We said goodbye to Phil Schneider in late May, 2019. Rabbi Serge Lippe of Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, where Phil was a member, led the service and shared a hesped. Phil was also eulogized by his daughter Dana J. Schneider, her wife (Phil’s daughter-in-law) Kathleen Pequeño, and his nephew Jeff Schneider. There are four pieces below (we don’t have a written version of Jeff’s remarks).
- Dana’s eulogy for Phil
- Kathleen’s eulogy for Phil at the service
- Rabbi Lippe’s hesped for Phil
- Kathleen’s online remarks about Phil (sent shortly after his death for people who didn’t know him as well)
Dana’s Eulogy for Phil
My father, who was not a religious person, always said that he didn’t believe we go somewhere in the sky when we die – rather, that immortality is when people remember you and talk about you and continue to tell your story. That that is what keeps a person alive.
We are very lucky that he left us with so, so many stories and jokes to tell and retell. I would bet that everyone in this room – even those who were my friends first – have at least one memory of Phil that stands out.
Whether you knew him for many decades or you only met him once, he made a powerful impression, not just because he was always “nice” although he mostly was, but because he was smart and gregarious and fiercely caring and engaged and so funny and he just loved people (and dogs too – if you ask all of the dogs in his building who came around to visit with him regularly).
Our close connection has been the most important force in shaping my sense of work and family and my place in the world and I cherish that. The value I place on thriftiness, the ways I am both stubborn and open-minded, and a curious learner. The way I love wandering the aisles of grocery stores and trying new restaurants, and even some of the way I worry too much or am averse to risk (although he never held me back and always allowed me to make my own choices and got behind them even when it was hard for him or he disagreed with what I was doing).
He especially created in me the places where I organize my energy around prioritizing friendships – my deep loyalty to relationships and how I value community-building. How I know well that you can love people and stick with them through conflict or when circumstances change. His vast network of friendships is inspiring – from the guys in the old neighborhood who he knew for over 80 years to neighbors he’s lived alongside for 40 years to friends of mine he just met a few month ago at a party we brought him along to.
I’m so grateful for these qualities and I know that he is a part of me. People say this but I can truly feel it, I can see him in some of my expressions in the mirror, and I’ll keep being me and keeping him with me everywhere I go and with everything I do.
And I’m asking today that you all keep telling his stories. Talk about him, share bits of things you learned from him or legal advice he gave you or a harrowing tale of the war he shared, or some obscure Yankees trivia, or where to get the best hamburgers in Brooklyn, or the cheapest day old bagels, or what 25 cents could buy in 1932*.
In fact I’m going to ask that you take a moment now to recall a piece of him that he left you with – just think about it for a few seconds and hold on to it to tell me or someone else you are here with after the service.
That’s immortality – and then Phil Schneider will live on through all of us forever.
Love you the most always, Pop.
*(He let us know that in 1932, for 25 cents, you could buy two hot dogs, French fries, a soda, and a ticket to a double feature movie. In case you are wondering. ☺)
It’s a challenge to talk about Phil and say something that people don’t know. He was a master storyteller, and I know he regaled all the people he loved with stories of Brooklyn, of World War II, of his bachelor days, and his marriage to Eileen.
But one of my favorite things about Phil that I got to do way more than most people, was “Phil at the grocery store with Dana.” I have so many memories of Phil at the grocery store with Dana.
First, let’s just say that Phil in his 90s loved grocery shopping. I know that many other people have experienced this, since he often asked people to take him to the grocery store. He did not miss an opportunity to go to the grocery store.
My theory was that after a lifetime of playing competitive sports: football and softball in his youth, then later golf, he still wanted to do something competitive, but he wasn’t as strong, and had challenges seeing and hearing.
But grocery shopping could be about precision and persistence, not speed and strength like the sports of his youth. And Phil had time, and a vision for how his grocery shopping should be done.
He scanned the fliers each week, slowly and carefully with the machine from the VA that magnified print, even though it took him a while. He memorized the sale prices on his favorite groceries from specific stores.
When we picked him up for dinner on the weekend he would tell us which stores we were going to hit, and he would sometimes have a handwritten note specific to each store, but a lot of times, he did this from memory.
We hit Key Food on Seventh Avenue the most. He had decided after trying about six Key Foods near him that they had the best sales and the best cold deli. He and Dana would link arms and she would carry a basket. They would walk thru the aisles and he would point and ask, “What’s that?” and she would tell him.
Now, even with his hearing aids, Phil had trouble hearing in the din of the store. Luckily, as many of you know, Dana is blessed with a strong voice. So if we separated in the store, I could just listen and I would hear them.
“How much is a three pound bag of onions?!”
“Ah! They are $1.99 at the other store!”
“What’s on sale at the deli?!”
(She would answer.)
“I don’t like that one, they put gelatin in it!”
“Reach into the back of the cooler for the milk, and tell me the date!”
And so it would go, all at full volume. Other shoppers would turn their heads sometimes, or smile as they made space for them in the aisle. The devotion between these two people was clear, their shared attention to the task was something you didn’t want to get in the way of.
As they got close to being done, Phil wanted to add up all the items in his cart and calculate the price in his head, and have Dana confirm it. We were not allowed to use a cell phone calculator for this. It was what Eileen used to do when she shopped. So, like so many things about her mothering, Phil took it on after she passed away, saying this was just how it was done.
I enjoyed the grocery store, but sometimes in bad weather I would point out that living in downtown Brooklyn, we could get his groceries delivered. He was adamant that he didn’t want that. Of course not. These grocery store trips were about him getting to do his life on his own terms, with Dana at his side, which is what he wanted more than anything.
Seeing them together all those times, each being themselves and sharing this mundane task with such determination, it could seem like it was just another shopping trip, but I knew it never was. It was about them each being close, and showing up for each other. I know he shopped with me and others, but it wasn’t nearly the same as doing it with Dana.
It may sound ridiculous, but grocery stores in Brooklyn won’t be the same without Phil.
Goodbye King, I’ll be sure to reach for the milk from the back of the shelf and think of you.
Rabbi Serge Lippe’s Hesped
Feivel ben Dovid v’ Basha
Phil Schneider was born in the midst of the Great Depression in 1923, the middle son of David and Bessie Schneider, Russian Jewish immigrants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The 1925 show them residing at 1555 Lincoln Place. The 1930 and 1940 Federal Census show David, Bessie, Irving, Phil and now Seymour residing at 1540 Sterling Place.
Once he turned five years old, Phil attended PS 210, where his teacher Miss Bingham had high praise for Phil, though he had to learn what that meant first. Phil described listening to baseball games over the radio while hanging out with his friends on Eastern Parkway. On occasion they went to Ebbets Field for 50 cents in the bleachers to see the bums – the Brooklyn Dodgers even though Phil was actually a Yankees fan.
Phil lived poor but didn’t realize it. His father was the hardest working man he knew, working 14- to 15-hour days. Neither of his parents, as Russian Jewish immigrants had had any formal education but his dad David built his own business. The world in those days worked around pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and fractions thereof. There were still farms to buy fresh milk from the cows, at least until Donald Trump’s father developed the first brick housing there.
Phil received his Bar Mitzvah training from a rabbi Weinberger, just down the block who would give students a Klopp on the head if they didn’t know where they were in the siddur. Luckily Phil spoke and read Yiddish, his parents’ first language, so he could follow the Hebrew letters.
Phil fondly recalled wearing knickers as a boy, like everyone else, until he was taken to buy long pants for his bar mitzvah.
Phil attended Boys High School in Crown Heights where he had exemplary grades. He attended three years of Brooklyn College, dropping out after Pearl Harbor to enlist in the Army Airforce. Colorblind, he was given the ‘rank’ of private when he persisted on staying with the Airforce.
He was sent first to North Africa, to Casablanca. From there he slept on boxcars in rotating sleeping shifts. He then went to Bombay in India where he was assigned temporarily assigned alongside the British Royal Air Force. He traveled up one of the great rivers in an open boat and then flew over the Himalayas into China. He spent almost two years in China. Phil referred to a special mission he was assigned with the Flying Tigers inside Japanese occupied China.
When they dropped the atomic Bomb on Hiroshima he couldn’t believe that there was a bomb that could destroy an entire city. Then Nagasaki was destroyed and he and his fellows were shipped home via Calcutta. He spent a total of three years and eight days in the Airforce until his discharge.
After WWII Phil finished his BA at Brooklyn College, spent a year or two at various jobs, and then attended Brooklyn Law School on the GI Bill, finishing the three-year program in 2.5 years. He passed the NY State Bar immediately. His first job, paid $20 a week on the theory that they were really teaching you what you hadn’t learned about being a lawyer yet. Phil spent 40 years working as an attorney.
He married Eileen Rosenblum in 1970. Dana was born in 1974, about the same time the family joined Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. But Eileen died too, too early after her battle with cancer the fall of 1985. Dana became bat mitzvah at BHS with Rabbi Rick Jacobs in 1987.
I arrived at BHS as the brand-spanking new rabbi in July of 1997. I soon made Phil’s acquaintance. Some years later, he informed me that he wasn’t a religious Jew but thought the synagogue was important and informed me that in his estimation I seemed like an ok rabbi.
He told me he was particularly impressed by a sermon I offered on one Rosh Hashanah talking about my mom and her agnosticism. It was essentially a sermon offering my own opinion that Belief in God, of any sort, was not a prerequisite for membership in the Jewish people or participation in synagogue life. Given what Phil had seen in his life I told him I was in no position whatsoever to think I knew more, or even as much about life as he did.
Over time, we recruited Phil to come share his life experiences as part of the Greatest Generation with our Religious School students at BHS. And I was privileged to offer him a formal blessing from the bimah to celebrate his 95th birthday. When I offered him a chance to reflect at the microphone he wasn’t shy and knew his crowd.
Phil was a child of the Great Depression, which shaped his views on expenses, a soldier of WWII which shaped his attitude toward the military industrial complex, he was a self-made man, a husband, father and widower. He lost his sight but never his vision, insight or sense of humor or gratitude.
In his closing words to the BHS Religious School class he advised them to enjoy and cherish their youth and to remember it. Worry comes with responsibilities, but that is the way of life.
Birth is a beginning, and death a destination
But life is a journey . . .
Kathleen’s Online Piece About Phil
When I moved back to NYC in 2012 to marry Dana, Phil was definitely part of the package, and getting to know him has been an added bonus of our marriage. Phil and I bonded over football, our enjoyment of a good beer paired with a good story, and of course, our shared love of Dana.
Even in his late 90s, Phil led an independent life, but his blindness in the last few years meant that he counted on Dana and I for things like driving him to family events and his favorite restaurants, taking him to medical appointments, and weekly grocery shopping–which he loved. Actually, no visit with him was complete unless we took him to a grocery store.
He also counted on us to bring him to new experiences (for example, the time we showed him a 3-D printer on the Lower East Side). We took him for purple yam soft serve (he wasn’t a fan), the Oculus (it was a lot of walking, he said), Sri Lankan food (he liked the mango pudding), and of course, new grocery stores.
Phil went down from his apartment to the same bench downstairs almost every day, where people — in many cases with small children or dogs — would stop and talk to him. I’ve sat there with him and people’s dogs would start to strain on their leashes as they approached so that he could pet them. So many people loved stopping at what has come to be known as Phil’s Corner.
Phil had a repertoire of stories he shared with us and with the Phil’s Corner community. He talked about being a child in Brooklyn in the 1930s, like when he used to walk over to Eastern Parkway and Buffalo Street with a bucket and wait while the farmer milked the cow.
He talked about his time in occupied China during World War II as a 20-year old, surrounded by deprivation and death. He still remembered the names of men who served with him and the men who died, one of them on a two-man mission he was supposed to go on until he was reassigned at the last minute.
After the war he went to law school on the GI Bill instead of entering his father’s cheese business with his brothers. His stories about being a lawyer spanned decades from when Jewish lawyers couldn’t even get jobs at many firms, to the 1970s and 80s, when he was doing workers compensation law for the MTA. He took pride in helping people as a lawyer, and being fair-minded, and not just focused on winning his cases.
Many of us got to hear stories from his exuberant bachelor life until he settled down with Dana’s mom Eileen in his late 40s. His marriage only lasted for 15 years because of Eileen’s unexpected death from cancer. Without Eileen, he retired from the law and devoted himself to his relationship to Dana, determined to be both mother and father to her. He understood that we are all on borrowed time, and that the best way to make use of it was by connecting with people you love. And listening to baseball on the radio.
For his 96th birthday this past March, we took him to the newly gentrified Industry City, so he could check out the Japanese market (he got a package of ramen). He posed next to the statue of Captain America. There were a lot of places to sit, which he liked since he got tired so quickly.
He had a heart incident in early April that led us to the cardiac unit, and his diagnosis with congestive heart failure (CHF), which can last for years. Unfortunately, he had probably been in CHF for a while, he had just been so determined to keep his independence.
Over the last six weeks of his life, we kept getting him back to the brink of being not-in-crisis, living with us and then getting him back to his apartment so that he could return to his daily Phil’s Corner regimen. He had a lot of ups and downs. But it was all too much.
At the very end, he was in a deep sleep and we called his oldest friends. He had a number of friendships he had maintained for over 50 years, and those friends got to say goodbye, even though he couldn’t answer them. His nephews got to talk to him also. I sang him a few songs I thought he would like, and Dana and I told him we loved him and he slipped away with us at his side.
It’s hard to do justice to such an extraordinary man. Phil was a master at building relationships and community, and he especially had a soft spot for anyone who loved Dana. I feel blessed to have been picked by him. Phil was my father-in-law, and my buddy, and I’ll miss him.
Thanks for being interested in Phil, and please enjoy Phil Talks.