The last of a generation passed away on veterans’as it coincided with the weekend of Memorial Day, an apparent fit for Loretta Z. Weiss, 103, longtime member of multiple veterans’ organizations and supporter of civic causes. She would have celebrated her 104th birthday on June 2.
“The Jewish War Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars – she was active in all of them,” said Isaac Sasson, a Flushing resident and longtime member of Kissena Jewish Center, which Weiss attended since its founding in the late 1950s. In the last three decades, the Jewish population of downtown Flushing declined as older members passed on and their children moved to other places. The last Orthodox shul in the neighborhood survives in part thanks to the Chinese daycare that rents its classroom, and the Hindu temple across the street that uses its parking lot. But inside its sanctuary, Loretta kept the lights on.
“She acquired the memorial bulletins for our shul,” said Rabbi Katriel Shaladowsky, the rav of the k’hilah. “She was the keeper of the flame for her family, reminding us to say Kaddish for them.” The names of her parents and siblings lit up among the other names on that board.
Weiss was born on the Lower East Side, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. At the end of 1941, the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan. “There was a guy in the neighborhood whom she loved, and she wanted to be stationed near him, but it was not to be,” Rabbi Shaladowsky said. “He came back married. He later divorced, but she did not want ‘used goods.’”
Weiss never married and dedicated her life to the military, continuing to serve the country through the Korean and Vietnam wars. After 27 years in uniform, she retired in 1975 with the rank of Supply Sergeant. From her first position as a mail clerk, she took on challenging assignments, becoming a physical training Sergeant, conducting tests for the men and drills for the women’s marching unit.
Among the honors that she received was the Army Occupation Medal, in honor of her service in Germany, which was rebuilt by the western allies and fortified as a frontline post in the Cold War.
Upon her retirement, Weiss became active in neighborhood causes, such as the Holly Civic Association, where she volunteered and associated alongside Sasson, and as a Democratic Committeewoman. “Politicians of all stripes wanted to have their photos taken with her,” Rabbi Shaladowsky said. Longtime fixtures in Flushing politics, such as State Sens. John Liu and Toby Ann Stavisky, their former colleague Tony Avella, former Councilman Peter Koo, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, they all knew Weiss for her advocacy on behalf of veterans.
In 2019, when Katz served as Borough President, she honored Weiss, who had marked her 100th birthday that year. At the ceremony, it was noted that Queens has the largest population of veterans in the city.
Until the pandemic, Weiss attended the annual Queens Jewish Community Council legislative breakfast, representing her shul, reminding everyone that the Kissena Jewish Center is open.
“We have Shabbos services, with 18 men and 3 to 4 women, every week,” Rabbi Shaladowsky said. Although her memory was strong to her last day, her hearing was declining in recent years, and she spent the last couple of years living at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.
“The Hebrew date of her birth was two days before Shavuos, so she was 104, but not yet on the secular calendar,” he said.
For her service to her country, neighborhood, and Jewish community, the memory of Zelda Ita bas Eliezer should be a blessing.
By Sergey Kadinsky