“Just call me Moishe,” he replied when asked how he would like to be addressed. The executive had just engaged him -Alex Koenigsberg, a recent immigrant, a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau – as the new “Shammes (Sexton)” of Adath Israel Congregation. The Shul members would soon call him respectfully and amicably “Mr. K.” while Rabbi Schild would refer to him, many years later, as the “Faithful Servant,” the title that God awarded to Moses in the Torah.
Mr. K. was born in Slovakia and was educated at the noted Yeshiva of Neitra. The number tattooed on his arm was only a superficial sign of the deep imprint that the Holocaust left on his heart and mind. As a witness and victim of the destruction of European Jewry, he reacted with gratitude and enthusiasm when he was hired in 1954 for his important position at Adath Israel, thus released from working in a tailoring shop on Spadina Avenue.
Whatever he could do for the benefit of the Shul and all its members was a joy for Mr. K. To help people satisfy their Jewish needs, to look after the prayer services morning and evening, to sing as the assistant cantor the service with his beautiful voice, with his knowledge of Torah and of the musical traditions, and to read the Torah, it all was his pleasure. In the old Shul on Bathurst Street, he was also the custodian to clean the floors and arrange the seating. While we were building our new Synagogue, he was Mr. Donnenfield’s driver and assistant. Though he was soon excused from housekeeping, he continued with pride to operate the manual addressograph and Gestetner copy machine. He was in charge of Synagogue room rentals. Mr. K. was the innovator of daily breakfast for worshippers after the morning services.
Mr. K. had a deep love for our Synagogue and its members. But he loved all people, trying to accommodate everyone. His love of people was contagious: he was sincerely loved by men and women who flocked to him for his wisdom and his wit. He taught hundreds of children for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah and instilled in them a share of his own love of Torah. Mourners who attended daily prayer services to say Kaddish in memory their dear ones were influenced by his empathy and his true piety, and soon learned to love our Shul.
Mr. K. was a pious man, truly pious. His life was guided by the Mitzvot, our commandments. His piety was not for show, not to impress others. He took to heart the admonition to walk humbly, discreetly with God. His piety was not a spectacle but a genuine, quiet expression of his loyalty to the Jewish way of life. He kept the commandments conscientiously with every detail and in the proper spirit. He observed every fast day; he said every prayer, and he did so with deep devotion.
Mr. K. had only one hobby: to study books of Jewish learning. He was a genuine scholar, a Talmid Chacham. He was an authentic Jew, in thought and in practice. It was Mr. K. whom Rabbi Schild would often consult when he needed a second opinion in matters of Synagogue procedure, in ritual or Kashrut. His combination of love and expertise made it a privilege and a delight to pray and celebrate with him.
In recognition of his role, the Congregation dedicated the Alex Koenigsberg Conservatory in his honour. Yet with all his achievements and popularity, Mr. K. remained a very humble and modest person.
Mr. K. died in 1999. His influence remains an everlasting contribution to the spirit that marks our Congregation.