Joan Schwartzman, backbone of Kendall’s Temple Beth Am, dies at 82

10/01/2013 2:08 PM

10/01/2013 4:22 PM

Joan Schwartzman, who for more than 30 years was the glue at Kendall’s Temple Beth Am, has died at age 82.

Born in Brooklyn in 1931, Schwartzman moved to Miami in 1938 and never left. In the early 1960s, when her youngest son Steven was 4 months old, she began work at the temple as Rabbi Herbert Baumgard’s secretary.

“My entire life and my brother’s entire life has been that temple,” said Steven, now 54. “I was married and bar mitzvahed there.”

Schwartzman retired as Temple Beth Am’s executive director in 1991.

She died Sept. 22 and services were held three days later.

Schwartzman always taught her two sons, Steven and Barry, 59, the importance of effort. Whether it was in personal life, academics, or professional life she always tried to be the best version of herself.

She always made herself available in the temple and won the trust of most of the congregation. People would approach her with their personal problems and she would listen, without judgment, to try to solve the problem at hand.

“I would call her ‘Dear Abby,’ ” her youngest son said. “That’s how she was eulogized last week.”

Around the temple, Schwartzman was also called the hurricane.

When Rabbi James Simon arrived at the synagogue in 1983, he was supposed to be trained by the assistant rabbi. But the assistant had already left Kendall for a new job. The head rabbi and the temple’s administrator were both on vacation.

In a panic, Rabbi Simon called the administrator for help, telling him he was all alone. He recalled the conversation in an email to the family.

“Not to worry — I have left you our hurricane,” the administrator told the new rabbi.

“What does that mean?” Simon asked.

“I call Joan Schwartzman the hurricane. She moves fast, she is relentless, she is strong, she is fearless and she is not intimidated by anything in her path.”

Schwartzman is survived by sons Steven and Barry, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

To honor her memory, the family asks that donations be made to Temple Beth Am.

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