THE Moriah College family has lost a “revered friend and iconic educator” with the passing of Max Lemberg, college Rabbi Dr Aryeh Solomon said this week.
British-born Lemberg, who gave almost five decades of service to the college in addition to teaching thousands of bar and bat mitzvah students over his career, passed away last Thursday at the age of 100.
Once known as the “bar mitzvah king”, he also taught at Central Synagogue, at the NSW Board of Jewish Education (then called Hillel Talmud Torah) and at Masada College.
He retired from teaching in 1983 at the age of 65 but returned to his beloved career in a part-time capacity thereafter, remaining involved with Moriah College well into his 90s.
He told The AJN upon turning 100 last year, “I loved the school and I loved the kids. I gave from my heart.”
In a commemorative address last Sunday night, Rabbi Solomon said Lemberg would be “fondly remembered as the beloved Jewish studies teacher of generations of Moriah students and as the teacher of countless children throughout Sydney who are the beneficiaries of this dedicated Jewish educator”.
Born into poverty in London, Lemberg attended the Gateshead Yeshiva from age 12 to 18 before going to work at the Shapiro-Valentine Jewish Publishing and Judaica Company.
Once the Second World War began, he joined the British Army for six years, serving in the blood transfusion unit in Africa, Canada, Germany and Italy, where he met his wife Hannah, a nurse.
“Wherever he was stationed, when Shabbat approached, he always tried to find a Jewish community for the duration of Shabbat, ideally with a shule and a rabbi. He did this repeatedly and often at considerable personal risk,” Rabbi Solomon said.
The couple married in 1946 and had two daughters, Vivienne and Jeanette. The family emigrated to Australia by boat in 1963, paying just 10 pounds for the fare.
After two-and-a-half years working for the South Head Talmud Torah – and after briefly considering returning to the United Kingdom – Lemberg began his long association with Moriah College.
In 2006, his many years of service to teaching were recognised with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). Tragically, that same year, his wife Hannah passed away.
“From his arrival in Sydney until his 90s, Max dedicated himself to the Jewish education of young children,” Rabbi Solomon said. “His dedication and devotion, dependability and reliability at Moriah were such that he had become synonymous with Moriah College.
“The Sydney Jewish community and its Moriah Family in particular, are truly indebted to Max Lemberg.”
Daughters Jeanette Lemberg and Vivienne Teoh said their father “was devoted to the community and to Jewish values”.
“His former colleagues and students spoke fondly about his kindness, compassion and sense of humour, and his emphasis on excellence and high achievement,” they said. “He taught his daughters to be confident and to value education which enabled them to follow their own life paths.
“The family would like to thank the community for their support and good wishes at this difficult time. Max may have passed away but he leaves a long-lasting legacy in the Jewish community and happy memories for his family.”
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Lesli Berger said, “To describe Max Lemberg as a doyen of the community doesn’t come close to conveying his extraordinary commitment to it, best exemplified through his teaching and inspiring hundreds of youth over so many decades. His passion and dedication stand as a benchmark for us all.”
Berger added, “On a personal note, he was my bar mitzvah teacher and I can personally say what a beautiful human being he was. His dedication to teaching Judaism will be sorely missed and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.”