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Heather Conn Hendel, 48, beloved teacher, caregiver, matchmaker and newlywed, dies days after giving birth to a daughter

Conn Hendel was very involved in her New York City synagogue before moving shortly before her death to Toronto

Jewish communities in Manhattan and Toronto are in mourning after the death of Heather Conn Hendel, 48, a teacher, matchmaker and newlywed who died June 10 of an unrelated illness just days after giving birth to a daughter.

Conn Hendel, a pillar of two New York Jewish institutions — the Manhattan Jewish Experience and Congregation Ohab Zedek — was known for the special care and attention she paid to the sick and elderly, to her students and to Jewish singles.

The daughter of Rhoda and Mel Conn, a United States Navy veteran, Conn Hendel grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and moved to New York as an adult, where, after about a decade of living and teaching, she became active in the Modern Orthodox community.

Conn Hendel was inspired to become more involved in the Jewish community in New York shortly after her grandmother died, she said in a 2017 video honoring her contributions to the Manhattan Jewish Experience, a Jewish outreach organization and Orthodox prayer community.

In New York, she hosted trivia nights for singles and organized women’s networking events, and spent Shabbat afternoons visiting hospital patients and the elderly as part of an Upper West Side Jewish volunteer program she co-created called “Bikur in the Home” — a reference to the Jewish commandment of tending to the sick. She was honored for her volunteer work by Ohab Zedek,  her synagogue on the Upper West Side, in 2022.

Less than two months ago, Ohab Zedek mourned the unexpected loss of Tom Weiss, 61, who was involved in some of the same charitable activities as Conn Hendel.

In May 2023, after years of helping other Jewish singles find their match, she married Lorne Hendel in a religious ceremony in Toronto.

“Even though our time together in this world was very short, she brought me such an incredible amount of joy and happiness,” Hendel said at the funeral Tuesday in Toronto.

While Conn Hendel dreamed of finding true love, her next goal was to become a mother, friends and family said at her funeral Tuesday.

“We came here two weeks ago, we thought that we were going to have this celebration,” her father Mel Conn said at the funeral. “And then the floor fell out.”

Brother Danny Conn, speaking at her funeral, remarked that his older sister had always set an example for him. When she was in high school, she began volunteering at a Jewish Sunday school for children with special needs, and when Danny was old enough, he did the same.

“I don’t know where I’d be without my sister,” Conn said during his eulogy. “I was telling my kids — I have a son and daughter — to have a good relationship with each other and to be close like I was my sister. She will be greatly missed.”

Mourners and community members from New York, Toronto and Israel have already organized multiple Jewish learning opportunities in honor of Conn Hendel, and set up a baby fund for Elisheva Chana, who was born May 29 and named shortly before Conn Hendel died.

Conn Hendel, an alumna of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University, taught high school English in New York public schools for many years. Upon her engagement to Lorne Hendel and moving to Toronto in 2023, she began teaching at Bnei Akiva Ulpanot Orot Girls School and Tiferes Bais Yaakov, achieving another dream: being an educational role model for young religious women.

Former and recent students of Conn Hendel’s, speaking at the funeral and sharing online, described her as a dedicated teacher who cared greatly about their success and loved Shakespeare.

“Impressively, Heather also took on a leadership role in our school as a tefila supervisor of a group of students where she inspired her davening group with her words of Torah and wisdom, sharing her journey to Yiddishkeit and how much she loved teaching Jewish teens,” Sharon Fixler, assistant principal at Ulpanot, said at her funeral.

“I remember sharing in her pure joy and a special hug when she told me she was expecting a baby,” Fixler added. “While Elisheva Chana will sadly not know her mother directly, she will hopefully be comforted knowing how much her dear mother loved her, from even before she was born, and by knowing just how much her dear mother was loved.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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