Anita Kaufman played a key role for years in running the first Jewish day school in Suffolk County, established in the 1960s.
That school closed in the mid-1980s, and two decades later Kaufman put her energy and money into creating another one -- the Jewish Academy of Suffolk County in Commack.
Kaufman "was one of the heroes of the Jewish community," said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the Chabad movement on Long Island, of which Kaufman was a member. He called her a "feisty, determined, hard-nosed, softhearted woman who had so much compassion and love and cared so much for so many people."
Kaufman, 77, died Jan. 3 in Boca Raton, Florida, where she had a winter home and had established a Chabad center and synagogue.
One of her daughters, Marcia Kaufman of Old Westbury, said her redheaded mother stood only 5 feet tall, but when "she walked into a room she was a giant," with her dynamic personality commanding people's attention.
Anita Kaufman grew up in the Bronx, and as a young mother in 1963 moved with her husband, Morris, and their four children to Commack, the daughter said. She was a registered nurse and frequently volunteered on and drove ambulances in the community.
For many years, she and her husband helped lead the Hebrew Academy of Suffolk County in Hauppauge, Teldon said. Morris Kaufman died in 1988.
In 2003, Kaufman approached Teldon with the idea to open another Jewish day school.
She provided most of the financing to start the school, while Teldon and others organized and ran it, he said.
"Jewish education was for her the most important thing," he said.
Today, the Jewish Academy of Suffolk County, in the Suffolk Y-JCC in Commack, has about 60 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"If she hadn't started it 10 years ago, there would be no Jewish day school in Suffolk County," Teldon said.
Her devotion to Jewish education also trickled down to her children. One of her sons, Ivan Kaufman of Kings Point, founded North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, which has about 600 students.
Anita Kaufman also made her mark in Florida. The 25,000-square-foot Chabad synagogue and center that she had built "is a major institution" in the area, Teldon said, and served as a model for other synagogues there.
The synagogue is named for Anita and Morris Kaufman.
In addition to her daughter Marcia and son Ivan, she is survived by son Andrew Kaufman of Floral Park; daughter Stephanie Maza of Lawrence; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Services were held at Sinai Chapels in Fresh Meadows, Queens, with burial in New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon.