Sandy was born on May 13, 1929, the only child of Lillian and Jacob Dembitz, in Brooklyn, NY. She was a very bright and engaged kid and was placed in a gifted program early on in elementary school, where she made some of her closest, lifelong friends who were part of her circle until the end. She was also gifted artistically and attended the High School of Music and Art, again making lifelong connections. She traveled 2 hours each way to attend, loved it, and was a very loyal alum. She recognized the value of education and continued on for a year at Syracuse University before transferring to Brooklyn College’s design program. This despite growing up in a household that had not been focused on academics, books and culture (though her parents were truly wonderful people and beloved grandparents), and who didn’t see the need for a woman to pursue higher education. She paid her own way and spent a period of time as a group worker, most notably working at the Jewish Guild for the Blind overseeing craft activities. She had many stories of the amazing work that these women were able to do despite their disabilities.
Sandy was an ardent art-lover in multiple domains. Professionally, she was an artist and designer, and ran an art/print-making studio in Park Slope for many years. In addition to print-making, she was partial to creating watercolors and pencil drawings. She showed her work in a local Park Slope gallery, in addition to doing free-lance design work. NYC was a candy shop for her. It meant so much for her to be in close proximity to museums and galleries, which she regularly attended. She was a dedicated member of, and active participant in, the Graphic Arts Council, where she was able to gather with like-minded artists and collectors and attend special events. She attended the annual NY Print Fair until the very end, where she was able to connect with numerous gallery owners each year and was able to feed her passion for viewing fine prints. She was also a classical and folk music lover. Again, being in NY was critical to her, as she attended concerts regularly, including with season subscriptions to several series.
Similar to her mom, Sandy was an antique lover. She immediately saw the incredible opportunity of owning a Victorain brownstone in Park Slope at a time when these homes were not in fashion (and were actually affordable). Beautiful, carved, woodwork, etched and stained glass, ornate moldings and antique fixtures spoke to her. Over the years she acquired a number of pieces (of all sorts) that had character and fine craftsmanship. This is not to say that she didn’t also love fine modern design. The family antique dining room table was paired with modern Scandinavian chairs. This eclectic approach to her aesthetic was characteristic. Nothing was cookie-cutter, and hand-made was always special.
Sandy was an amazing, and complex, person and mom. She ensured that her kids had a broad and culturally rich education and exposures. Noah and Emily attended Brooklyn Ethical Culture School, which resonated with her desire for them to be in a culturally diverse community with exceptional moral and civic values. She enrolled them in art classes at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.Having her kids play an instrument, a luxury she was not able to experience as a kid, was important to her.Sandy always made sure her kids had an ample supply of books. She and Emily attended many concerts together, including a little-known (at the time) chamber music series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for many years. These were not only beautiful concerts, but the regularity and routine of going became very special - one or their “things.” She brought Emily to auctions of Japanese prints at Sotheby’s, starting her daughter’s love of Japanese art. Going to an art exhibit with her was like having one’s own personal docent. One always learned so much. She also loved a fun time. She had a thing for the circus and took Noah and Emily whenever one was in town.Later on, the circus goers expanded to include the Kents, who are beloved cousins. The Ice Capades were also a fond memory. In sum, her kids benefited from her conviction that culture, education and fun were essential and to be shared and cherished.
Sandy was not a superficial person. Actions had meaning, and she wanted to know what her kids thought. Most things didn’t just slide by. Life was engaged. She was very open with her emotions and reactions (again, very different from her parents). What you saw was what you got. She was not the homemaker type. Dinner conversations, particularly with guests, were intellectual affairs that everyone loved. For many years she had an annual holiday party in the brownstone, during which she always had live classical music provided by a close family friend and his group. This was a wonderful environment to grown up in.
Grandma Sandy was an adoring grandmother. When Emily and her family lived in NY, she loved to read to Josh (George and Martha was a favorite) and do art projects with Arielle, a budding artist. She made sure the kids always had art supplies. Special girls’ nights with the three generations of women, going to the Nutcracker, were especially meaningful since she had brought Emily and Noah frequently as a child. After moving to Boston, Emily/JADES (her nickname for Josh, Arielle, David and Emily Silbersweig/Stern) connected with her every Sunday. Her first questions were always about what and how Arielle and Josh were doing. She needed details. She loved speaking with them on the phone. (As an aside, she was known for her very long phone calls; they could seem somewhat taxing until she explained that they were actually her “visits” – a helpful change in contextualization.) She also loved the two other family members, Milkshake and Cupcake (beloved pooches) and always sent belly rubs – the family had to tell them that these were from Grandma Sandy. She also spoke weekly with Noah, who kept her supplied with amazing pictures of Hawaii, including unbelievable rainbows.
Sandy was a loyal and fierce friend. After selling the brownstone, she moved to a prewar apartment in Prospect Heights (again, she was ahead of her time – at this point, this was not considered prime real estate) and quickly became involved in her building community. She was on the co-op board for several years. She developed deep and lasting friendships with a number of her neighbors. A group of them had Saturday morning breakfasts at a local diner for many years, which were a cherished ritual for her. She brought the pure maple syrup so folks wouldn’t have to use the corns syrup version at the diner. She would do anything for her friends and loved ones. She was open-minded and progressive in the values that she brought to friendships, embracing differences and diversity.
Sandy was an early and active member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, which was very much up her alley and which she belonged to until the end. This institution was very important to her. She was so pleased that the idea took hold and grew in the way that it did. She (and later Nelda; see below) did almost all of her shopping there. For her, the Co-op was really like a way of life.
As Sandy got older, she started to need more help, and Nelda came to the rescue. Nelda had helped Emily’s family since the late 1990s. When they moved to Boston in 2008, she said that when Sandy eventually needed care, she wanted to be the one to provide it. In 2012, Nelda began helping once a week and gradually came more and more frequently. She (with help from her friends) eventually took care of Sandy 24/7 as she became increasingly frail and needed more and more assistance. Having known Nelda for more than 20 years, she has become a dearly loved part of the family. Sandy was very clear that she wanted to stay in her beloved apartment/building rather than go to an assisted living facility in the Boston area, as her friends were there and she wanted to remain close to the NY art world. This would not have been possible without Nelda, who cared for her with more love and attention than one would have thought possible. Sandy made Nelda promise that that they “would be together forever.” And they were.
We will miss Sandy more than we can express. Aloha, mom. We love you.
Writing a remembrance about a person is a bit like writing a resume, but with more emotion, fluidity of memory and fear that something important is being left out because it is so difficult to convey the reality satisfactorily.
I first met Sandy in 1994 at the co-op board interview for approval to buy our apartment in 50 Plaza St. E. My husband, David, was out of the country at a conference, so I was there alone, uncertain of what would transpire, having never done this before. Sandy, not on purpose, ended up putting me at ease as it became quickly apparent that this process was neither adversarial nor technical for her but one of personal assessment. I had the distinct impression that she was assessing what kind of person I was and, I believe, whether I would be “good board material.” I liked her immediately and that never changed over the 26 years we were first neighbors, then friends.
Sandy worked very hard for the coop, successfully managing a range of important projects that contributed to its improved environment, aesthetically, functionally, and financially, and leading to ever-increasing apartment sale prices. Her points in discussions were unfailingly cogent, even when occasionally unpopular. Sandy was always a team player, regardless of whether she initially supported or opposed the final course of action chosen, and consistently showed respect to other board members even if disagreeing with them. Doing projects with Sandy was always fun and interesting because of her artistic background, amazing attention to detail and innate perfectionism. During the “great leak” epoch, we were tasked with evaluating the damage in apartments that had reported leaks. Some people were pleased at the attention, others not so much, but part of the fun for me was Sandy’s comments on the apartment’s aesthetics at the same time as we were detailing damage and evaluating solutions.
As our personal relationship grew, so grew my respect, admiration and deep caring for her. Her intelligence was impressive and always present. She noticed aspects that many of us would unwittingly gloss over; seeing the world through her eyes was almost always enriching. Her artistic ability and knowledge amazed me; she saw beauty everywhere and generously shared that with others. As a person absent any artistic ability or sense and deeply appreciative of anyone who has, this was particularly pleasing to me. When my husband and I took down several walls in our apartment renovation, Sandy was willing to help curate and rehang the pieces that would work in the new configuration. She and I spent days and hours moving items around on the floor, keeping some, removing others, until a final form was reached. What was interesting was that she always knew why it was working or not and was able to articulate it in a way that I could then also see. Everything is still as we worked out; so part of Sandy still lives in our home.
Over the years, we would include each other in personal events of passage. She was overjoyed with the birth of my grandson, Spencer, having come to know and care for my daughter Raquel over the years. He loved her, too, and as he got older and more aware, he always made sure that Sandy was included, sharing many of his birthday cakes with her over the years. It will always be a poignant memory for me that she passed away on his eighth birthday; he had saved a piece of his cake for her return home. Sandy (and Nelda) shared many celebratory dinners with us and insisted, one year, on making a birthday dinner for me. Sandy enjoyed the fact that her daughter and I share a birthday. Celebratory cards were often slipped under each other’s doors, hers being much better than mine since they were always hand crafted with lovely notes, mine being store-bought; while thoughtful these were never as interesting. We bonded, also, in both being chocoholics. Sandy always had some chocolate treat stashed in her freezer. Eating chocolate together was like watching two crazed “chocophiles” discussing the various qualities of what we were essentially scarfing down.
When David and I moved to 50 Plaza, we discovered Tom’s, in a Time Out magazine article on outstanding neighborhood NYC coffee shops. One Saturday morning we tried it and after mentioning how great it was at a board meeting, several of our building neighbors wanted to join us, first to ask was Sandy. Over time, our small group changed participants and numbers, eventually settling in a steady cohort of five who, for eighteen years, left the building together by 8:15 a.m. on Saturday mornings to have breakfast at Tom’s. Sandy never missed until it became too difficult for her to walk that distance, even aided. Ultimately it dissolved when another participant also became too ill to continue. We all missed our camaraderie as well as the warmth and familiarity, both of Tom’s ownership (Gus and Noni) and staff (Alfredo and Carlos). Sandy and I would often reminisce about various events, foods, people and discussions that took place there.
Sandy loved life, which allowed her to hold it close to her even when it was painful. She never gave up at anything she undertook, even if it was driving her crazy at the moment. The emotions, regardless of what or why they were, never loosened her hold on just being. She would vent, declaim, sigh, laugh and smile but never give up and ultimately forgave. I loved her stories about her parents, growing up in Brooklyn (actually, part of it a few blocks away from 50 Plaza on Sterling), Coney Island, Music and Art High School, and, of course, The Magic Mountain, the sanitorium she was in for treatment of tuberculosis. I often expressed the hope that she would write a book about it all. Sandy frequently talked about her time as a group therapist and how much she enjoyed it. She still remembered who did what and why. I could see she must have been very good at what she did, given how much she genuinely cared for her patients.
Family, all of it, was very important to Sandy. Years ago, I had the opportunity to meet her mother when she came to New York for treatment. Sandy did not fall far from the tree, as the expression goes. They were very different, but both had great strength of character, which seems to have continued through the next two generations of women. Whatever history there was between them, Sandy took care of her mother when she needed it, an honorable tradition that continues. Sandy’s children meant everything to her. She worried about them, argued with them, embraced them, was proud of who they were, and loved them in all the ways a mother could, ultimately forgetting and forgiving all that could be forgotten and forgiven. She would show me their pictures, things they had done and created, talked about who they were, their childhood travails, the hurts and successes. Two large artworks of them still hang in her living room. They were and remained to the end, her heart and soul. She showed me who they were and as a daughter, a granddaughter, a mother and a grandmother myself, I understood and felt the depth of her caring and appreciated how much life it gave to her. Sandy loved deeply and her true and abiding passion in life was her children and the only thing she seemed to continue to feel anger about was the effect on them of the fallout from her divorce. While the betrayal was painful and periodically mentioned, the real fury was focused on the decade long battle for her home, not so much for its possession but rage that someone would knowingly create a situation that could injure her children. In the things we talked about it stands out as the only behavior that could and would never be forgiven.
I will deeply miss all that she brought into my life and will continue to cherish the memories that she has left with me.
Hearing Fischer Dieskau singing Shubert Lieder with you and spending time picking frames mats were total experiences, and elevated our sensibilities. You were a true denizen of your neighborhood, from Park Slope to Park Plaza, BAM and the Brooklyn Museum. You covered the range from quarters for laundry to concern for our work-life balance. Your love and respect for Emily and Noah was deep, as it was for your grandchildren, Arielle and Joshua, and pups Milkshake and Cupcake. You were a unique link in generations of our family, and we are forever grateful.
No Surprise I am working as a designer and artist of books. Deep bow of gratitude.