COVID-19 has taken from Jewish communities around the world; here are just a few names.
Alison Schwartz, 29, People magazine staffer and devoted gift giver
When Alison Schwartz set out to find a gift for her best friend’s wedding in 2018, she did it with her trademark creativity and fastidiousness.
The idea was to make a 42-square-foot quilt with all 1,450 words of the couple’s wedding vows hand stitched on the under- side. But Schwartz was a perfectionist, and when the quilt arrived with an error, she sent it back. And then sent it back again when the second attempt also fell short.
It took a year, but she finally delivered Jared Misner and his hus- band the finished product — devoid of errors.
“That encapsulates Alison in multiple ways,” said Misner, who has known Schwartz since they were freshmen at the University of Florida. “She gave this quilter the same amount of slack she would have given herself, which is to say zero. She was a wonderfully compassionate and ruthless editor. And she was the most generous gift giver you can imagine.”
Schwartz, who died April 28 of COVID-19 at the age of 29, worked at People magazine, where she started right after grad- uating from UF. A native of New York, Schwartz grew up in Wel- lington, Florida, just outside West Palm Beach.
One of the last things Schwartz did before going into the hospital was send a gift card to a college roommate who works as a nurse in Florida, which the roommate then used to buy masks for her hospital staff. During one of the few moments of consciousness while she was in the hospital, she wrote a message on a chalkboard to tell a friend that she hadn’t for- gotten her birthday, Misner said.
“For everybody else in the world, that would be an ex- traordinary thing to do,” Misner said. “But for her, that was very ordinary.”
— Ben Harris
Lee Kozol, 87, Boston attor- ney who represented the Patriots
BOSTON – When Lee Kozol entered Harvard Law School in the 1950s, he was following along a well-worn path of familial achievement.
Kozol was born into a multi-generational family of prominent Boston-area Jewish lawyers. His brother, Joel, was also a Harvard alum, and both brothers served as editors of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. His father was a lawyer too. At one point, eight mem- bers of the extended Kozol family worked at Friedman & Atherton law firm in Boston — including Kozol’s father, two brothers, and his daughter.
Kozol, who died on April 24 of COVID-19 at the age of 87, had a legal career that spanned some six decades, and he was at the center of many of the important issues of his day.
In the 1960s, as head of the civil rights division in the Massachusetts attorney general’s office, he oversaw the state’s implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision barring prayer in pub- lic schools. Back in private prac- tice with his family, he successfully persuaded the state’s highest court that lead paint should not be excluded from pollution controls. And in 1988, he and Joel repre- sented the New England Patriots in the team’s 1988 sale.
Even in retirement, Kozol remained a force, leading his condominium’s headline-making effort to block one of the city’s major real estate developers from erecting a massive tower along the Boston waterfront.
“He was one of the smartest people I have ever known,” said Diane Rubin, an attorney who got to know Kozol in her role representing the condominium, Harbor Towers.
Rubin described Kozol as a great mentor, eloquent and modest, someone who “never wanted to dominate a room.”
— Penny Schwartz
Suzy Levy, 66, dedicated nurse who refused to retire
JERUSALEM — Suzy Levy was the head nurse at the Ear, Nose and Throat Department at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. On April 27, she became the first Israeli medical worker to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic, just two weeks after the virus claimed the life of her sister.
Levy was 66 and had served as a nurse for nearly 45 years. She served in the medical corps during her mandatory military service and began her nursing career at Sheba in 1974. Over the years, she worked in a variety of departments before taking over as head nurse in Ear, Nose and Throat in 1995.
Levy was eligible for retirement at 62, but she continued to report to work, even as the impact of the pandemic became clear.
“She wanted to work until 67, until she couldn’t work anymore,” said Sima, a fellow nurse at Sheba who had known Levy for 25 years and took vacations with her.
“It was very hard when she died,” said Sima, who declined to provide her last name. “People didn’t take it well. They couldn’t believe it, even the patients. Everyone came and asked after her.”
In a statement reported in Israel Hayom, Yitshak Kreiss, the director of Sheba, said Levy epitomized the selflessness of the medical profession.
“This is a painful moment for all of us. It’s tough and painful and shocking to lose one of our people in the war on coronavirus,” Kreiss said. “Suzy symbolized the professionalism and devotion of medicine in general and Sheba in particular. Sheba bows its head in mourning.”
Levy is survived by a husband and two sons.
— Sam Sokol
Robert Ullian, 75, peace advocate who spray-painted route of the Green Line across Jerusalem
JERUSALEM — One dark evening in the 1990s, Robert Ullian snuck out of his home in the mixed Jewish and Arab neighborhood of Abu Tor and marked out the route of the Green Line, the boundary splitting pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank, with green spray paint.
A longtime advocate of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, Ullian had grown alarmed by efforts to erase the boundary between Israel and what many hoped would become a future Palestinian state.
Ullian “was a protest child of the sixties,” said his friend Rabbi Andy Bachman. “When he saw in Jerusalem that those lines began to get blurred, for him it was a matter of principle. He wanted to make a statement. It was a symbolic gesture there are borders we can’t allow them to be erased so easily.”
Ullian, who died on April 29 of COVID-19 in Amherst, Massachusetts, was born in Long Island in 1944 and moved to Israel in the 1980s. He earned a living as an English teacher and authored a number of tourist guides.
“He never made a lot of money, never had children and had his share of troubles, but he was always a symbol of peace and hope and justice, and that is a beautiful legacy to leave behind,” Bachman said.
In Jerusalem, Ullian lived in Abu Tor, the only Jew on the Arab side of the street. Ullian eventually returned to the United States and took a teaching position at Hampshire College. But he continued traveling to Israel as long as he was able, although a series of medical setbacks made that difficult.
He is survived by his sister Jill Ullian.
— Sam Sokol
David Behrbom, 47, public school teacher in the Bronx
David Behrbom was in baseball’s high school state championships.
It was the final inning, the game was tied, and Behrbom, then maybe 13 or 14, was on third base when he got the go-ahead to steal home — which he did to win the game.
“It was pandemonium,” Adam Cohen recalled. “The look on his face was pure joy that he was able to do that for his team and his crazy idea worked. That shows his courage, his audacity, his willingness to step up.”
Behrbom, who died April 5 of COVID-19 at the age of 47, wound up becoming an elementary school teacher. He taught at PS 55 in the Bronx, New York, 25 miles and a world away from Ardsley, the Westchester County suburb where he grew up and where he lived with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children.
Behrbom was a physical education teacher at PS 55, and each year he would organize Olympic Field Day, a school-wide athletics competition that was a highlight of the school calendar. He was also a lifelong Yankees fan who loved old-school hip hop and coached baseball and soccer.
In March, Behrbom was diagnosed with leukemia and began undergoing chemotherapy. After he took ill with COVID-19, his family sought blood plasma from donors who had successfully recovered from the coronavirus, a treatment that researchers hope may help patients struggling to fight off the disease. Behrbom died the day he was due to get the treatment, the New York Post reported.
“I do think about him every day, we all do,” Cohen said. “I don’t think that’s ever going to change. The hole he leaves in our family is just profound. We were lucky to have him for as long as we did, and his memory is cherished by all of us.”
— Ben Harris
Rafael Kugielsky, 90, helped advance Orthodoxy in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES — Rafael Kugielsky, a Buenos Aires dentist who was instrumental in advancing the interests of Orthodox Jews in Argentina, died of COVID-19 on April 25. He was 90.
Kugielsky established the Argentina branch of the haredi Orthodox organization Agudath Israel in 1966. He was also the first Orthodox representative to serve in the executive of AMIA, the Buenos Aires Jewish association that operates the largest Jewish cemeteries in the country and oversees economic subsidies to Jewish schools. He was also the owner of the Jewish newspaper LaVoz Judia (“The Jewish Voice”).
The seeds of Orthodox participation in Jewish communal life that Kugielsky planted blossomed three decades later, when in 2008, religious Jews won the election to lead AMIA for the first time.
“All that we are doing now is to follow the path that Kugielsky opened decades ago,” Eliahu Hamra, the secretary-general of BUR, the Orthodox bloc that rules AMIA, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “He is an inspiration and example.”
A father of five children, Kugielsky led the social affairs department of AMIA in the 1990s. Last year, he was recognized for his dedication to the organization, in particular his work help to rebuild the AMIA headquarters after the 1994 bombing that killed 85 people.
— JTA Staff
Hyman Siegal, 90, a Korean War veteran
BOSTON – Hyman Siegal, who climbed up a Golan Heights peak in his 70s, died of complications due to COVID-19 on April 29. He was 90.
Siegal was born in 1929. A veteran of the Korean War, he earned his college degree in accounting and went to work for the IRS. After his retirement, he volunteered to help seniors and low-income people with their taxes.
His dedication to helping others was also evident in his longtime association with the Jewish War Veterans. On Memorial Day, Siegal would place flags at the graves of Jewish veterans.
“He had a good neshama,” said Rabbi Laurence Bazer, the former rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, using the Hebrew word for soul.
Siegel was a regular at the synagogue west of Boston, where he lived for decades with his late wife Harriet. He celebrated a second bar mitzvah there, chanting the reading from the prophets on Shabbat morning that he hadn’t had a chance to do at his first bar mitzvah.
But it was Siegal’s unlikely participation in a congregational trip to Israel, in 2007, that most stands out for Bazer. Siegal was determined to trek up Mount Bental, a 3,800-foot peak in the Golan Heights, and when he made it to the top and took in the panoramic view, he felt like he had fulfilled a lifelong ambition.
“His eyes lit up,” Bazer recalled.
Later that evening at dinner, Siegal spontaneously led the group in dancing the horah. “It was a side of Hy that was just woken,” Bazer said. “It was beautiful.”
Siegal is survived by two children, Robert and Valerie, and brother Alan Siegal.
— Penny Schwartz
Joel Kupperman, child star from quiz show, dies at 83
Joel Kupperman, the adorable child star who helped burnish the stereotype of the brainy Jew as a panelist on the 1940s show “Quiz Kids,” died on April 8, according to an obituary published May 13 by The New York Times.
The death certificate describes an “influenza-like illness (probably COVID-19)” as the cause of death.
“A fairly cute kid who can do math quite well has never been such a big deal at any other time in American history,” Kupperman’s son Michael once wrote of his father.
Kupperman was one of the original “Quiz Kids,” which aired on NBC radio and then TV in the 1940s and 1950s. Airing a time when Jewish children were being ripped from their parents in Europe, the show, which featured a group of mostly Jewish kids fielding questions about a range of subjects, offered American audiences a Jewish stereotype that inspired affection rather than revulsion.
Kupperman, who was a “Quiz Kid” from age 6 until 16, was forever scarred by the experience and reluctant to discuss it. Michael Kupperman spent years researching his father’s experiences and in 2018 published a well-received graphic novel, “All the Answers.”
Kupperman found his niche at Cambridge University, and later at the University of Connecticut, where he remained until his retirement in 2010. He would walk away when people asked him about his experience as a “Quiz Kid.”
“He wanted to retreat into the life of the mind, and in many ways he succeeded,” his wife told the Times. “He really lived in his head.”
In 2006, Kupperman published a popular book on philosophy called “Six Myths about the Good Life: Thinking About What Has Value.” In it, he strives to break through the strictures of facile expectations.
Martin Wenick, 80, leader of Soviet Jewry fight
Martin Wenick, a leader of the fight to free Soviet Jews who has later instrumental in helping them resettle in the United States, died on May 7 due to complications of COVID-19. He was 80.
Wenick spent 27 years as State Department diplomat before taking over in 1989 as the head of the National Conference for Soviet Jewry, a coalition of Jewish organizations working to support Jews struggling to survive under Communism. A fluent Russian speaker, Wenick had been stationed in Moscow in the early 1970s, where he followed the plight of Jews denied visas to emigrate.
After his retirement from the State Department, Wenick spent three years leading NCSJ. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of restrictive emigration policies for Russian Jews, Wenick became the executive director of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the lead Jewish agency helping to resettle 140,000 Soviet Jews in the United States.
“He was a great leader of HIAS, and I will always be grateful for everything he taught me, for the example he set, and for the opportunities he gave me,” said Mark Hetfield, HIAS’ president and CEO.
Wenick grew up in a secular Jewish family in New Jersey and attended Brown University.
— Ben Harris