Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rabbi Marton Guttman, Of Blessed Memory

Rabbi Marton Guttman z"l 1910-2011:  The Jewish community of Albuquerque this week lost a wonderful rabbi, a respected teacher - and a real mensch.  Abq Jew did not have the privilege of knowing Rabbi Guttman personally, but did have the honor of being among those who escorted Rabbi Guttman to his final rest.

Rabbi Arthur Flicker of Congregation B'nai Israel, where Rabbi Guttman was a member, delivered the following eulogy, which he has graciously allowed to be published here.
We have gathered this afternoon to share our memories on the passing of our beloved rabbi, teacher, grandfather and husband, Rabbi Marton Guttman.

Rabbi Guttman was born in Hungary in 1910. He not only lived a long life of 101 years, he also lived an amazing, adventurous, giving and loving life of 101 years.

Marton Guttman was born into a family of rabbis, and it was natural that he went from Yeshiva to the seminary. It was very different from rabbinic training today. Back then, you had to memorize both the Torah and the Talmud. When one finished Hungarian seminary, he REALLY knew the texts of Judaism.

After seminary, Rabbi Guttman began his career as a teacher of Torah. He also met a breathtakingly beautiful young woman named Susan. Since she was blond and blue eyed, she was able to travel outside the Jewish ghetto in Budapest, sometimes even hitching rides with German soldiers, as she would forage for food to bring back into the ghetto.

Marton and Susan were married in 1944, just before he was deported to the Mauthausen. Fortunately, he survived and returned to Budapest and worked as a teacher. The family grew with the birth of their daughter in 1945.

In 1955, the Guttmans took advantage of the chaos of the Hungarian revolution to escape to Israel. They lived near Haifa, where Rabbi Guttman worked in a Yeshiva, taught third grade in a public school and taught Judaic studies at Haifa University. Susan worked in a nearby Kibbutz, doing difficult tasks like chopping the heads off live fish, in order to help make a living for the family.

In 1960, the family came to the United States, where the Rabbi was called to serve Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark, New Jersey. He served the congregation for 25 years, while also teaching at a Yeshiva in Passaic. The official history of the congregation states that while some members of the small congregation wanted to close it in the 1970’s “the determined effort of attorney Ben Arons, Rabbi Guttman and sisters Bessie Fried and Sadye Gerson saved the congregation and the building.” And Ahavas Sholom continues to exist as the oldest shul in Newark.

In 1986, at the young age of 76, Rabbi Guttman retired to Rio Rancho. Here, he became a renaissance man. He planted and cared for a garden. He exercised. He sang at the synagogue – chanting services and reading Torah and Haftarah. He wrote music. He read – particularly modern novels and books on American grammar, because he took up a new vocation. He became a writer. He wrote 8 novels over all, re-working them when Yvette would suggest grammar changes – although often he would argue about the grammar.

Here, in this new home, he also maintained his favorite vocation. He always remained a teacher. He didn’t teach formally in a classroom. But he taught everyone he met. He would teach through the Torah and life lessons he would offer from the Bima. He would teach through discussions sitting around tables at Kiddush. He would teach politely, taking a young rabbi by the hand and quietly offering a lesson away from prying ears. He was respected and loved not only for his knowledge, but for the wonderful way he would find to share it with his students.

Yet, even in retirement, far from Europe, the memories of the Holocaust continued to haunt him. When he and Susan moved to Sandia Springs, Yvette and volunteers cleaned his house. They found money hidden in the pages of books, in empty cans in the cupboards and hidden in furniture. The Nazis had not taken their lives, but even nearly 70 years later, the Nazis were still terrorizing their lives.

The word “Rabbi” means teacher. Rabbi Guttman took that part of his job responsibilities very seriously. Yes, he had a pulpit. But it was really a pulpit he shared with Susan. The congregation used to say that the Rabbi was the head and Susan was the neck. And of course, the head went wherever the neck directed it. But teaching was truly the Rabbi’s calling. Rabbi Guttman’s teaching skills and love of students was lifelong. And the rewards were lifelong as well. He hasn’t had formal students since leaving New Jersey 25 years ago, yet students continued to be in touch – calling and writing. 
[We would like to share the words of one special student who, while unable to be here today, would like to share these remembrances.]

When I was growing up, the synagogue in which I grew up had a Gabbai who had immigrated to the states from Europe. When a rabbi was called to the Torah for an Aliyah, he would always call out, “Ya’amod, Rabbeinu HaRav…” Our rabbi, the rabbi..thus giving special honor to the rabbi being called to the Torah. 
For us, Rabbi Guttman was truly rabbeinu, OUR rabbi. He was our teacher, our mentor, our scholar, our cantor and our friend. He will be missed by all who were blessed to share life, study, prayer and friendship with this very special man.

We extend our condolences to his beloved wife of 67 years, Susan, and to his granddaughter, Yvette. Yvette, your grandparents are so fortunate to have you. Your care, your support and your love have always meant so very much.

We offer the traditional words of comfort of our people:

Zichrono Livracha 
May his memory be a blessing

T’Hey Nishmato Tzrurah B’tzror  Hachayim 
May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life
One final note:  Rabbi Guttman was cleansed and purified for his final journey by members of Albuquerque's Chevre Kaddisha.  The Chevre Kaddishe operates through the Community Chaplaincy program of the Jewish Family Service of New Mexico, under the guidance of Rabbi Min Kantrowitz.

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