Younger was a teacher and administrator at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis and left a lasting impact on thousands of students
By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor
Rabbi David Younger was serious about the business of Jewish education. As a teacher and administrator at the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, Younger earned a great deal of respect and maintained extremely high standards.
Mary Baumgarten, a teacher at Talmud Torah, said Younger was a “wonderful role model.”
“He wanted to make sure that when kids were at Talmud Torah, they were learning. He was very serious about the business that he was in,” Baumgarten told the AJW. “I think as an educator and someone who’s still in the business of Jewish education, I admire his commitment, his dedication.”
Baumgarten said Younger was very well respected among students, parents and faculty for his honesty, integrity and sincerity. He held students accountable for their actions, but did so with a gentle touch — something that resonated with students long after they left Talmud Torah.
Younger died April 12 at the age of 87.
Younger was raised in an observant family in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents, both from Hungary, were “very Orthodox,” according to Younger’s daughter, Naomi Oxman.
Younger attended cheder, and left home at the age of 14 to study in New York, eventually receiving his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University.
“He excelled in Jewish studies and Jewish learning,” Oxman said.
After graduation, Younger, who was very Zionistic, wanted to travel to Israel, but his mother was afraid to let him go. He held off for a year, when he received a job offer to teach and made the journey.
When he arrived in Israel, he learned that his job had been given away and he was offered another teaching job at a kibbutz in the south, which he turned down.
One day, on a beach in Netanya, Younger met Sara, who had recently emigrated with her family from Lima, Peru. Though Sara’s family wasn’t religious and there was a definite language barrier, the two embarked on a “whirlwind romance,” according to Oxman, and married in 1951.
Younger knew he needed to find a job, so he took a position as a pulpit rabbi in upstate New York, where he remained for three years. During that time, the Youngers welcomed son Bruce, and Sara was expecting their second son, Michael.
“He loved it,” Oxman said. “But then he realized that he wanted a Jewish community that had more opportunities for Jewish education for his children.”
Younger moved his family to Minneapolis, where he took a teaching job at the south side branch of the Talmud Torah of Minneapolis, in what was then the home of Adath Jeshurun Congregation, at Dupont and 34th in South Minneapolis.
Younger also performed some rabbinic duties at Adath and Kenesseth Israel, performed High Holidays services in Eau Claire, Wisc., and Mason City, Iowa, and taught thousands of students in preparation for their B’nai Mitzva. Additionally, he took courses at the University of Minnesota to earn his master’s degree, which he did in his 50s, and read the New York Times every day for 75 years.
“He loved to learn, he loved books, he loved reading, he was a very intellectual kind of guy,” Oxman said. “He also had a deep interest in history and politics and economics and the hard sciences and the soft sciences. And no matter who he would encounter, he always would be interested in hearing what they were doing and what they were learning, and understand what their profession was about.”
Younger eventually became director of the south side branch, before it merged with the north side branch and relocated to Texas Avenue in St. Louis Park. In the early 1970s, Younger became co-director of the high school and beit midrash programs, and later associate director of the school.
Baumgarten arrived at the Talmud Torah in 1973, a time she described as Talmud Torah’s heyday, when it was growing and served nearly 1,100 students. She said Younger always held the students accountable, both academically and in other ways.
“He was in charge of discipline,” Baumgarten said. “And when a student was sent to his office, they knew that he meant business and they knew that there was a good chance that the student’s parents would get a call.”
Baumgarten recalled a box of index cards that Younger had to keep track of the students he saw. When they were sent to his office, he noted the date and type of incident, and any relevant notes.
“Certainly if a student ended up on that card more than once, that was pretty serious,” Baumgarten said. “And he followed up and the kids knew that he was dead serious, so there was an element of fear, but not in a bad way, it was accountability.”
Former student Judy Shapiro said many of her peers felt guilt at the way they treated their Jewish educators in the ’60s and ’70s.
“For those of us who were lucky enough to be friends with Rabbi Younger as adults, it was a constant source of guilt to us,” Shapiro told the AJW. “Lucky for us, Rabbi Younger either didn’t remember those days at Talmud Torah, or more likely, he remembered just fine but, mensch that he was, forgave us and treated us like worthy friends. We always felt grateful for his forgiveness… He was truly a prince among men.”
Another former student, Gary Rose, writing on the Hodroff-Epstein Web site, noted that Younger had become a cherished contemporary.
“My life was better because Rabbi Younger was a part of it as he coached me for my Bar Mitzva in 1956,” Rose wrote. “Every time I would see him in the 58 years since, I wanted him to know that he was one of the reasons I succeeded in life… As the years passed, the difference in our ages would compress and we would schmooze as two old men do. I will miss that. I will carry him in my heart, always.”
Baumgarten and Younger maintained a very close friendship after he retired and she visited him less than 48 hours before he passed away.
“He clearly recognized me. He couldn’t speak, he motioned toward his throat and then he blew me a kiss, and that kind of symbolizes his warmth and his gentle soul,” Baumgarten said. “He will definitely be remembered, he leaves a very good legacy of just the qualities that everyone wants to have. He embodies those qualities that all of us aspire to.”
For Oxman, her treasured memories will be of a gentle and patient father, who offered his opinions when asked, but always respected his children’s individuality. She said he was practical and rational, didn’t like conflict or materialism, and only needed simple things to be happy: his family and something to read.
And Younger was rooted in community, making friends with those who were not Jewish and those in all streams of Judaism, and he lived his life based on the principles he learned at Yeshiva University: to live in the secular world, but continue to maintain very strong ties to the traditions and teachings of the Jewish faith.
Younger is survived by his wife, Sara; children, Bruce (BG), Michael, Naomi (Joe) and Ira (Miriam); 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. (American Jewish World, 5.9.14)
Since 1912 the AJW has served as an important news resource for the Jewish community. The Jewish World unites the main Jewish communities in St. Paul and Minneapolis, as well as those in Duluth, Rochester and smaller cities, and bridges the divides between the various Jewish religious streams.