Julius Abrams was a man of warm heart and iron grip who helped bind the community that is B’nai Jeshurun Congregation through his steadfast minyan attendance and welcoming attitude.
Abrams, who helped 12 Holocaust survivors heal at a German displaced persons camp in 1945, was a fixture at the Pepper Pike congregation, a man people were accustomed to seeing there.
Abrams died on April 18 at Montefiore in Beachwood, where he had been living since February 2013. “Julie,” as his friends called him, was 101.
His devotion to B’nai Jeshurun is legendary.
“Out of 365 days a year, he was there 355 days,” said Robert Zelwin, who began to attend minyan after his father passed away 10 years ago. “He was just such a wonderful man. He lived on his own past his 99th birthday, and his real love outside his family was the shul. He died on a Saturday; he was in shul for a minyan that Monday and Tuesday, days before he passed away. He loved to come to shul. He felt very at home, that’s where he felt most comfortable.”
Louise Abrams, his daughter, said she was happy to get to know her father in his later years.
“My dad was really two different people,” she said. “When he was younger, he had to work really, really long hours, and I never really got to know him. But in the last 20 years after my mother died we began to build a relationship with each other, and I feel fortunate I had as much time as I did to spend with him, to get to know him.”
The man she got to know “had a lot of fortitude and strength,” conquering heart surgery, spinal surgery, pancreatitis and kidney failure. Recovering from each, Abrams “was very determined and came back to still enjoy life, which he loved dearly,” she said, noting he became a regular minyan goer after her brother, Bennett, was killed by a drunken driver.
At B’nai Jeshurun, “He created a family there; many people have told me that when they came to say kaddish, he would be the first one to welcome them in or sit with them at a time when they were in a great deal of pain,” his daughter said.
Louise’s husband, Robert Fuerst, said, “He made people feel welcome, he was warm, he had a wonderful smile. He was very expressive about showing appreciation, he would kiss and hug, he was a strong family man. He was known for having the strongest handshake, even to his last days. Everyone he knew knew him for having this very strong handshake. He never lost that.”
In remarks at the funeral, Rabbi Stephen Weiss, senior rabbi at B’nai Jeshurun, called Abrams “a source of great joy and inspiration to all of us.”
“All of us know Julie’s amazing role in helping liberate the camps, his tremendous courage and the way he looked after survivors he encountered at that time. But we knew Julie by his warm smile and sweet laugh, his strong, firm handshake, his devotion to minyan, his close relationship with his brother Ike and with Louise and Bob,” Weiss said.
“He never sought to be a leader and he didn’t really have a leader personality,” said Louise Abrams, struggling for words. “But what I found out was that somehow his comforting presence and demeanor brought people to him. He was very encouraging to me and he was my biggest fan. And that’s what I shall miss.”