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Sylvia Annie Lewis
April 28, 1927 ~ August 10, 2022 (age 95) 95 Years Old
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Sylvia Lewis, an ardent Zionist and passionate Jewish community builder who was lovingly devoted to her family, died early Wednesday morning at her daughter Pam’s summer home in Chautauqua, NY, surrounded by her family. She was 95.
Sylvia, whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her “Savta Simi” (Savta is Hebrew for grandmother and Simi comes from her Hebrew name Sema), moved from Akron to Cleveland to live in the Beachwood home of her granddaughter Ketti Zigdon, where she was a bright light in the household, helping to care for eight of her great-grandchildren.
Sylvia was born April 28, 1927, in Akron, Ohio, and graduated from Buchtel High School. She attended the University of Michigan where she met Allen Lewis; they married in 1947, a love affair that lasted 61years until his death in 2008.
Sylvia was famous for saying, “If you want your children to follow in your footsteps, be careful where you place your feet,” a motto she lived every day. In earning the Community Spirit Award from the Akron Shaw JCC in 2017, Sylvia cited as one of her proudest achievements her role in the founding of the Jewish community school, The Lippman School, in Akron.
Sylvia fought passionately for women’s reproductive rights, serving as president of Planned Parenthood of Summit, Portage and Medina Counties. She had strong opinions on a wide range of topics and liked to make her voice heard – and not only at the dinner table: she was well known in the community for raising her voice and taking a stand in regular letters to the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.
But the cause with which she was most closely identified was her lifelong commitment to NA’AMAT USA, starting in local chapters, working her way up eventually to national president, serving two terms, advocating tirelessly for the rights of women and children in Israel.
“My first trip to Israel took place in 1966 when I was selected to participate in a NA’AMAT Israel Seminar,” Sylvia once recalled. “I fell in love with Israel and with NA’AMAT. Since then, I have been to Israel more than 30 times. Israel is in my heart and mind every day.”
Sylvia, who served as a civilian volunteer in the Israeli army in the mid-1980s, was so proud that on her final trip to Israel – for her great-grandson Meyer’s bar mitzvah in the summer of 2018 – she was able to show her family the NA’AMAT day care center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv that had been dedicated in her honor.
In her life-long commitment to service, Sylvia also served as president of the Presidents’ League of Jewish Women’s Organizations, president of the Women’s Division of the Akron Jewish Community Federation, and vice president of the Akron Jewish Community Federation (now JCBA). Sylvia was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.
“We’ve been talking about the organizations I’ve been involved in and how much I enjoyed working for them, how important they were to me,” Sylvia said in 2017. “But there’s nothing more important in my life than my family, my kids, my grandkids, my great-grandkids. I love them all, I’m very involved in their lives – and that is what is the most important thing in my life.”
Sylvia’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren did follow in her footsteps, going to Jewish day schools, engaging in Jewish learning, and committing to social equity through activism.
Sylvia is survived by her four children, Pam Kanfer (Joe), Randy Lewis, Danny Lewis (Laura), and Cynthia Lagdameo (Eric); her grandchildren, Marcella Kanfer Rolnick (Josh), Mamie Kanfer Stewart (Justin), Ketti Zigdon (Donny), Jaron Kanfer (Sara), Hannah Lewis, Sam Lewis, Misha Fromwiller (Michael), Tiana Taylor (Tracey), Isabel Lagdameo, Charlotte Lagdameo, Siobhan Harlakenden (Ivar); and 19 great-grandchildren: Meyer, Heshel, Lev, Pella, Syan, Briya, Benyamin, Yosef, Elie, Shalom, Pinchas, Alma, Sima, Yaakov, Bodhi, Rav, Landon, Ben, and Rhys.
In addition to her husband, Sylvia was predeceased by her parents Helen and Harry Davidson, her sister, Marilyn, and her brother, Donald.
The family is grateful to the kind and attentive caregivers who enabled her to live at home.
Donations in Sylvia’s honor may be made to NA’AMAT USA, The Lippman School, or Planned Parenthood.