Sidney Schonfeld, who died Sept. 15 at the age of 87, is being remembered by many in the same choice words: “mensch,” “friend,” “gentleman”; “kind,” “caring,” “principled.”
The Tenafly resident left Nazi Germany with his family at the age of 12, knowing no English. But as he told The Jewish Standard in 2006, on the occasion of his receiving the Shem Tov (good name) award of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, he quickly taught himself the language, eventually attended City College at night, and started a successful food-importing business. This gave him the means and the time to be generous to worthy causes.
In his eulogy at Schonfeld’s funeral at Temple Emanu-El last Friday, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner said, “Sid was a giver. He always had his hands in his pockets and was helping out someone or some group in need. He would confide in me, ‘Rabbi this person came to me. They are in trouble. They need help. They are getting divorced, paying for day school. It is hard for them to make ends meet.'”
Kirshner said he would reply, “‘Sid, you are a tzaddik. You give to any and every organization that has the letter J in its initials. UJA, JNF, UJC, JTS JFS, USCJ, JCC, JCRC, and many more. Sometimes you can say no, Sid.’
“It was like I was speaking a language he had never heard,” Kirshner continued. “He said to me, ‘Rabbi, he needs help. I can. I will.'”
Ed Ruzinsky “knew Sidney through his caring affiliation with JFS” – Jewish Family Service, one of those J-initial organizations. Ruzinsky, a JFS board member for more than 30 years, said that “from the day he got involved he was committed to the mission of JFS and he lived it…. Until his health began to deteriorate he would be at board meetings. Sid was a trustee to the end of his life.”
He was also, Ruzinsky said, “as close to the perfect gentleman as you can find – a mensch, unequivocally devoted to our community, a very caring individual and a great human being.”
Sandra Gold, the president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, worked with Schonfeld on the boards of the JHR, the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and in other ways.
“When he undertook to resolve a need in our community he was tenacious,” she recalled. “He took it upon himself to create a scholarship fund at the JCC for students who could not [afford to] go to college without some help. He was relentless in his pursuit of raising enough funds to make a difference.”
Also, she said, Schonfeld “knew how to be a good friend…. I do not know a kinder soul. He was an elegant, old-world, sensitive human being who resonated with the people around him…. You just have to look at the causes that he undertook. He just couldn’t look the other way. He felt compelled to reach out his hand and help.”
Gold and her husband, for whom the Arnold P. Gold Foundation is named, promote “humanism in medicine,” the tradition of compassionate care, and she was touched by the fact that Schonfeld “never failed to go out without a ‘Humanism in Medicine’ pin on his jacket.”
And like Ruzinsky, she was struck by the fact that Schonfeld did not let age and illness keep him from communal work.
“As Sid grew more frail,” she recalled, “he still managed to come to allocations meetings at UJA and board meetings at the Jewish Home. He put himself second. He continued to work on behalf of those in need.”
Gold called him “a terrific role model,” adding, “he could have put his feet up and watched television and leave [communal work] to others, but he continued to advocate for those in need….
“When I think about Sid,” Gold said, “I think about 1. what a good soul he was, and how kind, and 2. how much he loved his wife Hilde.”
That love was legendary. Hildegard Schonfeld died 10 years ago, and those who knew him say that he missed her every day.
Emanu-El’s Kirshner noted that Schonfeld had donated a Torah to the shul in her memory, and “each week, as we would march the Torah around, a smile would go from ear to ear, not only because it was a reminder of his tradition but also because it was a reminder of his wife.”
At Schonfeld’s funeral, which was attended by some 500 people, Kirshner said, “We can be consoled that, after 10 years, Sidney is in Hilde’s embrace.”
Schonfeld is survived by his son Gary and his wife Elisabeth; his daughter Victoria and her husband Victor Friedman; and five grandchildren, Jared, Remi, Zachary, Matthew, and Sam.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sidney Schonfeld Fund at Temple Emanu-El or the Schonfeld College Scholarship Fund at the JCC on the Palisades.
Arrangements were by Gutterman-Musicant Funeral Directors in Hackensack.