As of press time, 211,000 people worldwide have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. In the U.S., 56,634 people have died, and in Pennsylvania the figure stands at 1,597.
In our five-county region — Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Bucks counties — the death toll is at 877.
All the statistics can obscure the fact that each number represents an actual human being who lived a complex life, who has loved ones who will miss them, who made a difference, in whatever way, while they were here.
To honor these people, the Jewish Exponent has started a series called “Those We’ve Lost” to pay tribute to victims of a virus that now threatens to overwhelm their memory. Some of these people died in Philadelphia, and others died elsewhere, having counted friends and family in the region. If you know someone with strong ties to the Philadelphia-area Jewish community who has lost their battle with COVID-19, send information to Managing Editor Andy Gotlieb at [email protected] for possible inclusion in the series.
Mt. Airy resident Judy Weinstein was a child when she met Holocaust survivor Margit Feldman in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Weinstein’s father, Arthur Roswell, was friends with Feldman and her husband, Harvey.
Feldman was born in 1929 in Hungary and then survived Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and other death camps. Her parents did not survive those years. Feldman moved to the U.S. in 1947, and soon after, met Harvey.
She was active in her Jewish Federation, which was how she met Roswell. Roswell asked Feldman to tell her story to children at Temple Beth El in Hillsborough, New Jersey; she’d never told it to a crowd before.
Feldman served on the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education for more than 40 years, speaking about the Holocaust at Judy Weinstein’s high school, among many others. In 1994, she helped pass a state law mandating a Holocaust and genocide curriculum in public schools, and co-founded Raritan Valley Community College Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
In 2003, Feldman wrote a book about her experiences called “Margit: A Teenager’s Journey Through the Holocaust and Beyond,” and she was chronicled in the 2016 documentary “Not A23029.”
A few years back, Noah Weinstein, Judy’s son, arranged for Feldman to come speak to his peers at Germantown Friends School. “It was poignant in the ways that you would expect,” Weinstein said.
Margit Feldman died from coronavirus on April 14, and her husband remains hospitalized with the disease as of this writing.
Rebbetzin Rachel Altein
On April 13, Rebbetzin Rachel Altein, a massively influential leader within the Chabad Lubavitch movements, died of coronavirus at 95, and was buried near the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s grave in Queens, New York. The Rebbe had been at the engagement celebration of Rachel Devasha (as she was known then) and Rabbi Mordechai Dov Altein in 1943, and officiated at their wedding a few months later.
Altein was born in the Soviet Union in 1924, and grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn. After school, she took a leading role in shaping the women’s organization within one of the largest Jewish movements in modern history. Altein worked at the Chabad Women’s Organization’s publication Di Yiddishe Heim (“The Jewish Home”) as its English-language editor. Within Chabad, she leaves a decades-long legacy of passionate dedication to education.
Altein’s husband died a few months ago at 100. That night, Altein went into the hospital for an unrelated reason. Her grandson, Rabbi Tzvi Altein, co-director of the Chabad of Delaware County, heard that she called out for her husband then. He said he sees that as a manifestation of the soul connection between his grandparents.
Irvin Kean, 95, worked out twice a day, and six days a week, he walked the golf courses of Sarasota, Florida, like he’d built them. He hadn’t, of course, but he was responsible for having senior tees installed on his community’s course, which is close enough, and also happened to do wonders for his handicap.
Kean, a dentist for 43 years, had recently moved to his daughter Amy Jo Kean’s house in Wyncote, alongside his wife, Anna Mae, when he and Anna Mae both contracted coronavirus. On March 17, Amy Jo Kean checked her parents into the emergency room at Abington Hospital. It was the last time she ever saw her father, aside from a FaceTime call facilitated by a nurse that Amy Jo Kean is desperate to find and thank.
“I was able to tell him how much I loved him,” she said. He died on March 26.
Even in recent years, father and daughter spoke every single day, and Amy Jo Kean said that her father was her best friend. Amy Mae, 92, recovered, but after her return, her daughter placed her in a memory care unit.
Ethel Hamburger turned 92 on April 15. The next day, she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Hamburger had lived at Wesley Enhanced Living Main Line in Media since 2007, so that’s where everyone went. The extended family came from Newtown Square, Jenkintown, Manhattan and beyond. Family members came to her window to wave and talk from afar. Hamburger waved and talked back. She wasn’t exhibiting symptoms yet, and didn’t really until the day before she died.
On April 23, family members gathered at her window around noon, bringing other relatives with them via Zoom. They stayed there, and then, around 8:50 p.m., Hamburger, a longtime Sisterhood leader at Beth El Congregation in Bethesda, the 1947 Chicago Jr. Hadassah Membership Queen and one-time Congregant of the Year at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, died.
On April 27, Hamburger was buried next to her husband of 60 years, Irvin, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Rabbi Alexander Coleman, founding director of the Institute for Jewish Ethics in Philadelphia, saw his mother Loretta for the last time on Purim. In the last photo her ever took of her, he noted, she is listening to the Megillah being read at his brother’s house in Monsey, New York. Coleman died at the age of 85 just a few weeks later, the day before Pesach.
Loretta Coleman didn’t grow up in a religious family. She was born in London during World War II and married a “bespoke tailor from Liverpool” named Gerald Coleman, in the words of Rabbi Coleman. She lived in England until a few years after her husband’s death, and moved to New York 14 years ago to live with Rabbi Coleman’s brother.
A week after Purim, she had a sore throat, which necessitated a quick hospital trip. A few days later, she returned to Westchester Medical Center for the final time.
Though her family would like to bury Loretta Coleman next to her husband in England, it seems like it will take quite a while. She is temporarily interred at Linden Hill Cemetery, in Queens.
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