One of ‘Post’s' oldest readers is gone

Herb Selig was born in Zeiltzheim, Germany, a township in Bavaria, in 1914. His family had lived there since the 17th century.

Herb Selig solves ‘The Jerusalem Post’ crossword puzzle earlier this month (photo credit: Courtesy)
Herb Selig solves ‘The Jerusalem Post’ crossword puzzle earlier this month
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s not certain whether Jerusalem resident Herb Selig, who died two weeks ago at the age of 103, was the oldest reader of The Jerusalem Post, but he was certainly one of the very few in the triple-digit age group.
According to his son David, who lives in Ma’aleh Adumim, the senior Selig was doing the Post’s daily crossword puzzle a week before he died.
Although it would have been a pleasure to meet him and interview him while he was still in the land of the living, more information than even his son could give was provided by two Neveh Chana high school students, one of whom is related to David Selig’s wife.
The girls, Adina Kirschner and Rachel Levinstein, were asked to do a project on the life of a senior citizen – preferably a relative. Herb definitely fitted into one category and came close enough in the other.
He was born in Zeiltzheim, Germany, a township in Bavaria, in 1914. His family had lived there since the 17th century.
Of the 600 people in the hamlet, there were 15 Jewish families. All of them were Orthodox, and they had good relations with their Christian neighbors.
There was a synagogue that was built in the 17th century and which still stands today, but there was no rabbi. There was a regional traveling rabbi who came by occasionally, but most of the time the spiritual leader was the beadle of the synagogue who also served as the cantor.
A Reform rabbi showed up once, and seeing his bare head, the community refused to welcome him.
Herb’s father, Yitzhak, a cattle dealer, died when Herb was 13. His widowed mother, Chava, had an uncle living in America; she took her son and went there in 1937 to work for him. It was a good year to leave Germany.
By the time America entered the Second World War, Herb was old enough to enlist, and he became an army pharmacist. His unit saw service in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines.
It was in the Philippines that they spent the longest time. The unit was stationed on a southern island, close to a cathedral that housed a group of nuns from Germany. Herb quickly determined that they did not sympathize with the Nazis, and they became friends, speaking German to each other. They had never heard of Zeiltzheim. The soldiers had been ordered not fraternize with the locals, but talking to clergy was permissible.
Because he was religiously observant, Herb had a yearning for prayer services. He and two other Jewish soldiers put up a notice announcing that they were holding a service the following Sabbath, inviting other Jewish soldiers to join them. They had no idea whether they would succeed in assembling a minyan.
When the service started, there were exactly 10 men, and at the end they turned around and wished each other the traditional Sabbath greeting in Yiddish or Hebrew. One of the soldiers approached Herb and asked the meaning of the greeting. Herb immediately suspected that he wasn’t Jewish; he wasn’t, but he’d seen the notice and was curious.
When Herb subsequently met the Jewish chaplain and told him that the service was not quite what he had hoped it would be, the chaplain made sure that there would be a proper minyan in future. He also made sure that all of the Jewish men would get kosher food.
After the war, when the unit was back in the US, Herb remained in the army for another couple of years. He then settled in Chicago and married Ruth Frank, who was also originally from Germany and ten years his junior.
Herb began working as a pharmacist and was quite successful.
The couple had two children, David and Judy.
Herb had long hankered to move to Israel, but Ruth refused to go until the children were older.
In 1973, the family finally made the move, and Herb became a regular reader of the Post. He used to say that getting off the plane was one of the happiest moments in his life. He found work very quickly – in the pharmacy division of the capital’s Bikur Cholim hospital.
While in Chicago, he had regularly attended Gemara (Jewish oral law) classes where he picked up quite a lot of Hebrew. His knowledge of the language improved rapidly once he began working because his two co-workers knew no English. It was a sink or swim situation, and he decided to swim.
After 35 years at Bikur Cholim, when he was already 89 years old, the hospital was in dire financial circumstances, and a large number of staff received letters of dismissal. Herb was among them but he wanted to remain active, so he came back as a volunteer, coming to work in all kinds of weather, even trudging there in the snow.
Ruth died in 1999 at age 74. Because she was 10 years younger than her husband, she had always been fearful of being left a widow, and in the final analysis it was Herb who was widowed. Initially it was very difficult for him because Ruth died while they were planning their 50th wedding anniversary.
At age 95, Herb finally decided of his own accord that he should retire and spend more time with his family. His daughter Judy Grossman – herself a widow – has a son and a daughter, and David has four sons.
There are also several great-grandchildren.
Up until a year before his death, relates David Selig, Herb was climbing stairs. He also had a lady friend for the past 15 years, and when asked why he didn’t marry her, he replied that marriage wasn’t for people his age.
He had several hobbies. He was particularly keen on stamp collecting, and he also liked to collect spoons which were displayed on a wooden rack hanging on the wall.
In addition, he loved opera, and could sing many arias to the delight of family and friends.
According to his son, Herb had no special diet – he ate everything. He was active in mind and body and adamantly refused to live in a sheltered living facility.
He said he didn’t need it, and died in his own home, in his own bed.