Benjamin Schaeffer, 58, Subway Hero
Benjamin Schaeffer, one of just two Orthodox Jews who worked as MTA subway conductors, died of Covid-19 on April 28. He was 58.
A conductor for more than two decades, he made news in October when the MTA asked him to prove that he observed Rosh Hashanah to get the day off from work.
The year before, he was hailed as a hero when he quickly evacuated a subway car in Brooklyn after a passenger poured gasoline over the floor of the train. The MTA awarded Schaeffer a medal for his efforts.
“I told everyone just, ‘Get outta the car,’” Schaeffer told NBC’s New York affiliate. “No pleasantries. No courtesy. It’s an emergency situation, just get outta the car.”
In the days before his death, his girlfriend Lisa Smid and others led a frantic online push for blood plasma donors from those who had recovered from Covid-19, in hopes that it could attack the virus.
“Unfortunately, by the time Ben received the treatment, he had already been on a ventilator for some time,” Rapid Transit Operations Vice President Eric Loegel wrote in a statement, the New York Daily News reported.
“The love of my life was many things: conductor, union shop steward, transit historian, author, former auxiliary PD, community activist, proud Orthodox Jew,” Smid wrote on Twitter. “He loved Brooklyn. And I will always love him.”
As of May 1, 98 city transit workers had died from the coronavirus.
Alex Klein, 70, Kosher Caterer
Alex Klein, an emigrant from the Soviet Union who built a large Brooklyn-based kosher catering business, died in New York of Covid-19 on March 28. He was 70.
Devora Klein-Freeman, his daughter, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that her father was “a man of tremendous faith” who went to synagogue three times a day and taught his children to create a personal relationship with God.
Born in 1949 to Holocaust survivors in what is today the Ukrainian city of Mukachevo, Klein lived a life of deprivation in the Soviet Union. Soon after his college graduation, Klein fled to Israel to avoid being drafted into the Red Army and ended up working in the hotel industry for several years.
He moved to the United States in 1975.
Klein is survived by his wife, Miriam Gutwein-Klein, three children and four grandchildren.
Benjamin Levin, 93, Partisan
Benjamin Levin spent much of his early life fighting.
At just 14, he joined a militant group fighting the Nazis in his native Lithuania. After the war, he worked to smuggle Jewish refugees to pre-state Israel. And in 1948, he arrived on the shores of the newly established Jewish state aboard the Altalena, a cargo ship whose sinking by the nascent Israel Defense Forces is considered a turning point in the country’s early history.
Levin died of Covid-19 on April 13, just two days after his 93rd birthday, in Westchester County, New York.
He was born in 1927 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. At just 14, Levin joined The Avengers, a Jewish militant organization led by the legendary Yiddish poet and Zionist activist Abba Kovner. According to multiple media reports in Israel, Levin was the last known surviving member of the group.
Levin’s parents were killed by Lithuanians after the war. Following their murder, Levin moved to Palestine and joined the right-wing Irgun militia, which was then involved in a bloody struggle with the British authorities. He helped smuggle European Jews into pre-state Palestine. Arrested by the Soviets and sent to a Siberian gulag, he managed to make his way back to southern Europe in order to rejoin the Zionist underground.
He returned to Israel in 1948 as a crew member of the Altalena. The IDF fired on the Irgun weapons ship because the provisional government headed by David Ben-Gurion refused to tolerate an independent fighting force not under government control.
Levin moved to New York in 1967, opening a gas station and spending years lecturing about the Holocaust at local schools.
Mindella Lamm, 88, Wife of Former Y.U. President
To those she met accompanying her husband on university business, she was the elegant woman known simply as Mrs. Lamm. To her four children and 17 grandchildren, she was a loving mother and grandmother who took them on regular outings to Broadway shows and the opera.
Mrs. Lamm, the wife of former Yeshiva University President Norman Lamm, died on April 16 of Covid-19. She was 88.
Raised in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, Mrs. Lamm was one of five sisters. After graduating from Bais Yaacov she studied education at Hunter College. She married Norman Lamm in 1954 at the age of 20 and soon became deeply involved in the Yeshiva University Women’s Organization, which provides financial support to university undergraduates.
Joshua Lamm recalled the help his mother provided to a single mother and her son who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union. The boy, now in his 40s, sat in his car outside the cemetery during her burial April 17, just to pay his respects.
Lamm is survived by her husband, Norman Lamm, and three children: Chaye Warburg, Joshua Lamm and Shalom Lamm, as well as 17 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
Michael Sorkin, 71, Urban Planner
Michael Sorkin, who in 2001offered a comprehensive blueprint for turning East Jerusalem into the capital of a Palestinian state, died on March 29 of Covid-19. He was 71.
The Washington, D.C.-born architect spent decades advocating for social change through urban design. His 20 books included “The Next Jerusalem: Sharing the Divided City,” an examination of how urban planning could facilitate peace between Arabs and Jews.
Sorkin was an architecture critic for New York’s alt-weekly newspaper The Village Voice in the 1980s, and was later associated with the Michael Sorkin Studio and the Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research.
Sorkin influenced generations of students as the head of City College of New York’s urban design program and through a series of academic positions he held at institutions across the United States and Europe. While not a native New Yorker, he moved to the city in 1973 and, according to The New York Times, fell in love with its “opera and toasted bagels” and became a fixture in Greenwich Village.
“He was probably our most impassioned advocate of architecture as a means toward social justice,” critic Paul Goldberger told the Washington Post.
Mark Steiner, 77, Math Philosopher
Mark Steiner, one of the most important philosophers of mathematics of the past half-century, died of Covid-19 on April 6. The Hebrew University professor was 77.
Born in the Bronx in 1942, Steiner received an Orthodox day school education before entering Columbia University, where he graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1965. After a Fulbright Fellowship at Oxford University, Steiner went on to receive his doctorate from Princeton before returning to Columbia as an instructor for most of the 1970s.
Steiner moved to Israel in 1977 and became the chair of the philosophy department at Hebrew University in the 1990s. In his most influential book, “The Applicability of Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem,” published in 2002, Steiner argued that man’s ability to discover natural laws means that the universe is innately “user friendly.”
“Mark’s view was that the universe makes sense, the universe is built in a way that corresponds to the way people think and the way we order our values and priorities in life,” Carl Posy, a philosopher at Hebrew University and a friend of Steiner’s, told JTA. “There is meaning and reason in things.”
The overlap between Steiner’s Jewish commitments and his academic interests was evident in his tendency to use rabbinic anecdotes to illustrate his points, according to one remembrance published online. His religious inclination also led to a series of studies, including a research project in which he drew parallels between the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the 18th-century Scottish thinker David Hume. Steiner also translated a series of previously unknown Jewish philosophy books from Yiddish to English.
Steiner is survived by his wife Rachel and five children.