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JewishJournal.com

November 6, 2012

Jewish friends killed during Sandy remembered for selflessness, activism

http://www.jewishjournal.com/nation/article/jewish_friends_killed_during_sandy_remembered_for_selflessness_activism

Jacob Vogelman (23) and Jessie Streich-Kest (24), friends killed in Brooklyn by a tree uprooted during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Facebook.

Jacob Vogelman (23) and Jessie Streich-Kest (24), friends killed in Brooklyn by a tree uprooted during Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Facebook.

Jessie Streich-Kest and Jacob Vogelman, two Brooklyn Jews and friends from childhood who were killed during the height of Hurricane Sandy, both came from families deeply involved in social and humanitarian causes. Their death, according to Vogelman’s father, also involved an element of selflessness. 

Jacob’s father Lawrence Vogelman said in an exclusive interview with JNS.org that on Oct. 29, Jacob was seeking to bring comfort to Jessie, whose father is suffering from cancer. The friends were walking Max, Jessie’s dog, when a fallen tree in Brooklyn’s Ditmas Park neighborhood crushed them as the winds of Hurricane Sandy assaulted the New York area.

“He died the way he lived, taking care of others,” Lawrence said of his 23-year-old son.

[Related: Tree felled by Sandy kills Jewish teacher, college student]

Streich-Kest, 24, touched the lives of many. She was a high school teacher at the Brooklyn School of Social Justice in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood who actively followed the example of her parents in community involvement. Those who knew her spoke of her “passion” for animal welfare, political activism, and career as a special education teacher. She was already a leader in the campaign to stop abuse of carriage horses in Central Park. New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets (NYCLASS) called her “an energetic, persistent” person “dedicated her life to speaking out for social justice and animal rights.”

Streich-Kest was the daughter of Fran Streich, a community organizer for the United Federation of Teachers, and Jon Kest, executive director of New York Communities for Change. Her brother was Jake. At her funeral, she was remembered by her family rabbi, Ellen Lippman of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, as “a leader among her peers.”

Among those mourning Streich-Kest was U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), a colleague and personal friend of her father, Kest. Nadler spoke about the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which he said “has hit us all in direct and indirect ways.” The Congressman told JNS.org that Streich-Kest’s death was “particularly tragic… absolutely gut wrenching… a heartache.”

On Nov. 2, Lawrence Vogelman and Marcia Sikowitz buried Jacob, their oldest son.

“There is a feeling of terrible emptiness,” Lawrence Vogelman told JNS.org.

The depth of the bereft father’s sadness filled his words and hollowed his voice.

“He was an amazing kid,” Lawrence said. “The words that kept being repeated at the funeral were that he was incredibly kind. He would do anything for anybody. That’s how he lived.”

Jacob Vogelman was a graduate student at Brooklyn College. Rabbi Dan Sikowitz, Jacob’s uncle, characterized him at his funeral as “kind…gentle… [one] who left the world a richer and better place.” Rabbi Andy Bachman of Congregation Beth Elohim, the Vogelman family’s synagogue, said Jacob “was always there for people,” noting that he and Jessie shared a “fearlessness and generosity.”

Jacob leaves behind his father Lawrence, his mother Judge Marcia Sikowitz, and his twin brothers Jeremiah and Noah. Lawrence is one of the founders of the Innocence Project, a legal organization that is committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing.

“The children have no choice but to go on,” Vogelman told JNS.org, noting that his twin sons have “a strong support system.” The father added that “nothing can heal.”

“You go on with your life,” he said. “The loss is something that goes on forever… His life will memorialize him… His life will do that. Just think of him.”

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