Remembering Arthur Joseph

Remembering Arthur Joseph

The Jewish community was his 'masterwork'

A Torah scroll was restored and rededicated in memory of Arthur Joseph. From left: Joseph’s daughters Linda, Marcy, and Caryn; his widow, Joyce Joseph; Rabbi Lawrence Zierler; and Eva Lynn Gans, past president of the Jewish Center of Teaneck Laves Photos/Michael Laves

Last Sunday morning, 500 people came to the Jewish Center of Teaneck (JCT) to celebrate the life of Arthur Joseph.

Joseph, who moved to Teaneck in the 1950s and became a bedrock first of the town’s nascent Jewish community and then the Bergen Jewish community that followed, died in January at the age of 85. He was buried in Maryland. Sunday’s event – a presentation and brunch – provided an opportunity for area residents who could not attend his funeral to honor his memory.

Joseph made his fortune as a broker of apples and other fruits. When he retired, he decided he had to go back to work so that he could continue to fund myriad commitments to his community.

“The Jewish community was Arthur’s masterwork,” said Ron Meier, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Arthur Joseph

Joseph had been a member of JCT for more than 50 years. Sanford Hausler, the synagogue’s president, opened by noting that “Arthur made everyone feel as if their organization was the most important organization” and pointing out that “Arthur’s passion was Jewish education.”

Hausler described Joseph as a key person in moving what is now the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey, and what was then the Yeshiva of Hudson County in Union City, into the JCT classrooms. Joseph was also instrumental in founding the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County; four SSDS students led the assembly in the Star Spangled Banner and and Hatikvah.

“At one point,” said Mel Solomon, president of the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies (BCHSJS), and a close friend of Joseph’s, “he was audited by the IRS for his charitable deductions because auditors could not believe that one man could be so generous.”

Solomon praised Joseph’s commitment to Jewish education for every Jewish student, from the Orthodox to the unaffiliated, and his founding role in BCHSJS.

Solomon also listed a host of organizations that Joseph was involved with, including Jewish Family Service, the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, Chabad, ADL, Hadassah, and Israel Bonds.

Solomon recalled Joseph as an avid football Giants fan with season tickets who relished sitting in the “nosebleed” seats in the cold, wind, and snow. “Going to a football game with him was always an experience. The rowdier the crowd, the more he loved it. ‘That’s what it’s all about!’ he would say.”

Solomon pointed out that Joseph, in general, was a sartorial disaster. To much laughter in the audience, he said, “Everyone knew about the jacket Joyce bought him from Alexander’s Department store… his striped shirts and plaid pants. I remember when he finally agreed to give his old, beat-up herringbone overcoat to charity and left it in the back seat of his car. But one day, he went to a Giants’ playoff game, and it was so cold, he wore it and they won. From that moment on, he considered it the Giants’ lucky charm and would wear it to every game.

“Arthur would get to the stadium early to find the perfect parking spot near the gate, get up to his seat a half hour early, and resented it when people showed up during the National Anthem. He was annoyed whenever the Giants waited for the clock to practically run out before they made a move toward the end of a game. ‘They’re wrong,’ he would say. Arthur’s philosophy was that you take every opportunity to score.”

His apples counted, too. His friend and former JCT president Eve Lynn Gans told the crowd, “When I needed apples for Simchat Torah, I could not reach him, so I ordered the apples, and then told him I charged them to his account. ‘Wonderful,’ he said, ‘Thank you for doing the work,’ and he meant it.”

Joseph’s daughter, Marcy Joseph Markowitz, speaking on behalf of the family, told of how her parents met at a USO dance in Philadelphia just before he shipped out on an aircraft carrier during World War II, and how he knew immediately that he would marry Joyce-who was then in her mid-teens and had sneaked into the dance. She also recalled him bringing home cases of apples, pears, and grapefruit, and how, in the fall, they would decorate their sukkah with all that fruit. Markowitz also said her father was a pioneering jogger chased by neighborhood dogs. One night she heard her parents giggling in the bedroom. “I learned that he bought his first lottery ticket that day and won $650, with which he bought a set of the Encyclopedia Judaica.”

She ended her remarks by recognizing that many people had been mentored by her father. “I hope that he will continue to be an inspiration to all of you. I learned from him about giving selflessly, and he is my guiding light.”

Lawrence S. Zierler, JCT’s current rabbi, described Joseph as a “lamed-vovnik,” one of the 36 hidden righteous people who save the rest of us from destruction. “If I had to write a book about Arthur Joseph, I would call it, The Lamed Vovnik Next Door.”

Joseph was avid supporter of the State of Israel. He visited the Jewish State 80 times or more, and was on a first-name basis with most of Israel’s leaders. He even hosted Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin at his home. More than one remembered him for throwing candies to children as he marched to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, carrying the Israeli flag and singing “Y’rushalayim” at the top of his lungs.

Rabbi Ronald Gray of Boys Town Jerusalem did a little impersonation of Joseph fundraising over the telephone. First he would ask for $100 for Boys Town – and then for Israel Bonds, UJA, Magen Dovid Adom, the Israel Emergency Fund, day schools, yeshivot, and any other cause he could think of while he had a live prospect on the line. At the end of his remembrance, Gray announced that a street will be named for Joseph in his beloved Jerusalem.

Joseph served on the boards of Rosenbaum Yeshiva North Jersey and Chabad, was the first chairman of the Council of Jewish Federations in New Jersey, supported and was a member of the Washington Township Y and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades. He was in on secret negotiations for the release of Soviet Jewry and Ethiopian Jewry; served on the Israel Emergency Committee; and did fundraising on a national level. He supported his local Jewish War Veterans Post, Second Generation, and Teaneck’s annual Holocaust commemoration. As the BCHSJS’ Solomon said, “He was active in every Jewish charity except the National Jewish Republican Committee.”

After the speeches on Sunday and before a community brunch in his honor, a Sefer Torah that the Josephs had restored and dedicated decades earlier was rededicated by 24 of his friends as a surprise for the family.

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