West Orange resident Harriet Perlmutter-Pilchik already misses her good friend, Shirley Aidekman-Kaye, whom she knew through business and Jewish social circles for over five decades.
“It’s like one I knew well and always talked to isn’t there,” said Perlmutter-Pilchik. “Shirley spent six months in Florida and six months here. I would have her over for dinner before our Yom Kippur evening service.” Both attended the Reform Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
Aidekman-Kaye died on Oct. 19 in Delray Beach, Fla. She was 96. The memories are loving, and flow quickly for Perlmutter-Pilchik when she thinks of her recently departed friend.
Their friendship started when the wives of three business partners worked in the corporate office in Union. Milton Perlmutter, Alex Aidekman, and Herb Brody built a regional supermarket empire in the 1950s and 1960s, first with ShopRite (Wakefern Food Corporation) and then Pathmark (Supermarkets General Corporation) stores.
“We answered phones and worked with coupons,” Perlmutter-Pilchik said. “I spent a lot of time with Shirley and Frances Brody. Then, when the business got going” and it became a billion-dollar corporation, “our husbands decided it was time for the wives to retire.”
The supermarket business changed with corporate buyouts and takeovers; the friendship between Perlmutter-Pilchik and Aidekman-Kaye did not. Perlmutter-Pilchik enjoyed a first-hand view of the impact her friend made on the local Jewish community and educational institutions such as Tufts and Rutgers universities.
“Our region and community benefitted from Shirley’s generosity in so many ways,” Perlmutter-Pilchik told NJJN. “Our family has gone to B’nai Jeshurun for five generations, and Shirley has always been there when needed, with the federation, with education. She was such a warm, caring person with so much energy. Younger people would always love to talk to her. She also was an artist, did sculpture. I can’t believe she’s gone.” Aidekman-Kaye also enjoyed dancing, according to Perlmutter-Pilchik.
Dov Ben-Shimon, executive vice president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Metro-West NJ, who oversees a campus in Whippany that bears the Aidekman name, echoed Perlmutter-Pilchik’s thoughts.
“Shirley was a wonderful, wise, and caring community leader,” Ben-Shimon wrote in an email to NJJN. “She was thoughtful, engaging, and always interested in the community’s progress. I always enjoyed meeting Shirley, in New Jersey or down in Florida — her hospitality was warm and kind, her conversations were lively and filled with energy. We will miss her terribly, and — along with the entire community who loved her — send her lovely family our deepest sympathies.”
The ground-breaking for what would become the 37.5-acre Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus took place Sept. 16, 1990. The Aidekman family donated $2 million toward building the campus, the largest individual contribution, according to Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey.
The ceremony — where Aidekman-Kaye was the first to push a shovel into the ground — was attended by Gov. James Florio, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), and State Rep. Dean Gallo (R-Dist. 11). The previous evening at the Short Hills Hilton, Elie Wiesel spoke at an event for donors who pledged $10,000 or more toward the campus.
“That ceremony, including the breaking of ground for the federation campus, was one of my mother’s favorite events,” said son Gary Aidekman. “She really liked the way everything took shape there and is something our family is very proud of.”
While she was a significant benefactor of the Jewish community, her son said that Aidekman-Kaye was not particularly religious for much of her life.
“Until the last 20 years of her life, my mother was much more a secular Jew than a religious Jew,” he said. “She did have a bat mitzvah in her 70s in Florida.”
Sarabeth Wizen, who served as federation’s director of Women’s Philanthropy before retiring in 2017 (she remains a consultant), said she appreciated her time with Aidekman-Kaye.
“Shirley always made whoever she came in contact with feel like a friend, even if you just met her,” Wizen said. “No matter what was needed, she would never say no. I’m really going to miss her.”
In addition to her legacy of charitable giving, Aidekman-Kaye founded the jewelry brand Amio Inc., headquartered in New Vernon, which manufactures pieces using precious medals.
Aidekman-Kaye’s first husband, Leo Halpern, died a few months after their wedding in 1946. She married Alex Aidekman in 1949. Their philanthropic contributions, in addition to the Aidekman campus, include the Aidekman Arts Center at Tufts University, the Aidekman Research Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University, and the Aidekman Chair in Neurology at Mt. Sinai Medical School.
Predeceased by Alex in 1990, and Bennie Kaye, her husband of over nine years, in 2017, she is survived by two sons, Gary (Susan) and Kenneth (Ellen) Aidekman; a sister, Dorothy Chelnik Lebow; and five grandchildren.
Services were held Oct. 23 with arrangements by Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, Livingston. Memorial contributions may be made to Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.