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Democrat Photo by Dan Hust

DOCTOR, PATIENT – AND FRIENDS: Granite Associates’ Alan Gerry, right, was proud to present Dr. J. Arthur Riesenberg with a plaque in appreciation of his dedication and commitment to Liberty and the area’s health and well-being.

Congregation Celebrates 100th And Honors Dr. J. Arthur Riesenberg

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 23, 2000 -- For 100 years, Congregation Ahavath Israel has been an integral part of the Liberty community, providing a place for those with Jewish heritages to practice and explore their faith.
For half of that century, Dr. J. Arthur Riesenberg has also been a servant of Liberty, combining old-fashioned house-call care with the utmost in professionalism to create a reputation as one of New York’s most “influential physicians” (said the New York State Medical Society).
And on Sunday, over 270 people jointly celebrated the existence of Liberty’s well-respected synagogue and doctor during a centennial celebration at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello.
“Archie has been so much a part of our community that it is fitting that we take this opportunity to honor him,” said journal chair Lewis Klugman. “He’s always been there to respond. You can always count on him.”
And, just like “Archie” Riesenberg, Klugman added that Congregation Ahavath Israel is “a labor of love.”
“Unfortunately, all religious institutions are hard-pressed for money,” he remarked. “There’s a membership decline because people have moved away. But based on the people here tonight, the light will not go out in Liberty. Hopefully, we can build on this in the future.”
Indeed, many members of the congregation put in countless hours to create the dinner celebration, the likes of which had not been seen since Jennie Grossinger hosted a similar luncheon at her famous hotel in the 1960s.
“My wife Dorothy put in so much time I had to learn to cook,” joked dinner chair Irving Shapiro. “But from a very slow beginning, the spirit came together.”
And although the decades have dimmed what speakers called the flame of the Liberty Jewish community’s spirit, they were buoyed by the large crowd’s enthusiasm.
“One hundred years ago, it was a new beginning for many people,” said Shapiro. “I look at it as a time for renewal once more.
“We are builders. We go forward.”
Shapiro also spoke highly of Riesenberg, who he credited with saving his life last year during a health crisis.
Alan Gerry, who presented Riesenberg with one of several appreciation and achievement awards that evening, echoed Shapiro’s thoughts, adding that the doctor (the longest full-time medical practitioner in Sullivan County) “reflects the highest ideals of Maimonides: to heal and sustain life.”
Of course, Gerry and Shapiro weren’t the only two to sing Riesenberg’s praises. In fact, Riesenberg himself belted out a tune for the crowd – a song for which he is well-known: “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?”
After the audience’s delighted laughter calmed down, Riesenberg expressed his appreciation to all.
“We, as a people, are different,” he said in an often emotionally husky voice. “We share a past that binds us and directs our future. By keeping our synagogue alive . . . we are securing our future.
“I’m humbled to be honored like this. I’m not sure if I deserve it,” he added. “[But] in some small way, each of us can make a difference to better the world around us.”


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