Gilbert (Gibby) Rosenberg, who founded and owned Gibbys Restaurant in Montreal and St-Sauveur, Que., for close to 50 years, is being remembered for his kindness and generosity, for which he shunned reward and recognition. Rosenberg died suddenly on March 1. He was 86.
Rosenberg and his wife, Soryl Rosenberg, shared a deep commitment to social justice. Together, they provided for those living on the margins of society: the homeless and those who were so poor that adequate food was beyond their reach.
Rosenberg’s good nature and decency were equally expressed in everyday acts, whenever anyone in his sphere needed a simple favour, friendly support or calming word, say those who knew him.
“Gibby loved to help others. He treated people well. This is his legacy in business and this is his legacy amongst his family and friends,” said Rabbi Adam Scheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in his eulogy at Rosenberg’s funeral on March 4. “People loved being around him; people looked up to him; people admired the person he was: a gentle, honest mensch, who wanted to do good for others.”
Gibby loved to help others. He treated people well.
– Rabbi Adam Scheier
One of those many admirers is Beverly Spanier, who co-ordinated the third service held on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the Shaar.
The volunteer-run program was open to anyone in the community who had nowhere else to go, such as Miriam Home clients, students and recent immigrants. Rosenberg and his boyhood friend, Brahm Faber, were stalwarts of that service every year.
Rosenberg was a lifelong Shaar member and occupied a prominent place in the main sanctuary during the holidays.
“But he would leave his seat and come downstairs and help out in any way he could, whether it was making sure there was minyan, or helping an autistic person,” said Spanier. “He was a very good man, very caring, very interested in others.”
He cared very much for those who were ill or disabled, and was known to treat them to outings, or just spend time with them.
He was a very good man, very caring, very interested in others.
– Beverly Spanier
Rabbi Scheier said Rosenberg was always more than happy to be “the 10th man” anywhere in the synagogue: “He would remind me whenever I saw him that I should never hesitate to call on him; he would say, ‘CMI – count me in.’ ”
“Gibby was never interested in being chairman or president of an organization,” said Soryl Rosenberg. “He was guided by his genuine caring for others and not for recognition of his countless acts of kindness. He was a mentor and role model to so many of his children’s friends and to people who he did not know well, but would seek his opinion. He was accepting and never judgmental and lived by ‘walking in someone else’s shoes.’ ”
Rosenberg is also remembered for his spirit of adventure and sense of humour.
He had been an accomplished sailor since he was a teenager, having raced competitively and, over 18 months in 1997 and 1998, he captained his vessel around the world. He was an avid motorcyclist and made 48 skydiving jumps, the first of which was on a dare from Soryl Rosenberg.
Rosenberg’s surviving sibling, Phyllis Deitcher, recalled how he taught her to swim by throwing her into the water when she was five years old. They remained very close, speaking practically every day.
Rosenberg got started in the family office and restaurant supplies business. In 1969, he and two partners opened the first Gibbys steakhouse in St-Sauveur.
He would remind me whenever I saw him that I should never hesitate to call on him.
– Rabbi Adam Scheier
Three years later, the second Gibbys was opened in Old Montreal, in a now 200-year-old stone building – a former stable, whose historic features have been preserved. Both restaurants are still flourishing and Rosenberg was active in the business until the end of his life.
Rabbi Scheier observed that it is fitting that Rosenberg died on Purim, saying that his yahrzeit “will be on a day associated with joy. He brought joy to so many.”
As Soryl Rosenberg requested, the funeral concluded with the nautical blessing: “Fair winds and following seas.”
Rosenberg is survived by his wife and four children.