Remembering Barry Liben
Barry Liben died on January 2, 2020, in New York at the age of 67. He was a great man on so many levels. His loss is immeasurable. He was a pillar of so many important things,
He was the quintessential self-made American success story. For me, he was a close friend, the big brother I never had — a mentor, a role model, a business partner, and someone I admired and loved on so many levels. As he always told me, “take care of your family and friends. Be a great Betari Jew. Smile and laugh. It’s the secret to a happy life.”
So much defined Barry Liben, but more than anything else it was his family. His wife Sindy, whom he met in Camp Betar; his three children, Michael, Daniella, and Rebecca; and his seven grandchildren. Barry’s family was simply his life. He couldn’t stop speaking about his kids and grandkids.
Barry grew up in Brooklyn and dropped out of high school. The Zionist youth movement Betar, founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, changed — and in many ways defined — his life. Starting as a camper, he eventually became director of the organization, where for many years, he educated, led, and protested for Jewish rights, and laughed and made life-long friends.
At one time, located in the Betar office was a small travel agency named Tzell Travel — which was short for “Etzel,” the Hebrew acronym for Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL), the Jewish underground movement that fought to oust the British Mandatory authorities from pre-state Israel. The company ran small tours to Israel. Eventually, Barry scraped together the money to buy the agency — which he eventually grew over many years of hard work into a travel agency with sales of over $800 million.
He was proud of what he built, and really good at it. He worked so many hours for so many years — and redefined the travel industry. Everyone in the travel industry was on his speed-dial — and he wasn’t shy about telling everyone and anyone what he thought. He had such loyalty from his team and clients, and didn’t ever stop doing what was right for them.
Yet Barry Liben was so much more than a hard-working self-made entrepreneur. He was a deep patriot and lover of all things Israel-related. He loved football — his New York Giants — and honesty, ethics, and decency. If Barry gave you his word, he meant it and he kept it. He was the very definition of tachlis. Barry was devoted to helping so many people from so many walks of life.
Barry wrote emails all in caps — and he loved his team in the Israel football league. Barry was a man of action. He was so driven and focused. He was smart — street-smart — read people very well, made decisions quickly, and loved with all his heart. Barry loved to speak his mind. Barry was always larger than life.
Barry was a very close friend of mine for more than 20 years. He was the big brother I never had. We had so many discussions on so many things.
Barry understood deeply how to help Am Israel — he was always there on so many important issues. Just last month, I agreed to become Chairman of American Friends of Duvdevan, and Barry was my first call, to ask him to be on the Board with me. He said, “Of course, these are Jewish heroes who protect Israel.”
Barry cared about Israel and Jews with all his soul and being.
When I was thinking of starting a PR agency at the age of 28, I was nervous. I went to see Barry — who I had met through Betar, and was a friend of my mom, Penny Waga, Z’L. He instantly offered to invest in me, and give me an office at Tzell Travel, where I started 5WPR on the rooftop of his office. The first two years we worked out of his office — and he remained my partner for the first 10 years of my business until I bought him out in 2013.
He was my confidant then — and until today — on life, business, and more. I remember many meals with him. I remember discussions with him about people, politics, and so much more. I remember him always discussing Jewish politics, and the ethics (or lack thereof) of leaders (and Jewish leaders).
He was a pillar of Jewish and Zionist pride — a true Betari and a great American Jew. The loss of Barry Liben is a loss so many of us will feel. I loved and idolized this great man. He was a great family man, a great Jew, and a great businessman. He was always there for me and for so many others. Barry — I miss you. Tel Chai. May his wife, children, and grandchildren be comforted among the mourners of Zion.
Ronn Torossian founded one of the largest Public Relations firms in the United States.