Marcel Lindenbaum, 87
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Marcel Lindenbaum, 87

Advocate for Orthodox women’s learning.

Marcel Lindenbaum pioneered support of women’s advanced Jewish learning programs with his late wife Belda. Ohr Torah Stone
Marcel Lindenbaum pioneered support of women’s advanced Jewish learning programs with his late wife Belda. Ohr Torah Stone

Marcel Lindenbaum, a European-born refugee who came to the United States as a child and became a successful businessman and philanthropist, has died. He was 87.

The Upper West Side resident was a supporter of numerous Jewish causes, particularly those that focused on the advanced education of women in the Orthodox community.

At the funeral on Sunday at Lincoln Square Synagogue, Mr. Lindenbaum and his late wife Belda, who died in 2015, were described by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin as “life partners … and visionary leaders and doers who helped bring about a revolution in the Orthodox world on behalf of women.”

The funeral drew more than 500 mourners, who packed the synagogue’s sanctuary to honor Mr. Lindenbaum, who died of renal failure on June 19 at Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Rabbi Riskin, who served as spiritual leader of Lincoln Square Synagogue before making aliyah and becoming chief rabbi of Efrat on the West Bank, credited the Lindenbaums with helping to establish and support Midreshet Lindenbaum, an educational institution for women in Jerusalem. It is part of the Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions Rabbi Riskin founded when he moved to Israel in the early 1980s.

He described Mr. Lindenbaum as his “beloved and unique friend and partner” who felt the [Modern Orthodox] religious establishment spent “too much time stressing ritual and too little time stressing ethics.”

Noting that Mr. Lindenbaum was a dedicated sailor, Rabbi Riskin said “he was the captain and Belda was his navigator and inspiration.” The rabbi closed his eulogy by reading Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain,” written upon the death of Abraham Lincoln.

Noah Lindenbaum called his grandfather “a model for us in terms of devotion to Judaism, justice and family” and drew smiles when he said beneath his “suave exterior was a suave interior.”

Mr. Lindenbaum’s daughter Victoria said her father was “a renaissance man” whose “true strength” was his relationships with his wife. “Sometimes he followed,” she said, “and sometimes he led.”

Mr. Lindenbaum is survived by five children, Nathan, Matthew, Bennett, Victoria and Abigail; and 21 grandchildren.

Friends of Mr. Lindenbaum remembered him this week as a humble man with a strong personality.

“He was very committed, with an open and creative character,” said Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, founding principal of SAR High School. “When he believed in something, he really pushed for it.”

“He was an iconic figure, a sweet man, a great listener,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, rabbi in residence at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder of the Chovevei Torah and Maharat yeshivas. “He was an institution builder. He was a calming force.”

Rabba Sara Hurwitz, president of Yeshivat Maharat, related how Mr. Lindenbaum acted as a peacemaker in the community, using his calm and gentle ways to help bring about mutual respect.

Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Mr. Lindenbaum came to the U.S. with his family as a child in 1940. “He never lost his appreciation that he came here,” to a country of safety and religious freedom, “as a refugee,” said Blu Greenberg, a friend of the Lindenbaums.

He settled with his family on the Upper West Side, attended Ramaz, Stuyvesant and Yeshiva University, and then became an entrepreneur in the real estate and propane gas business.

“He always wanted to go into business,” said Ben Feder, Mr. Lindenbaum’s son-in-law.

Mr. Lindenbaum mentioned his background as a refugee “all the time,” especially at family Thanksgiving meals, where he would discuss his appreciation for “the refuge” he found in this country and “how grateful he was to live here.”

Among the recipients of the Lindenbaums’ financial support, in addition to Midreshet Lindenbaum, were Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (whose Lindenbaum Center for Halakhic Studies website is named for the couple); Yeshiva University; Yeshivat Maharat; the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), where Belda served as president; the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education; UJA-Federation; and SAR High School in Riverdale.

Mr. Lindenbaum was a member of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Judy Heicklen, past president of JOFA, called Mr. Lindenbaum “a towering figure in Orthodox feminism [who] lived his values wholeheartedly. He was very strategic in his thinking — he felt the key to making change was to expand our reach and he would brainstorm with me as to how to accomplish that.”

“His passion came from his strong sense of morality and justice,” said Blu Greenberg, a long-time Orthodox feminist leader and a founder of JOFA.

Ms. Greenberg called Mr. Lindenbaum “smart and independent-minded.”

“He had a great 24/7 partner in his life and his work, Belda,” he added.

Mr. Lindenbaum, Ms. Greenberg said, “had a great joie de vivre even as he was doing the very serious business of changing the world. He possessed a mischievous sense of humor yet was also a deep and profound thinker. He loved to tease and to challenge. Marcel and Belda were not afraid to take unpopular stands in the community, yet they never separated themselves from the community.”

steve@jewishweek.org Editor
Gary Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

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