Sylvia Kaminetsky, 87, of North Woodmere and New York City, died on November 12, peacefully, in her sleep, at her home with her beloved and devoted husband of 67 years, Irving, at her side.
Sylvia was born in New York City to Abraham and Dora Berkowitz on October 28, 1933, and grew up in Cleveland with two older sisters, Ruth Hausman and Shirley Tutens (both deceased), and three brothers, Martin Berkowitz (married to Doris), Dr. Jerry Berkowitz (married to Dr. Sharon), and Dr. Robert Berkowitz (married to Arlene). She came to New York at the age of 17 to live and work at the urging of her then-suitor and soon to-be husband, Irving Kaminetsky, to whom she was introduced by her future sister-in-law at the St. Moritz Hotel while visiting New York.
Referring to Sylvia’s life in foster homes after her mother’s passing while Sylvia was a baby, Jerry and Sharon wrote to Irving, “Sylvia and you built a beautiful family. She had a rough childhood, but once she teamed up with you, she made up for it in spades!”
Sylvia, with Irving ever by her side, lived life to its fullest. As her son, Dr. Jed Kaminetsky, lovingly recalled at the funeral, “Often while at home, for no reason, I will kiss Terri and tell her how much I love her. I then think ‘I’m turning into my dad,’ who was always doing the same to my mother. They were good role models!”
She was a wonderful mother to her two children, Dr. Jed Kaminetsky (married to Terri) and Lynn Samuels (married to Dr. Mark), and an extraordinary grandmother to Jared, Alexandra, and Jacob Kaminetsky and Aaron and Amanda Samuels.
Jed recalled, “Despite not having a maternal role model herself, she devoted herself to her children and tried to be the best mother humanly possible; our happiness was always her highest priority. Lynn and I had a wonderful childhood and many happy memories of family vacations and holidays together.”
In a poem that Terri wrote for the Kaminetskys’ 50th anniversary, she noted, “Their devotion to each other is plain to see…Their devotion to their children is more than can be…But no grandchildren alive can feel more adored than Aaron, Amanda, Jared, Jacob, and Ali…I’m sure I speak for Mark when I say with assurance that we couldn’t have finer in-laws than Jed and Lynn’s parents.”
Sylvia’s granddaughter, Alexandra Kaminetsky, founder of Modern Picnic, recalls, “I think we grandchildren can all agree that no matter what we did, or what silly mistake we were bound to make, Grandma would think we had just done something amazing and would be there cheering us on … No one fulfilled duties as grandparents like Sylvia and Irving did—every single visiting day, tournament, recital, birthday party, holiday, work event, and more, they were not only there, but were there with so much love and happiness.”
Grandson Aaron Samuels agrees and adds, “Reflecting on her life, I cannot remember her saying a bad word about anyone she personally knew. In hundreds of conversations, she never spoke negatively about anyone. We can all learn something from her kindness.”
The youngest granddaughter, Amanda, a student at Ross Michigan University, flew back for the funeral despite coronavirus travel precautions. She lovingly remembered Sylvia at the funeral: “My grandma was the most selfless person I know. She would do anything to make her family happy. I am so grateful to have had her in my life for 19 years, and when I grow up, I aspire to be the loving, high-spirited, and admirable person that she was to me.”
Nephew Adam Berkowitz recalls, “After college, I moved to NYC and honestly didn’t know anything or anyone there. I’d come by their place every few weeks to ‘help with their computer.’ I think, in retrospect, it was less about having their computer in order and more about having their nephew come and visit and spend time … She was always so kind to me. I always got the sense she was gifted with understanding situations and people so well, and working to make them comfortable … I’ll always think of her with me at a restaurant as I was about to order fish because it was 32% cheaper and hearing her say, ‘C’mon, have a steak. He’ll have a steak.’”
Sylvia was philanthropic and civic-oriented. She volunteered for many years at Franklin General Hospital for which she served as the president of coordinating council of the auxiliaries.
Carrie Di Raffaele Silverstein remembers, “When I was growing up in North Woodmere, Sylvia was always a warm presence in my life. She and my mom, Ida, were very close and spent so much time together, laughing and discussing everything under the sun … and stars. She was kind and insightful, always interested in my thoughts and activities. That genuine and loving interest continued over the years, even with my own children. I will miss her.”
“Sylvia was truly a loving, caring, and giving person, and one our entire community will miss tremendously. I hope everyone will continue to be inspired by her as she embodied what tikkun olam means.” said family friend Todd Richman.
“As we saw in her dedication to Franklin General Hospital and her involvement in politics and Temple Hillel, she exemplified what it meant to give back. She was a great wife, mother, and grandmother. She will be sorely missed.” said family friend Scott Zemachson.
Sylvia was active in local politics as the president of the Republican Club of North Woodmere, an election coordinator for the Town of Hempstead, and the biggest supporter of Irving’s campaigns for commissioner of sanitary district for the Town of Hempstead, an elected post he has held for eight consecutive five-year terms.
Many political leaders attended the funeral and sent warm regards. Former Senator Alphonse D’Amato wrote to Irving, “I am saddened to hear the news of the passing of your beautiful wife.”
State Senator Todd Kaminsky sent a letter, noting, “I will miss seeing your wife during holidays, at shul, and around the community. A powerful staple among the Temple Hillel mishpachah, Sylvia’s legacy will continue.”
Councilman Bruce Blakeman attended the service and called Sylvia “my friend, someone I can count on in the community. Anything good for the community, they were involved in. She was always looking for the good in people.”
Political organizer Avi Fertig wrote to Irving, “She was such a nice, friendly person who was always at your side and always greeted me with a smile and a kind word. I’ll never forget how encouraging and supportive she was when I ran for office a few years ago, and how you and Sylvia were always surrounded by friends whenever we met. Your obvious love for one another was a beautiful sight that would inspire me to feel a greater sense of appreciation for my own wife and my family.”
Sylvia was also actively engaged at her temples—she was a member for more than 50 years (and former board member) of Temple Hillel, and for the last 20 years was also a member at Sutton Place Synagogue — where she enjoyed a large and loving circle of friends with whom she and Irv traveled and socialized.
Rabbi Graber of Temple Hillel led the funeral services and read from Eishet Chayil to describe Sylvia.
Rachel Ain of Sutton Place Synagogue noted, “Sylvia was a kind, caring woman who was deeply committed to learning and the Jewish community. I loved when she would attend my Torah study classes, our monthly short story classes at the synagogue, and I will forever remember traveling to Israel with her. One of the final things she said to me was, ‘Be kind to everyone and never hold a grudge.’ She lived her values each and every day.”
The Kaminetskys’ reach spread further into Cedarhurst, Hewlett, and even Connecticut and Jamaica.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky of Yeshiva of South Shore attended the service and commented, “Irving and Sylvia were an inseparable pair. They always joined us in our annual Concert on the Lawn and did whatever they could to help our yeshiva and the community at large.”
Rabbi Zalman Wolowik of Chabad of the Five Towns attended as well and noted, “Sylvia was truly an exceptional person. She will be missed by my family and by all who knew Sylvia. May her memory be for a blessing.”
Rabbi Yehuda Septimus of Young Israel of North Woodmere noted, “Sylvia had an incredible capacity for nachas — in her family, her community, and her Judaism. The warmth of her smile and the nachas it communicated will be deeply missed.”
Rabbi Yossi Deren of Chabad of Greenwich noted, “We fondly recall the visits of the elder Kaminetskys joining their family here in Greenwich and worshipping with us for the High Holiday services.”
Rabbi Yehuda and Dina Kantor of Chabad of Westport wrote to Lynn, “We are so sad to hear of your mother’s passing. We feel like we knew her well throughout many years and are so appreciative to her for her interest in the family and kids.”
Rabbi Yaakov and Mushkee Raskin of Chabad of Jamaica remember, “We won’t forget her smile and warmth every time she came to Jamaica!”
Sylvia was an avid golfer and member of the Inwood Country Club, as well as an excellent bridge and mah-jongg player. She was a lover of the arts and culture, a voracious reader, and a regular attendee at the theater, symphony, and opera, which she especially enjoyed with her grandson Aaron, who is an amateur opera singer and actor. Her greatest love was enjoying the company of her children, grandchildren, many nieces and nephews, and extended family. She partook in their activities with a special joy, warmth, and devotion, rarely missing a tournament, performance, recital, graduation, or other special event.
Stephen Miron, a friend of the family, wrote, “On those very memorable family occasions in which we had time to speak and spend such enjoyable warm times, I was struck by her vitality, vigor, and engagement that defied her years. She was truly a woman of many talents, interests, and cogent thought.”
Sylvia was a beautiful woman of rare intelligence, and her constant presence and the love she gave to her family and friends will be truly missed.
Niece Michele Zimmerman remembers, “It was always so much fun to talk to Aunt Sylvia. There was never a conversation where I didn’t come away smiling. She was interested in everyone, a very good listener, and always had a funny story. She was smart, observant, in the know, and had an ageless hipness about her. You just knew she cared about you, remembered what you said and did, and then made interesting interpretations. Our aunt was so positively plugged into life, so engaged with people. She was one in a million.”
Family friend Aileen Margolis remarks, “Sylvia Kaminetsky was an incredible woman who undeniably touched so many lives including my own. Although I haven’t known her for a lifetime, I always felt as if I did. She was highly intelligent, extremely giving, and had an amazing zest for life. She was a true friend who will forever be a blessed memory.”
Sheryl Balfan relates her final memory of Sylvia, “She said, ‘Don’t worry about me. I had a very good, happy, long life and I will be fine.’ She just wanted me to know that she loved me and was very happy Lynn had me in her life … What a selfless, brave true-blue good neshamah she was all the way to the very end … When Sylvia met me, she felt my heart, my loss, and my pain and wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer the way she did as a child. What she added to my life was immeasurable.”
Donations in Sylvia’s memory can be made to NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center for Sarcoma Research or Temple Hillel (Sylvia Kaminetsky Memorial Fund). May her memory be for a blessing.