“He wasn’t a dad substitute,” says Resnick. “He was too crazy for that. He wasn’t this wisdom-spouting guy. It might sound corny, but I think Aron was my soul mate.”
Not in the romantic sense, she is quick to add. “I think it means that you’re the same person, in a way. You’re the other half.”
At his wife’s behest, David Resnick would also visit Lieb in the dark days when he was severely depressed, sitting in his subsidized apartment for the elderly in Sharon, with the shades drawn, saying he wanted to kill himself. He’d obsessively call 911 to complain of chest pains that, once in the emergency room, proved to be nothing more than anxiety. He took his own blood pressure constantly, and was certain he was always about to die.
“Aron was not an easy guy,” says David Resnick. “He was tough; he was very tough. Sue wouldn’t let him get away with these things. They loved each other dearly, and they were always arguing.”
Sue Resnick told doctors she thought he had post-traumatic stress disorder from a lifetime of deprivation, both physical and emotional. There were antidepressants, not always taken; a couple of stays on a psychiatric ward; a diagnosis of failure to thrive.
At 87, after his lady friend suffered a stroke, it became apparent that Lieb needed skilled nursing care. For years, the couple had spent a good bit of time together and looked after each other. Now, Lieb’s psychosomatic symptoms and 911 calls became more frequent. But getting him a bed in a prominent Jewish nursing home in Boston proved a Sisyphean task that nearly took more money, time — and patience — than Resnick could muster.
She details the situation in her book, but the bottom line: He needed $10,000 to pay for the 39 days before Medicaid would kick in at the nursing home, which she does not name.
Resnick writes: “I thought that when he needed help, the Jewish community would flock to him, lift him up, and take him to the most comfortable, nurturing place that exists in our world. I figured that those rich folks and the giant organizations they also fund — organizations that throw around slogans like ‘No Place for Hate’ and ‘Facing History’ and the ubiquitous ‘Never Again’ — would have a contingency fund and special sanctuary for a man who symbolized all that they claim to fight for.”
She thought wrong. Her letters, calls, and meetings on Lieb’s behalf were met mostly with indifference or outright hostility. Resnick writes of the stone walls she encountered in the Jewish philanthropic community — and with a particular wealthy woman involved in Holocaust causes — and it is not a pretty picture.
When others told her she was expecting too much of organizations overwhelmed with obligations to strengthen the Jewish community, she was stunned. She writes: “Aren’t we trying to build and strengthen the community in large part because the Holocaust knocked it down? So isn’t neglecting the Holocaust victims the ultimate hypocrisy?”
In the end, Resnick went local, writing an e-mail to her rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sharon, which she belongs to but seldom attends. He sent a condensed version to the congregation, and a few days later, a 4-inch stack of envelopes arrived at her house, containing checks ranging from $15 to $500, and totaling more than $7,000. With donations from family and friends, the $10,000 was raised and — Resnick feigns mock surprise both in the book, and in person — the nursing home found an immediate bed for Lieb.
She credits Lieb’s life story for giving her the courage to take on powerful people, to do the right thing. “I used to live in a lot of fear,” she says. “But because of his life, I realize bad things happen but you can get through them.”
Throughout the book, Resnick weaves in letters to his mother, Zelda, who died at Auschwitz, letting her know how Aron is doing. After his death, she wrote: “I guess this is the last time I’ll talk to you. It’s your turn, again, to take care of our boy. Good luck, and I hope they have crullers up there. Love, Sue.”
About those crullers, she has a letter in her book to Dunkin’ Donuts, begging the chain to bring back the crullers he so loved. “Come on — you have time to invent something called a sausage pancake bite, but no time to twist a cruller?”
There’s even an entry to Hitler, written on Lieb’s birthday. “Dear Adolf, This morning Aron Lieb, ne Libfrajnd, graduate of Auschwitz, who your staff left to die in Dachau in April of 1945, turned ninety-one years old. You lose.”
Throughout their friendship, Lieb begged Resnick not to let him die alone. She promised not to, and when she got the call from a nurse, she made it in time to hold his hand and say goodbye. Continued...