A most poignant moment of the funeral service for Judge Jerome Hornblass at Riverside Memorial Chapel last Sunday, on Tisha b’Av, came when his son, Jonathan (JJ), paused during his eulogy to lead the overflow audience in singing the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) as he said his father did at the funeral of Jonathan’s grandmother many years ago.
The scene underscored one of the themes of the service, that of the powerful and close generational ties within the Hornblass family. Jonathan and his brother, Elliot, each spoke of the pride his father had when they led Shabbat and holiday services, as he loved to do, having inherited his cantorial talents. And they recalled accompanying him, even as pre-bar mitzvah youngsters, each Rosh HaShanah to blow the shofar for Jewish patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, going from room to room for hours.
Judge Hornblass, who died last Friday at 77 after a long illness, was cited for his distinguished career as a jurist and as a Jewish communal activist and leader.
A resident of Manhattan for many years, the native of Brooklyn was a member of the Temple Beth El choir in Borough Park growing up, performing with the legendary cantor, Moshe Koussevitzky. He attended local yeshivas and was a graduate of Yeshiva University and Brooklyn Law School.
In 1973, at the age of 33, he was appointed by Mayor Abraham Beame as city commissioner of the Addictive Services Agency, charged with creating prevention programs for young people as well as programs to treat those with drug and alcohol addiction. He reportedly was the youngest city commissioner and the first Orthodox Jew to head a major city agency and chose the post because drug addiction was such a serious problem.
Four years later he was named as a judge on the city criminal court, and in 1980, he was appointed as a justice on the New York State Supreme Court, where he served for 17 years. He later served as a U.S. administrative law judge.
“My father was a judge of mercy,” Jonathan noted in his talk. He described how, on hearing one night that a young man he’d sentenced to jail was beaten by fellow inmates, Judge Hornblass left home immediately for Riker’s Island to make sure the man received proper protection.
“But his true vocation,” Jonathan said of his father, “was mitzvahs.”
Indeed, as each of the judge’s three children and his longtime rabbi, Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, noted in their remarks, he was beloved in the community for his constant devotion to his fellow Jews, the living and the dead. He was instrumental in founding a bikur cholim committee at Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, making hospital visits on Shabbat for 40 years, and was active in the chevra kadisha, preparing the dead for burial.
Elliot Hornblass spoke of his father’s deep commitment to family and community, yet somehow finding time for Torah study and acts of kindness. Those included bringing home stray guests from shul for dinner regularly on Friday nights and teaching by example that “every Jew is sacred, and we are all responsible for the community,” Elliot said.
Daughter Jessica Feingold marveled at her father’s love of all types of people and his ability to charm them with humor — and his absolute faith and optimism, despite his debilitating condition in recent years.
Judge Hornblass was buried on Monday near Beit Shemesh in Israel.
In addition to his three children, he is survived by his wife, Ann, of 49 years, and 11 grandchildren.
Donations in his memory may be made to Hatzalah of the Upper East Side and the Bikur Cholim society affiliated with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.