the phone, and these people are in intense mourning over the fact that he is gone,” she said.

Malka Zeiger-Simkovich is the chair of Jewish studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Like Ms. Jakabovics, she knew Rabbi Glickman only electronically, but the bond between them was strong. “He took the initiative to get in touch with me regularly in response to my articles, and he took a real interest in my work,” she said. “And I know that I was just one of the scholars he reached out to. I was just one of the many people he took the initiative to forge a relationship with.”

Dr. Zeiger-Simkovich is Orthodox, but she works in a Catholic institution, and “a lot of people won’t bring me in to speak because I work with Catholics every day,” she said. “He didn’t care. He lived on the margins, in an intentional way. He wanted that fluidity, and I think that people appreciated that fluidity more than he knew. And that reaching out made him really one of a kind.”

His relationship with her went beyond the purely professional. “My mother died very suddenly, and he wrote an unbelievable passage to me about the memories he had of his own mother, who also died suddenly.

“He said that his mother used to read Proust to him, and now he reads Proust to remember his mother. And he closed by saying, ‘Malka, life in the end is memory. So just hang on tight.’”

Ari Friedman is a medical student who first encountered Rabbi Glickman when he was a freshman at YU. “How I met him says a little about how he was,” Mr. Friedman said. “There was a speaker for Shabbes — it was him — and so after the meal some friends and I went to hear him. He was honest and interesting and he gave examples of halacha that he found challenging. He was very approachable. I spoke to him, and he was super friendly. And he came back the next year, and we made sure to stay and hear him. And then we became close.”

Soon, when Mr. Friedman had some issues that he wanted to discuss, he realized that of all the roshei yeshiva he knew, Rabbi Glickman was the most approachable, and the one whose answers were most likely to provide the kind of support he needed. “An enormous strength of Rabbi Glickman’s was how he listened to you, and in terms of his experience, his exposure to the world, and he talked about his own struggles.”

The two developed a close relationship; mainly they’d email, but Mr. Friedman also went to his house. “I felt very close to him,” he said. “He was so generous. He gave his time, his attention.” He also was generous financially, treating students to dinners, always picking up the check. “He was worldly; he had a mixture of the knowledge from his Torah background and his scholarship background.” And because his career was outside the Jewish world, Rabbi Glickman “knew what it meant” when there was a Jewish holiday coming, and no one else understood the complications of that day in the non-Jewish world. They grew so close that Rabbi Glickman “gave one of the sheva brachot at my wedding,” Mr. Friedman said.

Mr. Friedman talked with awe about the amount of time that Rabbi Glickman gave to tutoring students, sometimes as part of a program, sometimes outside formal frameworks. He’d recognize talent and need and help, he said.

As a way to pass on some of Rabbi Glickman’s wisdom, Mr. Friedman has put together a 182-page collection of some of his online posts. It’s called “His Torah U’Madda Life, In All Its Worth,” and it begins with the blurb that appeared by his posts. “Very responsive to message,” it says. (And he was. Breathtakingly responsive.)

Tikvah Wiener of Teaneck, an educator who is about to open the Ideas School, an Orthodox high school that will meet at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, also knew Rabbi Glickman. “He has been a mentor, a colleague, a friend, a real rebbe,” she said. “He got great satisfaction from connecting people in a genuine way.”

He was funny, too, she added. “He had a real, genuine curiosity and openness, and he was a real lifelong learner. He always was learning. He had a childlike wonder about learning.”

Tony Glickman had deep feelings about politics, and was about to reenter that fray, his wife and daughter said. “My parents shared a sense of justice,” Dalia said. “They always wanted to advocate for the underdog.” That could be on a personal level. YU students reported that if they sat alone at a meal and Tony came into the dining room, he’d sit with them. “It hurt him to see a kid sitting alone,” she said.

“You look for meaning in the face of tragedy,” she continued. “One thing we — the family — always feel very strongly is that we appreciate how much he meant to other people, but he always put us first. There was never a doubt that we were first. We appreciate the things that other people say about him, but the six of us and our mother — he was our protector. He was our leader.

“The rest of my life will be colored by the need I felt in life to make him proud,” Dalia said.

“I feel like I need to keep on doing that. To keep on making him proud.”

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