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Family says Great Neck woman had 'sweet, winning personality'

The children and grandchildren of Bunny North, 89, described her as ahead of her time and full of passion for learning and life.

Bunny North, of Great Neck, who escaped Nazi

Bunny North, of Great Neck, who escaped Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s with her parents, died Jan. 12 at age 89. Photo Credit: Steve North

The sweetness of Bunny North extended well beyond her renowned baking abilities, friends and family said.

North, 89, a longtime Great Neck resident, was a friend to everyone she met regardless of age, they said.

“She always had a very sweet, winning personality that garnered her more friends than anyone I’ve known in my life,” said her son, Steve North, 65, of Roslyn Heights.  

North died Jan. 12 at the Atria Tarzana assisted living facility in Los Angeles, after a long battle with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease known as ALS. She passed peacefully surrounded by her immediate family.

Her children and grandchildren described her as ahead of her time and full of passion for learning and life.

“I learned how to be a friend from her. I learned how to continue to grow and learn and experience life at every stage of life, at every age,” said Steve North, a veteran broadcast and print journalist. “I learned how to value family from her . . . and I learned how to preserve Judaism by letting it evolve, which is what she did in her life.” 

North, whose birth name was Brunhilde Bachenheimer, was born March 26, 1929, in Marburg, Germany. Her grandfather, Baruch, was the leader of the Jewish community in Heinebach, and their family faced increased religious persecution from the Nazis.

Her family fled Germany in 1934, moving to Zion, New Jersey, where her great uncles lived. They later moved to the Bronx, where they found an apartment with an extra room to house other Jews fleeing Europe, and friends in the close-knit German-Jewish community.

With the help of an elementary school teacher, Brunhilde changed her name to “Bunny," which she later changed legally. She graduated from Central Commercial High School in 1948 and began working as a secretary at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.  

For the next 50 years, she was a secretary for prominent rabbis and cantors, a secretary in the computer department at Queens College and a medical secretary at the former Booth Memorial Hospital in Flushing.

In 1951, she married Jules North, the brother of her best friend, Frances. She and Jules had reconnected after he returned from serving in World War II, and after getting married they moved to Queens.

That’s when she started cooking, taking her mother’s recipes and expertise and expanding on them, while learning American dishes, too.

She was a “legendary baker and hostess,” Steve North said. She was known for her rum balls, lemon squares and tuna casserole. Her signature recipe for “Chocolate Delight Bars” was featured in a 1997 “Who’s Cooking” column in Newsday.

Religion played an important role throughout her life.

North enjoyed the changes taking place in Judaism, taking classes and learning about the conservative Jewish movement, her son said. She had her bat mitzvah at age 50, and was a lifetime member of the National Council of Jewish Woman. “She was completely committed to a Jewish life and passing on Jewish values to her children and grandchildren,” he said.

North hosted Passover seders, inviting people from around the world, he said. “Her home was known as a gathering place for friends and family, and it was wonderful, warm environment and people just loved being with her,” he said.

In 1986, North was widowed at the age of 56 when Jules, 66, a retired television executive, died of cancer. She moved to Great Neck, where she lived for 30 years.

“She somehow managed to create an entirely new, interesting life for herself that so many people told us has been an inspiration for them,” Steve North said. “She was an exceptionally positive and optimistic person.”

After North retired as an office manager from Long Island Jewish Hospital in 1998, she traveled the world.

She also volunteered at a local temple, joined women’s groups and book review clubs, wrote poetry, went to concerts, and attended lectures on topics such as music, movies, history and politics. She read almost a book a day, said her daughter, Susan North Gilboa, 62, of Encino, California. “She just loved learning and understanding new and different ways of thinking about things," Gilboa said. 

North visited her daughter and grandchildren in California frequently and moved to be closer to them in her last years of her life.

“She always showed up,” said her grandson, Aviv Gilboa, 27, of Los Angeles. “This sense of presence spanned beyond geography and across time zones and across generations . . . She had this way of just kind of being there for everybody, no matter what age they were.”

In addition to her son, daughter and grandson, she is survived by her son-in-law Rami Gilboa; granddaughter Talia Gilboa, who lives in Los Angeles; and sister-in-law and lifelong friend Frances Dunaief, who lives in Davie, Florida. 

Services were held Jan. 16 at Sinai Chapels in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and she was buried next to her husband in Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey.

Contributions in her memory can be made to the Jewish National Fund and the National Council of Jewish Women.

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