Thelma “Toby” Geschwind a”h, Toiba Hena bas Moshe haLevi (u’Braina Rivkah), was a woman of valor – a true eishes chayil – who lived a life of dreams realized. Known for her bountiful acts of chesed in Jamaica Estates, and later in West Hempstead, Toby and her unselfish heart of gold were an exemplary role model for others, putting her family needs first, then those of her friends, all preceding her own. The essence of Toby’s life was defined by the translation of her Hebrew name Tovah, good. She persevered from a burdensome early life, losing three brothers at a young age and her mother when she was just 13, becoming the maternal figure to her seven-year-old brother and to her two older brothers. She was brought up by her aunt Anne a”h, establishing a bond with cousins Tena and Debra, whom she always considered her sisters.
A good listener to all, always ready to dispense medical advice, “Nurse Toby,” as she was affectionately called, had a handful of friendships spanning over 70 years. The words “no” or “can’t” did not exist to Toby, who went above and beyond to bring a smile and positivity to others, sometimes in the form of words, and other times with a warm meal. Toby was a wonderful wife, beloved mother, and dedicated grandmother, aunt, niece, cousin, and friend, who considered the children of others like her own.
The mitzvah of hachnasas orchim shined as one of Toby’s noteworthy selfless acts. Toby and Charles, her beloved husband of 57 years, were known at the unofficial welcoming committee for the West Hempstead Jewish community since taking up residence a decade ago in the flourishing Nassau hamlet. “When I moved in, I did not know anybody,” recollected a young married shiv’ah goer. “Mrs. Geschwind introduced me to three-quarters of the friends that I have today. She and her husband took me around our wonderful neighborhood.” The Geschwinds would deliver a bottle of liquor and flowers to any family they discovered moved into the area. Charles expounded on the impact of this role, citing an interaction in the bikur cholim room at NYU Langone Hospital – Long Island (Winthrop): “A visibly Orthodox woman approached me saying, ‘Hey, I know you live in West Hempstead,’ and proceeded to state both my name and Toby’s. The woman explained that, seven years prior, her family moved in and the flowers and wine we brought greatly enhanced their first Shabbos in their new home.”
Toby grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and attended the local Bais Yaakov. Toby and Charles met when they were 16 and 17, and married three years later, inseparable ever since. Toby’s grandchildren commented that every other word out of their grandmother’s mouth was “Dad this, or Dad that” – they meant the world to one another. The Geschwinds resided in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, from 1965 to 1969, until the birth of their son Howard pushed a move to a larger residence in Flatbush that lasted until February 1977, when they moved to Fresh Meadows for a span of 22 years, followed by 14 years on Midland Parkway in Jamaica Estates. Each home was warm and welcoming, open to community children who came to enjoy Shabbos get-togethers, and NCSY programming. They were formative members of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates, helping launch the minyan in a neighbor’s basement, which expanded into the Hillcrest Library, then to YHSQ in Holliswood, and finally into their current 188th Street home.
Toby was fond of shops like Braun’s Fish Store and Aron’s Kissena Farms in Kew Gardens Hills, the heart of Jewish life in Queens, and would typically return to the area weekly. Toby was the ultimate bargain shopper and the queen of coupons and sales. She loved a good tag sale and garage sale, always having family in mind.
In August of 2013, Toby and her husband made their final move to West Hempstead, “her happiest” according to Charles, despite this home being their smallest, but just the right size for the doting duo. It was their daughter Betty who encouraged the move and successfully found a ranch home around the corner from her own, midah k’neged midah, for all the good work in real estate that Toby did for others.
Toby was a 20-year veteran in the real estate industry, working with Anne Nussbaum Realty, helping those of her community buy and sell their dream homes. Toby instilled the same values of aiding those on the market for a home in her daughter Betty who has made a name for herself since joining Sharona Beck Realty five years ago. “My mother was my best friend, and she made everyone feel like her best friend,” shared Betty, who like her sister Rachel, portray many of their mother’s characteristics.
The Chazaq Organization, where Toby’s grandchildren Natan and Robbie are employed, was also personal for her. Toby was extremely active at the organization’s inaugural singles event, where their sister Suri found her chasan Eli Perkelvald. She was the quintessential shadchanis, talking to singles, collecting resumes, and setting them up. Toby would often pass around Chazaq event flyers for local shiurim, successfully encouraging many to join and find much-needed chizuk. Toby took much pride in the honor bestowed upon her daughter Betty and son-in-law Mickey at Chazaq’s 13-Year Anniversary Dinner in December of 2019.
Toby regularly attended shul lectures, had her makom kavua, and was one of the first women on Shabbos morning. Toby was known to carry a list of cholim whom she always had in mind.
Toby also dedicated extensive time to the annual Chabad of West Hempstead Women and Girls Spa Day, a fundraiser hosted by Joni Nathanson on behalf of Friendship Circle. “Toby was flexible and never complained, delighted to spend the day doing good,” recalled an event participant of her efforts. “She had her complete heart in the function, similar to every endeavor she took on. It was the needs of her family, then her friends that always preceded her own.” Toby would do her duty pushing sponsors to take tables at the program, and even exquisitely modeled a stunning dress for the runway.
The Young Israel of Jamaica Estates clothing sale was another passion of Toby’s, arriving in the early morning hours and staying on late, ensuring the clothes displayed elegantly befitting their designer labels and future owners. Toby would share the event flyers far and wide, encouraging her peers to do the same and spread the opportunity to make others feel special. Even after moving from Queens, she returned to volunteer at the annual sale.
Toby loved everyone and everyone loved her! She was there at every moment and always had great joy when she was able to do something to help others, even those she hardly knew. “Toby would constantly send article clippings and recipes in envelopes that she maintained pre-addressed, or phone her friends and family, sharing ideas, suggestions, or positive support to better their lives, once going out in the pouring rain to mail such a correspondence,” related Charles. Toby would also dole out the vast array of weekly Jewish periodicals to family and friends, sometimes not even saving a copy for herself. Charles noted how Toby worried for everyone, but her concern for him was bar-none. “Her last words, said as she turned toward Betty, were ‘Take care of dad,’ worrying about me in her deteriorated condition.” Charles pointed out that he could never stop her from being at his side, even joining him for the most minor doctor visits. She was very organized with lists/notes and preparations in advance for shopping and recipes to prepare everything to perfection and from the heart. Toby remembered birthdays and anniversaries and would send cards to family and friends on these special occasions.
A decade ago, Toby survived a life-threatening six and half hour ovarian cancer procedure, and admirably pushed the cancer into remission using a combination of diet and chemotherapy. “When Toby opened her eyes after the surgery, she saw a dozen relatives, saying, ‘I love all of you,” and then turned to me and announced, ‘Charles, did you take your pills today?’ Her final hospital stay lasted 68 days. Charles would make his loving wife comfortable, telling her that he took his pills each day. Charles was Toby’s inspiration and often spent nights with her at Winthrop Hospital, and later at Grandell Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, to the extent that staff thought he was a resident and on the meal plan.
Toby leaves a legacy of love, dedication, and kindness for all to continue in her honor. Living each day to the fullest, giving others the benefit of the doubt, and not sweating the small stuff were mottos she lived by. The l’vayah was held on Wednesday, January 4, at the shul she cherished dearly, the Young Israel of West Hempstead (YIWH), k’vurah followed at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Glendale. Rav Dovid Goldwasser will address the shloshim and siyum Mishnayos event, in a lecture entitled “Chesed in Mind and Action” on Wednesday, February 1, at 8:15 p.m. at YIWH, perpetuating the memory of a heartfelt baalas chesed. Toby is survived by her husband Charles, son Howie (Jaime), daughters Betty (Mickey) Aboff and Rachel (Jason) Lacher, grandchildren Natan and Robbie Aboff, Suri (Eli) Perkelvald, Nicky and Josh Geschwind, and Nava, Ayla, Shiri, and Arthur Lacher, as well as the Jewish communities of Brooklyn, Queens, and West Hempstead.
By Shabsie Saphirstein