Holocaust survivor David Libicki, a ‘stalwart’ at Adath Israel, dies at 89by amanda pazornik, staff writer
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David Libicki rarely left San Francisco.
But not because he never drove a car, often opting for public transportation and walking. Libicki loved San Francisco and spent most of his time there because it held the three things that brought him happiness: his family, his synagogue and his job.
Libicki, a Holocaust survivor, died June 12 in San Francisco at age 89.
Libicki spent most of the war at Hasag before he was liberated at Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. He and his younger brother were the only survivors of their family. Shortly afterward, Libicki was introduced by a relative to Ester Libicki, whom he married in August 1947. The couple’s first child, Stuart, was born four years to the day after David’s liberation.
The Libickis moved to New York in 1951, giving David an opportunity to learn trades by day and work as a salesman in the evening. Their daughter, Patty, was born in 1955 and four years later, the family settled in San Francisco.
“My aunt and uncle had a coffee shop near Golden Gate Theater,” Stuart Libicki recalled. “They wanted to open another restaurant, so my father joined them. He liked it so much that he tried to work seven days a week. He left early and came home late.”
Libicki took the N Judah from the Sunset District every day to the M&M Café, the restaurant-turned-cafeteria located on Market Street. He “kibitzed” with customers during business hours, Stuart recalled, and at night kept the café open for Financial District buildings’ janitorial staff. Libicki even learned to speak Spanish, albeit with a Polish accent, so he could communicate with diners.
“He enjoyed the customers,” Stuart said. “He had a sharp mind, memorized customers’ names and made the whole thing into a game. If he wanted to serve a particular item on the menu, he convinced people that’s what they wanted.”
When Libicki wasn’t presiding over M&M Café, he often could be found at Congregation Adath Israel, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in San Francisco. He was a religious man, Stuart said, though didn’t have time to always attend services.
Still, “his Jewish life remained as his core,” Adath Israel Rabbi Josh Strulowitz said in his eulogy. “The shul and the Adath Israel community were always his base. He would daven and put on tefillin every day, even when he was working those 16-hour days.”
Once Libicki retired in 1988, he spent more time at the synagogue, which was a short distance from his home on 43rd Avenue. He became a “stalwart” of the minyan, Strulowitz said, always getting there early and almost always leading the services.
“He never drove a car, so he would ask others for rides,” Strulowitz said. “If he couldn’t get a ride, then he would walk. Even in the past year, when his health was failing, he would walk to and from shul twice a day. And it wasn’t an easy walk.”
During retirement, Libicki helped Holocaust survivors obtain restitution from the German government. A tenacious and persistent letter-writer, Libicki, who lacked a formal education and had limited English reading and writing skills, was determined to help at least a dozen fellow survivors, even when he rarely wanted to talk about his own experience in the camps.
“He was happy not to deal with any of the memories,” Stuart said. “He was content running the business, going to temple and helping others. …
“There were well over 100 people at his funeral. He was a dear, sweet man.”
Libicki is survived by his wife, Ester Libicki, of San Francisco; son Stuart Libicki, and grandchildren Eric, Lisa and Susan Libicki and Shaun Samson. His daughter, Patty Libicki, predeceased him in 2007.
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