Zelma Genia Epstein (née Slome) was born in Panevezys in 1923 and lived in Königsberg during her early childhood years. The imminent threat of a Nazi invasion prompted her mother, Dr. Luba Slome, the first Jewish woman to graduate as a dentist from the University of Warsaw (1914), to flee the country with her young family. Prior to emigrating to South Africa, where her degree would not be recognized, Dr. Slome requalified at the University of Edinburg, Scotland, this time in a new language, English.
These challenging early years cultivated Zelma’s deepened appreciation for life, positively savouring every precious moment with family and friends.
Zelma completed her education in Johannesburg and married Jack Epstein. Together they comprised an outstanding couple for 52 years, true leaders and role models in every community in which they lived. Zelma and Jack were passionate Zionists and actively involved in South African pro-Israel initiatives, volunteer work and religious committees. Zelma and Jack were among the founders of King David School and Zelma was Chairperson of the parents/teachers committee. Jack was President of the Vereeniging Jewish Community, Chairman of the United Jewish Appeal and active on the Jewish Board of Deputies.
After Aliya, with great passion and energy, Zelma and Jack were among the founders of the English Speakers Branch in Israel of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israeli Soldiers. Zelma was involved in multiple organizations and activities including Wizo, Toastmasters Club, fundraising for soldiers, International Women, bridge, tennis, etc.
Her homes in South Africa and Israel were always open, centers for learning and Hospitality. Zelma was loved not for what she did, but who she was. She was known and loved for her generosity and warmth - a truly remarkable “larger than life” individual. Zelma was exceptional in her human interactions – a true master in the art of people and forging social connections. She had a unique aptitude for human kindness, always knowing how to make others feel good. Her optimism was contagious. She touched so many with her warmth and words of wisdom, her faith and gratitude, always counting her blessings.
One of her core values was that of ‘family’ and she believed in the power and strength in unity.
To quote a young friend and admirer:
“… Zelma was all about people - about bringing them “Tzusamen.” …
She knew full well, long before others, that it is through companionship, conversation and community that life is lived. Zelma was the mother of mothers. She was the mother we all wished we had and at the same time, hoped we could be. I feel incredibly lucky to have known her. She lives on in those who loved her. May she rest in peace!”
Zelma is survived by loving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.