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Rabbi Baruch Goldstein, former rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, dies at 94

By Stacey Dresner

In the preface to his 2008 memoir, For Decades I was Silent: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey Back to Faith, Rabbi Baruch Goldstein shared with readers his hope for peace, tolerance and acceptance in the world.

“I am merely one voice, but I wish for it to be heard so that I may contribute, even in a small measure, to tikun olam, the mending of the world,” Rabbi Goldstein said. “Let us all try harder to spread goodness, kindness, acceptance, tolerance, and love. Let us all accept the fact that we all belong to one race, the human race and that all of us are the children of the same God, who created us all.”

On May 30, Rabbi Goldstein, 94, who spent his many years as spiritual leader in Worcester spreading that message of love, died at JFK Hospital in Delray Beach, Fla.

His funeral was held Sunday, June 4 at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, where he had served as longtime senior rabbi until his retirement. Rabbi Aviva Fellman, who now serves as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, gave the eulogy.

“You have meant so much to this community; your compassion, your wisdom, your leadership and vision towards the future, your humor, your struggles with faith which you wrote about so eloquently and honestly in your book, and your love of family and community,” she said. “You were a survivor and you will continue to live through each of us.”

Born in Mlawa, Poland on April 23, 1923, Baruch Goldstein was the son of Israel Meyer and Tirtza (Kleinbard) Goldstein.

From an observant family, he was a yeshiva student in Warsaw in the 1930s.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, his family was forced to move from their home in Mlawa to a town near Lublin.

When he and some family members tried to return to their home, he was imprisoned, then moved to a ghetto in Mlawa. In 1942, his mother was sent to Treblinka. He and his younger brother were sent to Auschwitz. They became separated and he never saw his brother again.

As the Russians approached, he was forced on the death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, which he barely survived.

He was liberated and recovered in a hospital bed in Thereisienstat.

In 1947, after two years in a refugee camp in Italy and learning that his entire family had perished during the war, he was nearly ready to immigrate to Israel when he received a letter from that began, “Taierer Fraind” — “Dear Friend” — in Yiddish.

That letter was from a young woman named Rivka Golinkin, an acquaintance of his aunt who was living in Los Angeles.

“Rivka’s letter had arrived after a long and dark period in my life,” he says in his book. “That letter became the beginning of a healing process that ultimately helped me to live a full life again.”

The letter also is what spurred Baruch to travel to America rather than Israel. Four months after arriving, he and Rivka, or Riva, were married.

He began his career as a Jewish teacher, educator and rabbi, working at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester as a teacher and youth group leader until 1964 when he moved to Wakefield to assume the pulpit of Temple Emanuel. He later returned to Congregation Beth Israel where he served first as assistant rabbi starring in 1971 and then as senior rabbi, until his retirement in 1986.

Selma and Irving White were friends with Rabbi Goldstein since he began at Beth Israel.

“We were very good friends with him and his wife,” Selma said. “For many, many years our children had him for their teacher at Hebrew school. They were very close with him. He was just a person that you fell in love with because he was so gentle and so welcoming and was just a great all-around person. He had a very good outlook on life.”

For many years Rabbi Goldstein did not speak of the horrors he experienced during the Holocaust. Around 1980, he was asked by the Worcester Jewish Community Center to lead a six-week course on the Holocaust.

“I accepted the invitation reluctantly, but to my surprise the course was well received,” he revealed in his memoir. “Above all, the participants wanted to know the details of my suffering, my losses and my survival…I concluded that even if I failed to convey the full extent of the horror, I was still going to tell my story. The time had come to break my silence.”

His speaking motivated him to write his memoir, which was published in 2008.

Since retiring to Florida, Rabbi Goldstein always attended the annual winter reunion of Worcester snowbirds and former Worcester residents living in that state.

“He was the highlight of the reunion, and he loved it,” Selma White said. “He was always just so happy to see people. He remembered people from way back and he remembered your children’s names and always asked about them.”

At this past winter’s reunion, his health was failing a bit, Selma said, “but he was still sharp as a tack.”

Rabbi Fellman first met Rabbi Goldstein at her first winter reunion of Worcester community members in Florida three years ago.

“He got up and there was silence in the room as he spoke and thanked the community and said how great it was to see everyone…he basically gave me a blessing. And said, ‘The community is lucky to have you and they don’t know what a gem they are getting,’ which was just one of the sweetest things.”

“He was a mensch,” Rabbi Fellman continued. “He never seemed to have a bad word to say about anyone. There was a waiting line to meet him wherever he went. There would be 10 people waiting to see him because he had officiated or helped them through with something. I just made a shiva call at his son’s home in Rhode Island, and his son said he loved children and loved Israel. Even if you weren’t affiliated with a synagogue, if you were a kid who wanted to go to camp or to Israel, he would make sure that it happened.”

“He was just a wonderful teacher, rabbi and friend to everybody.” Selma White said. “Everybody loved him.”

Rabbi Goldstein was predeceased by his beloved wife of 63 years in 2001.

He is survived by a son, Meyer Goldstein and his wife, Sue-Rita, of Pawtucket, R.I.; four grandchildren, Jonah, Liza, Sarah and Daniel Goldstein; and two great-grandchildren, Ronan and Asher Goldstein.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Congregation Beth Israel or to the charity of the donor’s choice.

CAP: Rabbi Baruch Goldstein and Rabbi Aviva Fellman at last summer’s worcester reunion in Florida.

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