BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | Rabbi Paul (Pesach) Ackerman, the popular longtime rabbi of the Anshe Meseritz synagogue, 415 E. Sixth St., died on Fri., June 14, at Beth Israel Hospital of complications from pneumonia.
The much-loved rabbi, 84, worked for 44 years as spiritual leader of his Orthodox congregation, without salary. In his final days, Ackerman was instrumental in working out a development deal for the badly deteriorating synagogue building that will revitalize the landmarked structure and also guarantee that space will be reserved there for the synagogue for the next 99 years. The building’s upper levels will be developed as residential condominiums.
Friends described Ackerman as a deeply religious, kind, humble, selfless and generous man with a sense of humor that uplifted all who came in contact with him. At a time of dwindling synagogue attendance in the area, the rabbi attracted a loyal following that allowed services to be held there seven days a week.
This writer regularly attended services there for the past 15 years. I was not religious when I first met the rabbi, and he patiently and gently instructed me on Jewish law to a point where I now consider myself a Modern Orthodox Jew. He was so loving and a guiding spirit in my life.
Anthony Donovan, a leader of the East Village-based Local Faith Communities group, said, “He was a great presence in the neighborhood and part of its history. I will miss him and never forget him.”
Robert Rand, the president of Meseritz synagogue, said that the rabbi, “just like Moses, was among the humblest of men — a true folk hero of the neighborhood. The love and care he displayed for all those whom he came in contact with, whether Jewish or not, was mirrored by the community,” Rand said. “He presided over a diverse congregation that epitomized the diversity of the neighborhood, from wheelchair-bound senior citizens to dreadlocked hipsters and everything in between. His wit and charm touched all who passed through the synagogue gates.”
Other congregants recalled that the rabbi was often more concerned about their well-being than his own, and that his “joy of life, deep faith and gratefulness to God for all that he was given — despite many of his own personal problems and hardships — was contagious.”
The rabbi, who lived at 40 First Ave., was born in Manhattan on Dec. 24, 1928. His father and older brother, Leon, operated a modest shoe store business that they opened in 1936 at 29th St. and Second Ave. The store grew, moved to a new location and later became a successful brand known as Tiny Ackerman.
The rabbi’s wife, Helen, died on April 5, 1983.
He is survived by his daughters, Shelley and Sharon Ackerman, of East Midtown and the East Village, respectively, and two sons, Sandford Ackerman, who also lives in the East Village, and Mark Ackerman, who lives in New York City and Mexico City. The rabbi is also survived by two nephews, Gary and Jim Ackerman.
Funeral services were held on Sun., June 16, at Sherman’s Flatbush Memorial Chapel, 1283 Coney Island Ave. He was buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Fairview, N.J.