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Historical Initiative

Eulogy to Lew Fidler

Lew Fiddler

When I invited members of Community Planning Board 15 to our 2017 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, I spotted Lew Fidler, whose nomination to this high honor was rejected by our Board, I commented that every organization needed a Fidler (especially Lew) on its roof. An excellent legislator, a proud Brooklyn Jew with an emese Yiddishe hartz, Lew died on May 5 after suffering a massive stroke. In retrospect, I regret my inability to persuade BJHI Board members to support my earlier nomination of Lew Fidler. Perhaps. I argue now, we ought to select more doers and fewer celebrities and pay posthumous homage to those, like Fidler, who made a difference in our lives.

Lew was a doer. Proof can be found among his 1400 admirers including our Brooklyn Borough Historian and BJHI colleague Ron Schweiger who turned out to pay their respects on May 7. The lines of mourners wound around Coney Island Avenue to show derech-eretz, a gift that Aretha Franklin demanded and Rodney Dangerfield could never get enough of.  Ed Jaworski, President of our Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association sat at my side in the waiting room and listened to the service piped into adjacent rooms. We heard prayer s and praise by Rabbi Joseph Potasnick, eulogies from Lew’s widow Robin, his older brother, Dr. Elliot Fidler, and brother-in-law Dr. Steve Saltzman, the husband of Robin’s twin sister Jill.

According to his long-time aide, Reeves Eisen, Lew was a champion for homeless youth, the disabled, public education, environmentalists, and seniors like this writer. Reeves and Lew met at a summer camp, which stressed Yiddish culture and core values embedded in that great tradition minus political as well as religious orthodoxy. Lew confided in Reeves that he aspired to become  President of the United States, an impossible dream at that time. Given the last two to reach that pinnacle,  his dreams do not seem that far-fetched. Lew’s greatest moment in politics, Ms. Eisen confided to me in a telephone interview on Monday, June 24 was his selection to the New York City Council in 2002, when he could finally use his position to bring much-needed funds to our community. Born and bred in Brooklyn, Lew attended local schools: P.S. 207, Jr. H.S. 285, and Samuel J. Tilden High School. Leaving Brooklyn, he attended SUNY Albany. After college, he earned a law degree at NYU.

Several years back, I taught a class in Jewish Humor at what was once called an Elderhostel, later changed to a different rubric, namely, Lifelong Learning in the Berkshires. Actually I preferred the former title because, as a curmudgeon, I was older and hostile. That unpleasant attitude morphed into something far more congenial when I encountered a tall, white-haired elegant lady with a keen mind and a pleasant disposition named Sylvia Fidler. “Are you by any chance related to our Brooklyn Councilman Lew Fidler?” I asked. She replied, proudly: “He is my son.”  At age 90, Sylvia impressed us with her vast store of knowledge, political savvy, and strong sense of social justice, all rooted in our Jewish heritage and evidently transmitted to her younger son. She also excelled in completing crossword puzzles. Mrs. Fidler related how Lew played a vital role in coping with family crises and that skill was manifest in the political arena as well.

Unfortunately, term limits propelled Fidler, who many politicos considered “the best and brightest” legislator in our city, out of office. He lost a bid for a state senate seat by 14 hotly contested votes. Redistricted lines left him minus a senatorial district. He was succeeded on the City Council by my former student, Alan Maisel but Lew continued to serve as the District Leader of the 41st Assembly District. In that capacity, he launched a program “Toys for Tots,” which dispensed 72,000 toys to children in need. Lew was appalled by the sight of children sleeping in the streets. Facing a host of health issues starting with gout. Lew was compelled to take medications that adversely affected his kidneys. A former protégé, Michael Tobman donated a kidney in 2015, thus holding off  the Malach-hamoves and granting Lew Fidler four more productive years. Lew lost a lot of weight during that interregnum but not his energy. He attended all of our Community Planning Board 15 meetings, civic association meetings, and local events bringing good news, wry humor, and  political “smarts” to the table. Appointed by Lew to the Planning Board mentioned above, I almost always voted in opposition to other members who promoted real estate interests, zoning variances, and initiatives contrary to the best interests, I believe, of our community. That said, Lew never criticized my votes or attempted to alter my point of view shared with  only small group of nay-sayers. That was Lew, an avatar of integrity, decency, and community. An American Civil War song captures our loss in these words, “We shall meet but we shall miss him. There will be one vacant chair.”

In sadness Joe Dorinson