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Arthur Hoffman, 100: A Handy Man and a Devoted Family Man

August 25, 2005 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Arthur A. Hoffman, who held managerial positions at Villager Clothing and Madway Main Line Homes at the pinnacle of his career, and whose vivid artistry enlivened several area synagogues, died on July 29, just two months short of his 101st birthday.

Born in 1904 in Vitebsk, Russia, Hoffman moved to England, where he studied in a yeshiva. In the United States in the early 1920s, he later took courses from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

In 1929, he married Millie Goldman.

His first jobs included drafting, sign-painting and furniture-making; Hoffman later owned his own toy factory. But when it came to work, most of his family and friends remember his innate handiness.

He "turned wonderful ideas into reality," according to his granddaughter, Roberta Presser. "He worked for several businesses and made them run more efficiently. He was a designer of collapsible furniture long before [a place like] IKEA."

Hoffman built arks for the Torah scrolls for the children's services at West Oak Lane Synagogue in Philadelphia and Beth Tikvah-B'nai Jeshurun in Erdenheim. A 4-foot-by-7-foot oil collage that Hoffman painted, based on the daily prayer "Aleu D'varem," which speaks of deeds of lovingkindness, hangs in the chapel at the Brith Sholom House on City Avenue. Greeting cards made from his paintings are still sold in the gift shop of Temple Adath Israel in Merion, where a portion of the proceeds continue to be used to help the needy through the synagogue's Mitzvah Makers.

Hoffman built a miniature carousel in the basement of his home and made toys for his grandchildren, as well as fixed cabinets for his aunt and built a breakfront for cousins.

"He was always doing for others," said Presser.

A Resourceful Man

Rabbi Fred Kazan, who was the rabbi at West Oak Lane and knew Hoffman for decades, recalls him as a resourceful man who made some very practical items for the synagogue, such as signs. "He would enlist me to help others, as he did to everyone. Everybody grew from interacting with him."

A regular at minyans at a number of synagogues, "he brought a feeling for Judaism" to Brith Shalom House, according to Saundra Laub, manager of the apartment building for seniors, where he lived for 10 years up to two months before his death.

"When he moved here, no one was conducting services because the last leader had died," said Laub. "He took over the role and encouraged people who never came to services to attend."

"Family was everything to him," she continued. "His wife, Millie, died five years ago. He cared for her here at Brith Sholom for as long as he could before she had to go into a nursing home, but brought her back whenever he could for services."

Presser spoke of her grandfather's devotion to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, saying that they were "so much a part of his life, and he was so much a part of theirs. He taught in words and he taught by example."

He also had a solid philosophy on aging that was once published in a Brith Sholom newsletter: "It has been said that the beginning of each new day is the first day of the rest of your life. Isn't it about time to make that day and the ones that follow meaningful, instead of quitting and waiting for the end? How do you know how long the rest of your life may be? Perhaps, there are 20 years of constructive and useful work left - just don't throw it away."

Hoffman is survived by his daughter, Renee Tomkin; four grandchildren; and four great grandchildren.

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