Berta Schwartz, 71, of Cheltenham Township, a retired teacher at Perelman Jewish Day School in Melrose Park, died Sunday, Dec. 22, when a bus on which she and her husband were riding crashed near Ben Gurion Airport in Israel.
Her husband of 41 years, Baruch Schwartz, survived the crash. They were visiting Israel, where both had lived before coming to the United States in the 1970s.
Three other passengers on the bus from Jerusalem to Haifa were killed in the accident, and 14 were injured, according to Israeli news reports. The driver is under investigation for distraction or negligence, the reports said.
Mrs. Schwartz was a selfless, humble person who adored children, loved to learn, and often cooked and baked for her family and friends, those who knew her said.
She had “the kind of a soul that was sweet with everyone,” recalled Cantor Howard Glantz of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, the Elkins Park synagogue to which Mrs. Schwartz belonged. “She was very modest, really did not have any idea of the kind of impact that she had on people.”
Born Berta Rosenblatt in Sighet, Romania, Mrs. Schwartz moved with her family to Israel when she was 15. She served as a medic in the Israeli army and later moved to the Philadelphia area to be near extended family, said her son, Michael Schwartz.
She signed up for English classes at Temple University, where she met Baruch, another Israeli student. They married in 1978, settled in Cheltenham, and had three children.
After obtaining a teaching certificate from Gratz College, Mrs. Schwartz began a 28-year teaching career at Perelman, said school head Judy Groner. She also taught Hebrew and culture in the synagogue’s religious school for decades, Glantz said.
She began using digital techniques to teach Hebrew long before it was popular, and often took courses and workshops to continue learning, Groner said. She retired in June 2018.
“She was a passionate teacher, she prepared unbelievably diligently, she was so faithful to the school, to her students, she was so wholehearted and meticulous,” Groner said. “She was just beloved, absolutely beloved, by students and families and the faculty.”
Mrs. Schwartz was “a kind of person that you hope that your children interact with,” said Susan Schuman of Elkins Park, whose son and nieces attended Perelman. “We were very, very fortunate to have crossed paths with her.”
Coworkers, family, and friends loved Mrs. Schwartz’s mandelbrot, cinnamon-sugary cookies that she baked multiple times a week and distributed to anyone who asked for them. She personalized the filling — chocolate chips, butterscotch, espresso chips — for the recipient.
“Everyone just associated her with those cookies,” Michael Schwartz said. “My house just smelled like these cookies at all times. When I would go home, they would be in the oven.”
Mrs. Schwartz loved Dolly Parton; her favorite song was “Coat of Many Colors,” to which she and her son danced at his wedding. Last month, she was speechless when her son and daughter-in-law, who works for NBC, surprised her by arranging a meeting with Parton at a taping of Late Night with Seth Meyers.
“She was really nervous, and Dolly Parton just gave her the biggest hug for so long,” her son recalled. “She couldn’t get a word out, and finally Dolly Parton, in a nice Southern drawl, said, ‘Hey, I said tell me your name right now!’”
Mrs. Schwartz enjoyed traveling and looked for a synagogue wherever she went, her son recalled. She had been looking forward to the birth of her fifth grandchild, due in January.
“Her hobby,” her son said, “was just taking care of her family.”
In addition to her husband and son, survivors include two daughters, Dana Rosner and Yael Schwartz Reichert, and four grandchildren.
Services are planned for 11:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 27, at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, 7763 Old York Rd., Elkins Park.