Roly Was “The Bomb”

By David Lieberman | Issue Date: September 2011

Tefillin workshop with Roly. Photo Credit: Emily WalshMy family arrived at BJ in 1987, shortly after Roly. My earliest memory of BJ was of a congregation different from the large one I had left in the suburbs of Boston. Although B’nai Jeshurun had at that point fewer than 100 members, the davening was more spirited; the music was lively and congregants were so joyous that services were often interrupted by spontaneous dancing in the aisles. While there were very few children, Roly always made me feel welcome. Greeting me after services, he radiated warmth and kindness and was approachable in way that Marshall, who also commanded my great respect and admiration but who seemed somehow larger than life, was not.

When I was in second grade at the Heschel School, the other BJ kid in my class, Jonah Belkin, and I used to imitate Roly during t’filot each morning at school. We would test out Argentinean accents, lower our voices and force out a vibrato at the end of each phrase. Our teacher, Kathy, told us sternly that one day our voices might sound like that, but until then we should refrain from faking it.

When I decided that for my 8th birthday I wanted to read an aliyah at shul, Roly was enthusiastic and encouraged me. He made me tapes, bought me a tikkun that I use to this day, and most gratifyingly, he, Marshall, and Ari asked me to read again.

At the first BJ teen retreat, when we were still a small group, Roly stayed up late with us, demanding that we teach him our “wack” ‘90s slang. He cracked jokes from the bimah and wore the most outrageous Purim costumes. It became clear to me, and my BJ fellow teens, that Roly was cool; or, in the parlance of the day, Roly was “The Bomb.”

Over the last 24 years, BJ has grown and changed. But the warmth, joy, intelligence, musicality, and passion that Roly has always embodied for me has only deepened. It is these qualities that keep me here and inspire me in my work as a b’nai mitzvah tutor and teen educator at BJ.

David Lieberman is a longtime member of BJ. Read about his history and many roles at BJ in the article “Our Simhat Torah Honorees”.