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Benjamin Gebiner, 98, Servant of Jewish Culture
Benjamin Gebiner, who devoted a multifaceted career to Jewish communal life and the labor movement, died on Friday at North Shore Hospital in Manhasset, L.I. He was 98 and had been general secretary of the Workmen’s Circle.
His daughter Laura Landis said that her father, a longtime resident of Bayside, Queens, died of complications of a stroke.
In more than 60 years as a tutor, teacher, lawyer, administrator, journalist, editor, lecturer, radio commentator and college professor, Mr. Gebiner never strayed far from his commitments to Jewish cultural life and the labor movement.
He was the original executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee when it was formed in 1934 to oppose the rise of Nazism in Germany, and later served more than 30 years as an administrator of the Workmen’s Circle, the Jewish fraternal organization that has provided education and other benefits to Jewish immigrants since 1900.
And from the time he arrived in New York from Poland in 1921, when he began tutoring students in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish, until his retirement in 1984 as a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College, he displayed a continuing passion for education — of himself and others.
Perhaps because his own legal studies in Odessa and Kiev were interrupted by the 1917 Russian revolution, Mr. Gebiner, who was born in a Ukrainian area of Czarist Russia later ceded to Poland, seemed uncommonly grateful for the educational opportunities he found in the United States.
Before he had been in New York City a decade, Mr. Gebiner had learned English, taught at several Workmen’s Circle schools, studied journalism at Columbia University, graduated from the Brooklyn Law School and become so active in Jewish and socialist affairs that he was a member of the national executive committee of the Jewish Socialist Verband (organization).
Mr. Gebiner, who became a full-time administrator of the Workmen’s Circle in 1937, wrote and lectured widely on Jewish political, cultural and community affairs, edited the Workmen’s Circle publication, contributed many articles to The Forward and from 1950 to 1972 provided daily comment on the news for the publication’s radio station, WEVD.
Along the way, Mr. Gebiner became a familiar figure in Jewish organizational circles here and abroad.
Although his youthful devotion to Zionism abated somewhat when he came to the United States, Mr. Gebiner, whose friends included David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, made many trips to Israel with his high school sweetheart, Sonia Goldfarb, who, he liked to tell friends, was the youngest dentist in Warsaw when they were married there in 1920. She died four years ago.
When he retired from the Workman’s Circle at age 72, in 1970, Mr. Gebiner began his immigrant’s life anew, once again teaching Yiddish, this time to Queens College students looking to re-establish the cultural ties to their own immigrant ancestors.
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