Earlier this month, late on a Saturday night, the soul of my dear friend, Henry Zilberman, returned to its maker.
It happened many years too soon.
He arrived at the hospital late on Friday afternoon in critical condition, and doctors struggled to save him for over 24 hours. The mystics say that those who observe Shabbos are granted an extra soul. Perhaps that is what kept him for those final hours as his loved ones gathered at his bedside.
Henry was a giver of unparalleled generosity. “I can’t say no,” he once told me. I remember him saying, as he launched a new business venture, that he wanted it to succeed only so that he would be able to donate the proceeds to charity. He arrived in the United States almost penniless as a young man. He was tireless, resilient and creative, and achieved much success.
He loved Israel, his homeland, and dreamed of starting a synagogue in New York for like-minded religious Zionists. It was just last summer that we walked the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City together, celebrated at the Western Wall and watched a Tel Aviv sunrise from deckchairs at the Hilton.
He held our son at his bris, attended his first birthday party, and always returned from trips abroad with little gifts for him.
His hospitality was legendary and his humor and wit warmed the heart. He welcomed business giants and communal leaders alongside yeshiva students with equal favor, and was always seeking out the new and uninitiated to offer them a place at his Shabbos table. To experience a Shabbos with Henry and his family was to be embraced as a brother, a sister, a son or a daughter. He would often personally fill every guest’s glass with wine. Henry maintained a list of people to whom he would send fresh challahs on Friday afternoon in honor of the day of rest.
There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his loved ones. He looked out for them and worked in his own way to understand what they needed and provide for them.
He possessed an unparalleled sense of justice and a burning desire to right the wrongs of the world. He didn’t help people out of pity, but because he thought it was right.
He trusted and believed in people, presenting opportunities to those that others turned away. He took the risk of offering jobs to ex-convicts because he saw it as a responsibility to help them earn an honest living and re-integrate into society. When he launched his e-commerce venture Yumani, he insisted that there would be no profits from bare necessitates and household goods.
A conversation with Henry was always real, refreshing and direct. He was loved by so many. While hospitalized, the medical staff worked to clear the corridors of the crowds that had gathered to pay their last respects to him.
Henry was laid to rest in the Holy Land and Sunday will mark thirty days since his passing. His impact during his time on earth was great and his memory will remain as a blessing to the many people he touched.
His life was a gift to us, and as friends and family gather in remembrance, our greatest tribute must be in seeking to walk in his path. As is customary to wish, may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.