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Frances Liebman, who helped found the South Huntington Jewish Center, dies at 91

Frances Liebman, center, with her son Howard and

Frances Liebman, center, with her son Howard and daughter Leslie at her 90th birthday party on Dec. 14, 2019. Credit: Marv Bernfeld

Frances Liebman, who funded her children’s education with a part-time job at Sears while serving as a driving force behind the founding of Melville’s South Huntington Jewish Center, died at Huntington Hospital on Jan. 20 after a three-week battle with COVID-19. She was 91.

A resident of the Gurwin Jewish assisted living facility in Commack, Liebman had been recuperating from complications after a recent surgery when she contracted the virus.

Liebman was born in Irvington, New Jersey, and raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the second of three children to Isidore Wiener, who ran a grocery store, and Ethel Wiener, a homemaker.

Frances Liebman’s younger bother, Leonard Wiener, 80, of Bethesda, Maryland, is a retired journalist at U.S. News & World Report while an older brother, Air Force Lt. Col. Murray Wiener, died in 2015.

As a teenager during Word War II, Frances Liebman would often act as a caregiver to her younger brother while their parents ran the family’s grocery store, which later relocated to Williston Park as the Public Fair Supermarket.

"She was very family devoted," Leonard Wiener said. "She was always very proud of her family and what they accomplished."

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Liebman obtained a bachelor’s degree in social work from Hofstra University and in 1951, married her college boyfriend, Marty Liebman, who later became an aeronautical engineer at Grumman Aircraft.

The couple moved to California but eventually settled in Melville. They had two children, Leslie Liebman, 66, a retired nurse from Melville, and Howard Liebman, 68, an attorney based in Belgium.

Marty Liebman died in 2011, just five months short of the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary, from a rare form of aggressive brain cancer.

As her children got older, Frances Liebman insisted on getting a part-time job and used the money for her children’s education.

With the cash she made working at Sears, first in sales and later in customer service, she paid for both kids to go to college and obtain postgraduate degrees. Leslie went to SUNY Albany and Columbia University’s School of Public Health while Howard attended Colgate University and Harvard Law School.

"She took a lot of pride in that she was the one who put us through college," Leslie Liebman said. "She always stressed the importance of getting a good education and a college degree so that you could support yourself and not just rely on getting married."

Frances and Marty Liebman would help establish the South Huntington Jewish Center, forming many of the synagogue’s social programs for seniors. Frances Liebman held most of the positions in the temple’s sisterhood and had an adult bat mitzvah ceremony at the synagogue.

She was active in several other Jewish groups including Hadassah and Women’s American ORT, where she served as a regional vice president, and was an avid mah-jongg player and helped organize bingo games, family members said.

"Marty and Frances gave so much of their time, energy and love to our synagogue since the very beginning," said Rabbi Ian Jacknis.

Leslie Liebman said her mother had natural people skills, genuine sincerity and a knack for making everyone around her feel better about themselves.

"She gave people her full attention and they could feel it," Liebman said. "Anyone who spoke with her came away feeling like they mattered; like she really heard them. That’s not something everyone does."

A graveside service was held on Jan. 22 at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

Liebman is survived by her two children; a son-in-law Marvin Bernfeld; a daughter-in-law Christiane Schellens; her brother; sister-in law Edie Wiener and three grandchildren.

Donations in Liebman’s memory may be made to South Huntington Jewish Center or to the Gurwin Jewish-Fay J. Lindner Residences in Commack.

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