A light has gone out in the Altoona Jewish community with the passing of Morris "Moe" Antikol.
Antikol, who died Feb. 18, touched many lives during his 91 years of life and is fondly remembered for his faith and love for his fellowman.
"He was such a devoted member and leader in Agudath Achim Synagogue for over 50 years," said Bill Wallen, executive director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation. "He really loved being Jewish and was a gabbai or lay person who assisted with running the services."
Wallen said when he came to the synagogue for the daily chapel service, "Moe would always greet me. He would say hello and welcome me with a smile on behalf of the congregation to express how happy they were to have me with them that day."
Wallen said as the gabbai, Antikol would give out duties of honor during the service, such as being called up to the Torah.
He said Antikol would often give the honor to a visitor.
Joel Hollander will never forget how Antikol welcomed him to Altoona about 35 years ago.
Hollander had only lived in town a couple of months and was on his way to Pittsburgh when he stopped at a diner. He noticed a man who looked familiar, but he could not place him.
He said, Antikol approached him and said, "you're Joel Hollander. He introduced himself and sat down and talked with me. It was my introduction to Altoona. He made me feel so comfortable."
Hollander said Antikol knew everybody in the congregation and he not only knew their English name, but their Hebrew name as well.
A co-owner of Schulman's and Berman's stores, Antikol was well-known throughout the city and beyond.
"When you would say 'Moe,' people would know who he was, you didn't have to say 'Antikol,'" Wallen said.
Despite being a familiar figure, Antikol was not one for fanfare. He often did for others in a quiet and unassuming way.
"Moe and Gerry [his wife who is also deceased] were always inviting people to their home for holidays like Passover and Shabbat [the Sabbath], especially people who were alone or new to the community," Wallen said.
He said the Antikols would often visit a female senior citizen who lived alone and bring her food. Other seniors who lived by themselves were not forgotten.
"They had their own reassurance program," Wallen said.
On the anniversary of a congregant's death, Antikol made sure a minyan or the mandatory 10 mourners were present to say prayers. Wallen said when Antikol would ask, people would say yes, because they knew he would do it for them.
Another of his unassuming duties was to make a daily visit to the synagogue for many years to make sure the Yarzeit memorial lights for congregants who had passed away were lit on the appropriate dates of the Jewish calendar.
He served on the synagogue board for at least 50 years, Hollander estimates, and he was a cantor, religious chairman and vice chairman of Agudath Achim Cemetery.
"He didn't want any reward for what he did," Wallen said. "He lived the values of our religion. He was a very special person who touched the lives of many people."
Among the lives that he touched is that of Dr. Elliott Bilofsky of Hollidaysburg.
Bilofsky remembers the first time his family attended the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) at Agudath Achim when they moved to the area 16 years ago.
He said everyone has assigned seats for those holy services, and his family was seated in front of the Antikols and their son, Hy. By that time, Antikol's daughter, Linda, was married and lived out of state.
During the year, the Bilofskys became acquainted with other Jewish families, and on the next High Holy Days, it was suggested that their assigned seats be moved up about 15 rows so they could sit with those friends.
Bilofsky said he and wife said, "No way. We want to sit in front of Moe, Gerry and Hy. Spiritually, we felt so much at home with Moe."
Antikol's love for Judaism created a bond between the Antikols and the Bilofskys, especially after Bilofsky's father, who also was very devout, passed away.
"Moe became the spirit of my dad," he said. "He had an incredible fondness for our children."
Illness caused Antikol to live in a nursing home the last two years of his life. When he was able to get out for brief times, Bilofsky would calm Antikol's anxiety about returning to the home.
Bilofsky related Antikol's life to something said to him by Rabbi Ammos Chorny, who traveled from Canada to attend the memorial service.
"Moe was like our Noah. God made him to serve in a priestly place ... to save the world," Bilofsky said. "Moe did that for us."