I met my husband in the library of Columbia University’s Chemistry Department soon after he arrived from Israel in 1947. I asked Siegi Lichtblau, a fellow graduate student, to help me with a seminar that I was to present. He introduced me to Ernest, a newly arrived genius from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, saying that he would be better able to assist me. Ernest’s excited explanations of the finer points of my problem were way above my head. But strangely, I kept thinking: “This man needs a wife like me.” Wisely I kept these intrusive thoughts to myself, and for almost two years we were both busy with other romantic entanglements. Then we simultaneously broke up with our beloveds. I was in the awkward position of needing a partner to paddle my canoe on a 1949 Fourth of July outing, organized by my cousin Claude.
I asked Ernest and he accepted. It was his introduction to America’s beautiful outdoors. He loved the spectacular Adirondacks and their deserted waterways. He loved the untamed forests, the cool water of the lakes and streams we traversed, the challenge of canoe portages and the art of cooking over a wood fire. We talked a lot. We were remarkably compatible, so much so that six weeks later we embarked on a longer, more intimate camping trip, also led by cousin Claude. It took us to the wilds of Canada, including Montreal and the province of Quebec, and we ended up hiking solo in the Adirondacks.
During that adventure I learned a lot about Ernest’s Viennese childhood, his father’s medical practice, his love of the opera, his wrenching experience during the Nazi annexation of Austria 1938, his family’s escape to Israel, and his deep devotion to that struggling British Mandate. There, as a freshman at the Hebrew University, he became a member of the budding underground Haganah, which was to defend the new Jewish homeland if and when it was born. That dream ran in his family. A historical photograph records a meeting of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and a group of young men that included Ernest’s father, in Vienna around 1900.
Ernest’s Haganah training did come in handy. He won my heart when, on that long-ago camping trip, he hit a bullseye in a shooting competition with an obnoxious fellow camper. I was also impressed by his vast, eclectic knowledge. Who else knew that SPQR, engraved on many classical-inspired buildings, stood for “the Senate and the People of Rome”? And I loved his unfailing “BS” detector, combined with his deep concern for humanity. When we returned from that summer vacation we knew that we were meant to spend our lives together.
Most long lives have their ups and downs. Ernest’s parents had a hard time settling in Israel. Their income was meager. A teenage Ernest helped by tutoring math and picking oranges. He studied chemistry and was a top student. In 1947 he came “temporarily” to the United States, married, and stayed. After he obtained his PhD he started teaching at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, which was a truly glorious school during the infancy of the plastic age. In addition to Ernest’s satisfying work and salary, the institution supplied us with a brilliant, fun group of lifelong friends, augmented by the artistic ones we met in our longtime home on Riverside Drive. Ernest and I were blessed with our children Judy and David, who provided us with joy. Alone and together we explored the world. Fifty-two years ago we bought a lakeside cottage in Maine, which so amply nourished our love of the outdoors. The Granite State became another place to call home. After the horror of the Holocaust, I still wondered how life could be so normal. Tragedy, however, was around the corner. In 1993 we lost our son to AIDS. Fortunately David lived long enough to get to know Judy’s children: Ana, Naomi, and Sean. Ernest’s relationship with each of them was deeply satisfying.
Until the very end Ernest kept up many of his interests. For decades he read aloud for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D), now known as Learning Ally. After he retired he went there three times a week, tackling double sessions. He was one of their top readers, skilled at reading obscure languages and translating intricate equations into words. He was deeply interested in music, especially opera, and an avid newshound. He did not derive much pleasure from the latter and acutely suffered with all the world’s terrible happenings.
On March 15th, 2020, we celebrated our 70th wedding anniversary. It was the last evening before the city ordered the closure of its restaurants. Ernest was already ailing. His heart and kidneys were giving out. Over the past couple months, in a world terrified by COVID-19, I took care of him with the help of our daughter, Judy, and Wendy, our housekeeper. He passed away peacefully and reluctantly on June 19th.
We hope to have a celebration of Ernest’s life in the fall.
What a beautifully written remembrance. Ernest will be dearly missed. Thank you for sharing this with us!
I am so sorry for your loss! May Peace be with you and with Ernest.
Much love from Cape Town. Anna-Marié and Lindsay
A beautiful and spot-on tribute to a remarkable person. Our condolences, Suzanne.
I will mis hearing his voice when I call.
toutes mes condoléances suzanne, merci pour ce texte qui permet de vous connaitre un peu mieux vous avez vécu tant de belles choses ensemble, prenez bien soi de vous je vous embrasse francine de mons
I am so sorry to hear of his passing and am very happy that I had the pleasure of knowing him and holding you and your family in my prayers Avis
Suzanne, you wrote beautifully and truthfully, your blog is a fine tribute to Ernest and your life together. I will miss hearing his voice and warm, related, alert and lively greeting.
I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for giving us a beautiful glimpse of his wonderful character and the life you shared.
So sorry to hear of your loss.
Beautiful memories of Ernest.
We have so enjoyed meeting in Brooklyn and in Israel.
Our love to you and all the family
Dearest Auntie Sue,
Thank you for this beautiful recounting of your life with Uncle Ernst, and all his accomplishments. May his memory be a blessing,
Suzanne…this is beautiful. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for this glimpse into Ernest’s life and also your life with him.
I’m so sorry to hear of ernest’s death. Echo lake will not be the same without his sprightly presence. He was always so friendly and nice and interested. I treasure a memory of him I have from my 9th birthday. I was in Maine (I turn 60 this August) and lonely and sad. Ernest took photos of me that day. His attention and caring struck me then and have stayed with me all of my life. The photographs were also beautiful.
Suzanne, your remembrance of him and your life together was so beautiful, and beautifully written as well. My deepest condolences to you and your beautiful family.
Although we’ve never met, it’s so sweet to know that we have similar memories of Ernst, from different places and times. I grew up on Riverside Drive, in Upper Manhattan, and Suzanne invited my dear departed mother into a friendship there than spanned her lifetime. Judy and I were just toddlers, and she was my first best friend. In our neighborhood group, all the parents were lovely, yet ‘Uncle Ernst’ became my favourite of all the Dads. His warm, always interested personality was so supportive as I grew into adulthood. His gentle, bemused laughter resounds to this day in the innermost chamber of my heart.
Last September, I had the good fortune to travel back to Brooklyn and have a dinner at home with the Loebls. Ernst was as sweet and kind as ever, as were all of his dear family. May his memory be a blessing!
I am very sorry Suzanne, I send my love to you and your family, Vivian Phillips, from Footloose Friends.
His was so beautifully written. I just walked past a bench with ‘Ernest Moshe Loebl’ on a plaque, in my Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood. I was intrigued for some reason and googled his name, then found this page! What a beautiful life you both have lived! I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds like he really was an amazing man that the world has lost. Thank you for writing and sharing your story!