Emma Friedman led Spuyten Duyvil Infantry with passion


Emma Friedman, a longtime leader and teacher of Spuyten Duyvil Infantry, a nursery school, died in Ithaca on Oct. 10 at the age of 95, her family said.

She was born Emma Pelavin in Detroit, Michigan on Sept. 1, 1920. She was raised by her Yiddish-speaking parents and learned English in school. Her Russian mother was fluent in three languages and routinely brought Emma to the public library – the beginning of her passion for reading books and, later, The New York Times. 

After moving permanently to New York City as a young adult, her Midwestern roots were somewhat overtaken by her enthusiastic loyalty to New York City. Her daughter said “somewhat” because Ms. Friedman was always modest about her attributes and accomplishments. 

When Stanley Friedman proposed, her response was, “Do you really mean it?” The couple lived on the Upper West Side in a cute little apartment where Ms. Friedman learned to cook and bake. Her first attempt at making whipped cream was a failure and she threw it out, only to realize years later that she had actually made butter.

The couple moved to Riverdale in 1954, where they began their family with the birth of daughter Julie, followed a year later by the birth of son Eric. Eric was the lucky one — he attended Spuyten Duyvil Infantry (SDI). When he began kindergarten, Lillian Weber, the director of SDI, asked Emma to teach – and the rest is history. 

She absolutely loved SDI and the community she became a part of. Her children grew up with stories of the nursery school kids, with Ms. Friedman busily typing at the dining room table and always taking phone calls from parents even in the middle of our dinner. She later became the teacher-director of SDI, holding the position until her retirement at age 69. At that age, she could still get up from a cross legged position on the floor, with no hands, her daughter noted.

As her children grew, so did her cooking and baking skills — there were always fresh baked cookies. Her children and later grandchildren spent many an afternoon watching their mother bake. And when her kids and husband would compliment her on an especially delicious meal, she would demur (that Midwestern modesty…). So Mr. Pelavin learned to say, “This is delicious — did you get it from Lord & Taylor’s?” 

Mr. Pelavin died in 1969, from cancer. But this was not good timing, since he and Ms. Friedman would periodically make bets and he would often owe her a chocolate malted. Apparently, he died still owing her one. 

Ms. Friedman became a Buba to three fabulous grandchildren, Jacob, Atticus and Chloe. She always marveled at how lucky she was to have such terrific grandchildren, and the feeling was mutual. She became a mother-in-law to Judy and when Judy recently became a mother-in-law herself, she told Ms. Friedman she hoped she could follow in her footsteps.

After Ms. Friedman’s retirement, she became a volunteer at God’s Love We Deliver. At the time, it provided “meals-on-wheels” support for people living with AIDS. She was part of the Tuesday morning group and loved getting up at the crack of dawn to take the first bus to the subway and down to lower Manhattan. Her Tuesday group became her newest community.

Her family knows that Ms. Friedman was beloved by generations of Spuyten Duyvil families and staff as well as her friends from God’s Love. Her own family has loved her dearly and in perfect Emma form, they all love one another dearly.

Emma Friedman, Spuyten Duyvil Infantry