The origin of the word “courage” is the French coeur, meaning “heart.” The life of Gershon Copperman is the story of the gift of courage, of the love and devotion of the heart, of a vision honored and carried from one generation to the next.
Copperman was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1926, to Sarah and Avraham Simcha Copperman. He describes his father as an idealist, a Zionist, a visionary who paved the way for his family to make aliyah in the future. In 1935, his father traveled on his own by train and boat from Ireland to Israel and stayed with relatives in Herzliya for a few months. He bought a small plot of land to be used for agriculture and to become their future home. In 1940, however, Avraham Simcha died, and his dream of aliyah came to an end. Seven years later, in 1947, Copperman brought his father to Palestine to be buried on the Mount of Olives.
“I was 21 years old. I came by myself to bury my father. I remember I needed a British permit, and I toured Israel – the narrow alleys of the Kotel, the Tel Aviv promenade, and even the electricity facility on the border with Jordan. I visited Kever Rachel [Rachel’s Tomb], where someone took a photograph of me that I still treasure. I knew at that time that one day I would return to live in Israel.”Gershon Copperman
“I was 21 years old. I came by myself to bury my father. I remember I needed a British permit, and I toured Israel – the narrow alleys of the Kotel, the Tel Aviv promenade, and even the electricity facility on the border with Jordan. I visited Kever Rachel [Rachel’s Tomb], where someone took a photograph of me that I still treasure. I knew at that time that one day I would return to live in Israel,” says Copperman. “From 1948 until 1967, the family could not visit the gravesite that was in Jordanian territory.”
When his mother was left a young widow with six children, Copperman, the eldest at 14 years, honoring his mother, acted in loco parentis. He gave up school in order to work full time in the family clothing business to provide for his mother and five younger siblings. He helped to nurture and raise his brothers and sister, ensuring that they completed their education at the highest levels. He eventually sold the business to open a travel agency, the Charles S. Robinson Agency.
Through all of this, Copperman held steadfast to his father’s Zionist vision and guided his siblings in the direction of Israel. Ultimately, they all made aliyah.
A family's Zionist vision to make aliyah
Gershon’s brother Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Copperman, founder of the Michlalah Jerusalem College for Women, laid the foundation for an all-inclusive, comprehensive Torah education and academics for women. He dedicated some of his books to Gershon and often said, “Everything I have, I owe to you.”
Copperman’s son Rabbi Menachem Copperman, community leader and rabbi of Kehillat Ahavat Tzion Synagogue in Ramat Beit Shemesh, says, “Without my father, the family would not exist as it did and as it does.”
FROM AN early age, Copperman was a respected member of the Dublin Jewish community and personally connected with rabbis and dignitaries.
In 1971, he married Doris Neuer in Montreal. They met in Israel while both were visiting and began a correspondence and a long-distance romance. Cardiologist Dr. Yitzhak Copperman, his brother, recalls that one of the airlines so valued working with Gershon that they gave free return tickets to all his siblings to attend the joyful wedding.
“We had one Sheva Bracha in Montreal,” reminisces Copperman, “and then we traveled to Israel to celebrate the rest of the Sheva Brachot. Afterward, we went to live in Dublin, where our two sons, Menachem and Aharon-David, were born.”
In 1978, the four made aliyah.
“When I left Dublin to move to Israel, I left a lifetime behind – a good life, good times, good years. I left my home to go to my other home,” he says.
He recalls when a neighbor asked him why he was leaving Ireland, he explained, “I can’t give you one reason why I am leaving Ireland, but I can tell you why I am going to Israel.”
Adjustment to a new culture was not easy at the beginning, but Copperman and his wife shared an ideal – to be part of Israel. They chose to live in Petah Tikva to be close to Doris’s brother and sister-in-law. The couple became active members of the Anglo community of the Young Israel Synagogue, where Copperman attended classes. He also continued to work in a travel bureau in Bnei Brak.
Classical music fills Copperman’s life. In his youth, he played the violin, and he loves opera. He and Doris attended concerts and cultural events and often traveled to London to experience the theater.
Copperman describes Dublin and the Adelaide Road Synagogue that opened in 1892 in the center of the Jewish, Zionist community. He also talks about the illustrious Herzog family that lived nearby. Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog was the first chief rabbi of Ireland (1921-1936), and then became the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine, known as HaYishuv HaIvri. He continued as the first chief rabbi of the State of Israel until 1959.
When Rabbi Herzog left Dublin in 1936 for the Yishuv, Copperman, then 10 years old, gave a farewell speech in the synagogue.
The concept of time may be perceived as linear or circular. Today, closing a circle, adorning Kehillat Ahavat Tzion Synagogue in Beit Shemesh are the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark), the pulpit and other klei kodesh (holy vessels), from the Adelaide Road Synagogue that Rabbi Herzog stood in front of, close to 100 years ago. And his grandson, President Isaac Herzog, then cabinet minister, spoke at the dedication in 2008.
ABOUT 40 years after he made aliyah, Copperman moved to Jerusalem in 2019, to Beit Tovei Ha’ir, a senior residence. Decorating the entrance to his apartment is the Irish blessing for a safe life journey:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
HIS FRIEND Morris Inker says that Copperman introduced him to the beauty and majesty of Jerusalem. He describes Copperman as a storyteller, eloquent and poetic. “He charms people with his wit and sense of humor.”
Copperman’s phone rings with calls. His apartment fills with company. He has a genuine interest in people. He says it is important for people to listen to each other, to hear the other side, to make way if necessary. When you meet with him, you are drawn in by his goodwill, his recognizing and acknowledging the good in people, and his feeling of gratitude for the beauty of life.
“My father taught us derech eretz kadma le’Torah – proper, ethical conduct between man and man, gemilut chasadim – acts of loving kindness, compassion, love. My father embodies the quality of humanity,” says Menachem.
Aharon-David recounts that when he was a young boy walking with his father, people around them assumed he was with his grandfather. He says, “My father was 50 years old when I was born. I feel like I keep my father eternally young. He has a young spirit.”
Sixteen years ago, Gershon and his sons went on a journey to Ireland, their native land. They visited the homes where they were born. In one house, Aharon-David remembers, they found the original wallpaper mural still decorating a wall. As if time stood still.
The fifth commandment resonates, “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land which the Lord, your God, gives you.”
“In fact, our father made sure to take care of his mother and bought an apartment for her in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, when she made aliyah in the 1970s,” Aharon-David says. “Later, in 1985, our family was surprised to find that right next to our grandfather’s grave was an empty single plot where our grandmother could be buried next to her husband.”
The rabbinic midrash infers that the fifth commandment may be extended to include a worthy older brother. In this way, Copperman is also honored and revered as a father by all his extended family.
In Dublin almost a century ago, Copperman’s father had a dream. In the future, his family left their place of birth, fulfilled this longing, and created a family in Israel.
With the fullness of his heart, Gershon Copperman actualized his father’s dream. ■
Gershon Copperman From Dublin to Jerusalem, 1978