Ira Stern, a Fixture of Lower East Side
Ira Stern was the first person in synagogue every morning and often the last to leave. After opening the arched wooden doors of the historic Bialystoker Synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Stern would find his spot in the pews and meditate before the start of morning prayers.
“Ira both clung to and drew strength from the community and the world,” the synagogue’s rabbi, Zvi Romm, said during a memorial service held on Zoom for Stern, who died on April 6 of Covid-19.
Stern was in his 60s when he died. A native of the Lower East Side, he attended public school in his youth but was encouraged to transfer to Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, one of the oldest yeshivas in New York. At MTJ, he excelled in Judaic studies, advancing from junior through advanced classes within a matter of months.
Neighbors in the Lower East Side Jewish community described him as a sensitive person with a good heart who would always greet others with a smile and a nice word.
Stern worked at Chocks, a garment store on Orchard Street, an area once known as the “bargain district.” Later, he worked at Hand-in-Hand, a nonprofit serving people with developmental disabilities and their families. Later, Stern was invited to help out at Bialystoker. He would often read from the Torah scroll there and at the nearby Lutowisker synagogue.
In the memorial service, Romm called Stern one of the “chassidim harishonim” — literally “the first pious ones,” a reference to those who, in ancient times, would prepare for an hour before reciting their prayers.
Stern is survived by his wife, Debra.
Rafael Kugielsky, 90, Helped Advance Orthodoxy in Argentina
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 charedi 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 La Voz 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 helped to rebuild the AMIA headquarters after the 1994 bombing that killed 85 people.
Abraham Palatnik, 92, Inventor of Kinechromatic Art
Abraham Palatnik, a famed Brazilian Jewish artist who explored the role of movement in art, died May 9 of Covid-19 in Rio. He was 92.
Palatnik was one of the pioneers of kinetic art, a branch of fine arts that explores the visual effects of physical movements and optical illusions. His work has been featured at the Museum of Modern Art and the Met Breuer in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
“He was one of the great artists of the fine arts. His work is recognized in Brazil and worldwide,” said Fernando Lottenberg, president of the Brazilian Israelite Confederation, Brazil’s umbrella Jewish organization.
The son of Jewish immigrants who left Russia in 1919, Palatnik was born in 1928 in Natal, a city in Brazil’s northeastern corner. The Palatniks were the first Jewish family to settle in Natal and were among the founders of a Jewish cultural center and kindergarten there. The family opened furniture factories and porcelain production plants, and taught locals to run their own businesses.
He studied art in pre-state Israel from 1942 until 1948, when he returned to Brazil.
In 2013, the record price for a Palatnik work was reached when his “Sequencia Visual S-51” sold at Christie’s New York for $785,000. In Brazil, retrospective exhibitions of Palatnik’s have been held across the country since 1999.
Saadya Ehrenpreis, 35, Y.U. Student Who Defied Doctor’s Prognosis
When Saadya Ehrenpreis was an infant, a doctor told his mother that he would “never walk, talk or amount to anything.” He wound up doing all three.
Ehrenpreis was born with Down syndrome, but he was intensely determined. With the help of his family, he not only learned to walk and talk, but he graduated high school, spent several years studying in yeshiva in Israel and attended Yeshiva University. Along the way, he charmed everyone around him with his relentlessly upbeat nature.
After he died of Covid-19 on April 28, at the age of 35, his funeral on Zoom was watched by nearly 1,000 people.
“One of the things that made him special was his unwavering optimism,” said Avi Ganz, the program director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Yeshivat Darkaynu, an Israel gap-year program for young men with special needs, which Ehrenpreis attended. “People were drawn to him because he saw only beauty in other people.”
Ehrenpreis grew up as one of eight children in Brooklyn. After graduating high school at 21, he went to Israel, where he studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion.
In Israel, “he just blossomed,” said his sister, Yael Nechama Meyer.
Ehrenpreis subsequently went on to study at Yeshiva University as part of a special program that allowed him to attend specialized classes at the university’s campus in Manhattan. At YU, Ehrenpreis lived in a supervised group apartment.
Even though his was not a degree program, he was to be included in the university’s upcoming graduation ceremony, which was cancelled due to the coronavirus. In the last picture taken with his family, Ehrenpreis is wearing a cap and gown and smiling broadly.
“I never saw him get angry,” his mother, Ahava Ehrenpreis, a writer for the Jewish magazine Mishpacha, told JTA. “In terms of human emotional quotient, he was genius level. He was extremely empathetic and intuitive. If he sensed any tension in someone, he had to fix it.”