Honorable Menschen—Norman Hanenbaum

Shalom New Haven seeks to recognize people in our community who give their time and talents to improve our community through their service. Who would you nominate for our Honorable Menschen? Let us know! Send your suggestions, stories and photos to Editor Jeannette Brodeur at jbrodeur@jewishnewhaven.org.

He Always Loves Giving His Time, Energy, Talents to Others

by Jeannette Brodeur
SNH Editor

Always smiling and almost always in motion, Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek member Norman Hanenbaum, who is 91 years young, is the very definition of a true mensch.

A veteran, past commander of the Jewish War Veterans of Connecticut, retired special education teacher, one of the original founders of the Connecticut Special Olympics, an accomplished musician and an active volunteer, Hanenbaum counts his blessings each day and loves to give his time, his boundless energy and talents to others, including his fellow CBSRZ members.

Hanenbaum created the CBSRZ choir in 1992 and led the group for nine years. He’s also been the leader of the synagogue’s house band, “A Klez Act,” for the last 25 years. He even writes a history column by hand every month for the CBSRZ newsletter.

CBSRZ Administrator Wendy Bayor said anyone who meets Hanenbaum is guaranteed to leave with a smile. “Norm is bursting with personality and it is contagious,” Bayor said.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” Hanenbaum admitted. “I believe in giving back. The Jewish people have suffered so much. I’m trying to make it a better world. I believe we have more similarities than differences.”

Hanenbaum’s optimism was tested several years ago. In the summer of 2016, he was sitting in the living room of his East Haddam home watching television on a Saturday afternoon when a small plane crashed into his house. The crash shook the tongue and groove boards off the ceiling and several bookshelves toppled over, but miraculously, Hanenbaum walked away unhurt. His home was just recently rebuilt.

“I’ve never been an ultra-religious person, but I became more religious after that,” Hanenbaum conceded. “I always believed in God, but I definitely think someone is looking out for Norman Hanenbaum.”

Born in Baltimore, Hanenbaum graduated from Baltimore Junior College, served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then attended and graduated from the Hartt School of University of Hartford. He taught music at Wethersfield High School for eight years.

While teaching there, Hanenbaum heard the then-Superintendent of Schools mention a word he had never heard before…autism. “I asked what it was,” Hanenbaum recalled. “I went to the dictionary and looked it up and told him I wanted to get involved in helping these students.” For several months, he worked one-on-one with a five-year-old boy with autism, using drumming to help him vocalize. “I was so intrigued to see how a person learns,” Hanenbaum said. “I called the state’s special education office in Hartford and they said they would love to have me help these students.” He took several classes and taught special education at Mansfield Training School for two years and then taught special education in the Hartford schools for 26 years. Hanenbaum retired from teaching in 1992, but then volunteered full time for 10 years at the Connecticut Special Olympics Warehouse in Hamden and Plainville. He also served as the musical director, driver and benefactor of the Alleluia Players, a special needs group of young people who performed at various World Special Olympics Games in Canada and the U.S., as well as the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, D.C. For 11 years, Hanenbaum played saxophone every Tuesday night at the Westbrook Elks Club. He still plays the keyboard at many veterans’ events. He also serves coffee and Danish each month at the Newington Veterans Hospital. Each year, he sends out close to 100 handwritten Christmas cards for his many friends.

Hanenbaum is also close to his children and grandchildren. He talks to his son on the phone every day. “I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful family,” he said. “I have a lot to be thankful for.” The walls of his home are covered with the many prestigious awards he’s received over the years for his volunteer work, but that’s not what drives Hanenbaum to help. “I do it from the heart. It’s a good feeling to help others. It stops me from being lonely.”

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