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Susan Berman-Levine: School payroll clerk who everyone knew

Susan Berman-Levine died in April after contracting COVID-19.

Susan Berman-Levine died in April after contracting COVID-19. Credit: Ellen Wasserman

Hazel eyes warm and smile wide, Susan Berman-Levine took her little fist and knocked on her teenage daughter’s bedroom door. When she could see the 16-year-old on the other side, she made a simple request: Let’s turn on your stereo and dance.

At age 36 — and beyond — Berman-Levine was exuberant and excitable. The year was 1977, and the music choice was Tony Orlando and Dawn. Like sisters, mother and daughter danced around the room.

"It must have been fun to be 36 and have a 16-year-old daughter," said her daughter, Ellen Wasserman.

Petite and peppy, Berman-Levine with her curly shoulder-length hair was "just a ball of fire," Wasserman said. In her daughter’s college years, she held court as Ellen’s friends sat around the kitchen table. Wasserman’s friends were impressed by her mom’s youth; she was impressed by her mom’s beauty.

"She was silly and she was funny and she always wanted to make you feel welcome when you were in her house," Wasserman said. A thoughtful host, she took care to stock her pantry with items she knew specific guests liked.

Through her later years, Berman-Levine remained social as she transitioned to life at an assisted living center on the border of Queens and Nassau County.

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In early April, Berman-Levine’s suitemate at Brandywine tested positive for COVID-19. Though she had no symptoms at the time, Berman-Levine tested positive shortly thereafter. She died on April 20, two weeks after her 79th birthday.

Berman-Levine was born in Brooklyn and lived most of her life in Howard Beach. She worked for Beach Channel High School as a payroll secretary — a role her daughter said fostered her popularity.

"When you pay people, they all know you," said Wasserman, of Roslyn. "She was very popular, she ran all the parties in the school. She was just a ball of fire."

During her own high school years, spent as a classmate of the singer Neil Diamond, Berman-Levine was class president. She liked to say she was more popular in school than Diamond was, her daughter said.

Her family describes her as a colorful, coffee-fueled character whose bubbly personality resonated with those around her. Despite the coffee habit, five seconds into a movie she would be asleep.

"She was always the loudest dressed and the loudest in the room," said her grandson Jacob Wasserman, 24, of Roslyn. Her color came through in "both her personality and the flowers and bows she used to wear in her hair," he said.

Grandma Susie was a frequent babysitter and diner buddy, said Jacob’s brother Zachary Wasserman.

"It was always just fun with her; constantly laughing, being silly," said Zachary Wasserman, 31, of Astoria. "It never seemed like she was from an older generation. She was very relatable."

An only child, Berman-Levine always liked having friends around. Her talent was getting people together and making them happy in those moments, her daughter said.

Throughout her life, Berman-Levine valued volunteerism and taught her daughter to do the same. Among other efforts, Berman-Levine was a fundraising vice president at her synagogue and ran an annual fashion show there. For leisure, she loved to cruise and play poker, mah-jongg and canasta.

Her high school sweetheart, Jerry Berman, by her side, Susan also enjoyed traveling. She met Berman when she was 16 years old and was his wife for 47 years, until he died in the late 2000s. In retirement, the couple moved to Florida.

After Berman’s death, Susan met Murray Levine on the online dating service Jdate. She married Levine a decade ago and several years later moved back to New York.

"She believed in love," Wasserman said. "She really enjoyed being married; she loved being my father’s wife and she loved being Murray’s wife."

An intimate graveside ceremony to honor her life seemed counter to Berman-Levine’s social nature, her daughter said, but proved a "beautiful tribute." The rain poured and 10 masked mourners held umbrellas and shovels. The cantor suggested Berman-Levine might want this done quickly, given the weather, but Susan’s son-in-law Alan Wasserman corrected him: His mother-in-law would want the group out there talking about her for a long time. And so they did.

In addition to her daughter and son-in-law Alan Wasserman, she is survived by her son, Ira Berman, and daughter-in-law Jennifer Berman; her grandsons, Zachary Wasserman, Jacob Wasserman and Austin Berman; her second husband, Murray Levine; her stepdaughters Robin Gensburg and Jill Asrael, and their families.

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