Lilli Zimet, an educator whose love of music and children made her a fixture in Poughkeepsie’s Jewish community for more than 70 years, died on March 7 at the age of 101, surrounded by her family.
Lilli was born in 1919 in Berlin, Germany, to Kate and Adolf Gehr. Lilli was trained as an early childhood teacher and also acquired a strong background in, and love of, music. In 1939, she escaped from Nazi Germany for England, where she spent a year as a governess.
In 1940, she emigrated to the United States and married Erwin Zimet, a young rabbi in New York City, whom she had met in Berlin. It was the beginning of a long partnership devoted to serving the Jewish community as well as raising their own family.
In 1946, Rabbi and Lilli Zimet moved to Poughkeepsie to serve as the spiritual and education leaders of Temple Beth-El. Lilli quickly assumed multiple roles, including principal of the religious school and director of both the adult and children’s choirs. The adult choir presented both programs and cantatas and sang as the Temple's High Holiday Choir. She was especially proud of the children’s Junior Choir, which was a fixture at Sabbath services for many years, and many of her choir members returned for annual reunions years after they had “graduated.” And as “rebbetzin” (the Rabbi’s wife often viewed as the “first lady” of the synagogue), she played a particularly active role in congregational life, forging many close personal relationships -- a role she continued after Rabbi Zimet's passing in 1989.
Having grown up in Germany during the years leading to the Nazi Holocaust, Lilli spent many years teaching about the Holocaust to both junior and senior high school classes at the Temple. In addition, she enjoyed telling audiences of all ages the story of the "little Torah,” a miniature Torah scroll that had been a part of her family for several generations, which she was able to smuggle out of Germany, right under the noses of Nazi officials. Following the death of her husband in 1989, she was instrumental in creating the Rabbi Erwin Zimet Memorial Institute at Temple Beth-El, which continues to fund Holocaust education programs for area high school students.
Lilli is survived by her three children, Miriam Zimet-Aaron (Mark Aaron), Michael Zimet (Marsha), and Rabbi Jonathan Zimet; her grandchildren, Naomi Seiler (Eric Columbus), Daniel Seiler and Eliana Zimet, and her great-grandchildren, Lilah and Zoe Columbus; and several nieces and nephews.
A private service will be held on Wednesday, March 10, at Temple Beth-El Cemetery.
The family thanks Lilli's doctors, as well as Maria, Susan, Doreen and Monica, and the caring staff of Hudson Valley Hospice -- all of whom played key roles in her care.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Lilli's memory may be made to the Rabbi Erwin Zimet Memorial Institute at Temple Beth-El; to Temple Beth-El; to Hudson Valley Hospice; or to a charity of your choice. Arrangements are under the direction of the Wm. G. Miller & Son FH, Inc. If you wish to send an online condolence please visit our website at www.wmgmillerfuneralhome.com