He was 82.
Aryeh Leib Zisman was born to a family of illustrious Chabad chassidim in Kovno, Lithuania. As a young boy, at the age of 10, he was uprooted by the Nazis and forced to move to the Kovno Ghetto.
About to be sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland, the Zismans hid in an underground bunker they built. Upon discovery by the Nazis, his father told Leibel to run. He managed to escape. His father and younger brother were soon killed.
From there Leibel was sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp, where 1 million Jews died. After being liberated, he made his way to the United States with his only surviving immediate relative, his older brother, Berel.
Leibel received rabbinic ordination from the United Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn, and earned degrees in mathematics, architecture and engineering. He was also a professor of math at the CUNY School of Engineering.
He spent the majority of his professional life running Elzee Construction in Brooklyn, and became a well-known builder and developer throughout New York City.
Zisman was married to his wife, Myrna for 54 years and lived in Long Island’s Cedarhurst village in New York and was a pillar of Chabad of the Five Towns, directed by Rabbi Zalman and Chani Wolowik.
His life story of miracles and bravery became world renowned thanks to the autobiography he authored in 2011 titled “I Believe, The Story of One Jewish Life,” and his lectures for Jewish communities at Chabad centers worldwide.
He often recalled how he visited the Frierdiker Rebbe when he stayed in Riga. But instead of blessing the boy, the Rebbe just stared into his eyes. Only after a tearful plea from Zisman’s father was the blessing given.
“Why did he hesitate? What did he see? What forces were arrayed against me? Is this why I and my brother, who also got a blessing a few years prior, survived when everyone else in our family perished? I will be asking those questions to my dying day,” Zisman wrote.
He was the main subject of the award winning documentary film The Lion of Judah (2012). “Leo is the epitome of Jewish strength and survival — that’s why I call him ‘The Lion of Judah’,” said Matt Mindell, who wrote and directed the film.
In the film, Zisman leads a group of young adults back to Poland and Auschwitz, where he suffered through humanity’s darkest period, hoping to help the next generation better understand the incomprehensible, and turn their knowledge into action.
He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Myrna Zisman, their children Mrs. Leba Koren, Mrs. Karen Portal and Mrs. Chanie Greif; 10 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother Reb Berel Zisman.
LEVAYA & SHIVA
The levaya will be held Sunday, June 23 at 1:00 PM from Shomrei Hadas Chapels, 3803 14th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11218.
Procession will pass 770 Eastern Parkway at 2:15 PM.
Shiva mourning will be observed at the Zisman Residence – 40 Maple Avenue, Cedarhurst, NY 11516 (until Friday afternoon, June 28).
Baruch dayan haemes.