Sylvia J. Neal passed away peacefully on September 30, 2014,  following a lengthy illness. Born Sylvia Weisberg in the borough of Brooklyn, New York on May 22, 1935, she married the love of her life, Danny Neal, in 1954. Together, they had four children: Bruce, Harry, Steven, and Laurie. Sylvia and Danny moved west, settling in first in North Hollywood, then later in Santa Clarita (then known as Saugus). Sylvia graduated with honors and a teaching credential from California State Northridge in 1966, but her plans to teach elementary school were postponed for a few years as she recovered from a severe automobile accident that nearly took her life. Danny’s career took the young family northward again to Bakersfield in 1973, where Sylvia began her long tenure as a fourth grade teacher at Del Rio Elementary School. She was very pleased to be able to teach long enough to see many of the children of her former students in her classroom. Sylvia was active at Temple Beth El for many years, and was a proud member of the Red Hat Society, traveling to many local and regional Red Hat events. Active politically, she traveled to New York City in 1980 to make a speech promoting health care at the presidential nominating convention in Madison Square Garden. Sylvia loved life and in her later years enjoyed many adventures, including flying in a glider, rafting the white water of the Colorado River, going up in a hot air balloon, and she even traveled to Houston to spend a week at Space Camp where she fulfilled a life-long dream of flying a simulated space shuttle mission. Sylvia is survived by her husband, four children, her brother Robert Weisberg, and her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She touched the lives of everyone she knew and was loved by all those who knew her. She will be dearly missed by her many friends and family members.

 Dear Sarah

I am so very sorry to hear that your grandmother passed away. My name is Janet Zaldua and in 1984 Mrs. Neal was my fourth grade teacher at Rosedale Elementary School. To this day she has been and will always be my favorite teacher. I will never ever forget her.

This morning I did a Google search for Sylvia Neal because I wanted to see if she still lived in Bakersfield I believe it was on Dana Court.

I have often thought about her over the years and I wanted to send her a letter to let her know that I was going to travel to Israel in September. I wanted her to know that she had always instilled in me a very special love for Israel and for the Jewish people. I remember when we would celebrate Hanukkah in her classroom and she would give all of the kids dreidels and we would light the menorah candles. I am a Christian but I have a deep love for the Jewish people. I remember her son was a rabbi and came to our school several times and tought us about the Holocaust. I was always so fascinated with Mrs .Neal. I loved her.

When I was in my early 20s I went back to Rosedale school to visit my favorite teacher during Chanukkah . I surprised her by taking her and her classroom a Hanukkah cake with a gold star of David on it. And I wrote Mrs. Neal a letter because I wanted her to know how much she meant to me. I will never forget her smile and her laugh and her tenacity and her spunk. I bumped into her husband sometime after that and he told me that when she got home and she read my letter that she cried. It meant a lot to her that she had such an impact on her student.

I am not sure if you still live in Israel. But when I make my trip there in September depending on where you live perhaps we can meet up for dinner and give a toast to my favorite teacher Mrs. Neal. I will be there for two weeks with the tour group that is called "tours through the book. " One of the tour guide's lives in Israel and their mother lives in Redondo Beach. She goes to my church and they have an organization in Isreal called Exodus Limited. It's been around for 40 years . They provide coats to the Israeli soldiers in the winter and they also provide assistance to Isreali orphans. It's a wonderful organization.

Anyway I just wanted you to know that your grandmother touched so many lives throughout the years. You are so lucky to have had such a wonderful grandmother. She was one of a kind.

I wish you and your family the very best.

Janet Zaldua

This is a day we all knew would come. But still, we never prepare for it. Some people come in to our lives and quietly go away. Others stay for a while and leave footprints in our hearts and we’re never the same because of them. My mother was such a person. She gave us strength in times of weakness. She gave us courage in time of fear. And, she gave her love unconditionally in times of doubt. You could always come to her in times of need, and she was always there, and she gave the best she had to give. I asked Sylvia recently how I could ever repay all she had done for me in my life. Her answer was simple: be good to others, be good to your classroom students, and give back to other people whenever you can. I hope to honor her memory by doing so. My mother would not approve of today being about our despair because her time here has passed. Rather, she would prefer that today be a celebration of a long life well lived. I intend to abide by her wishes and try my best to remember fondly all that she accomplished in her life, despite the odds often being stacked against her. And I hope you will, too. She lived a life of contradictions. She was told, “you’re too young to marry the man you love,” but she did it anyway and it sure worked out well for 60 years. She was told, “you will never finish college with four children to raise,” but somehow, she persevered and she did. She was told, “You cannot attend your college graduation,” when she was hospitalized following a car accident that nearly took her life. But with the help of an ambulance, my father, her determination, and an electric cart – somehow she did. She was told, “you will never walk again,” but by the strength of her will she pulled herself up from her wheelchair and did, for more than 40 years. She was told, “You can’t teach elementary school. It is too physically demanding for you,” but she did – for a long, long time. Long enough, in fact, to teach some of the children of her students. She was told, “I’m sorry, but it is not likely that you will live much past 60 years,” but she did. And in the years after she turned 60 she did and accomplished more than many people do in their entire lifetimes: she flew in a hot air balloon. She went to Houston to Space Camp and flew a simulated space shuttle mission. She went up in a glider, and she rafted the white water of the Roaring Fork River in Colorado. She went to Alaska. She traveled to Hawaii. She even went to Israel and climbed to the top of Masada. There were trips to Colorado, Arkansas, New York, and Florida. And in hopes of making us laugh, she sent out emails by the thousands, many of them not safe to open at work. It is true that her will to continue on wavered near the end. She tried hard to hang on to what she had left for the sake of my father, but sadly it was not to be. Yes, there is a deep sense of loss and sorrow in times like this. But you know, there couldn’t be sorrow without a lot of happiness, too. Every time I think of my mother and the long,  full life she lived, I will smile. I hope you do, too.

Steven Neal

Hesped for Sylvia Neal, 30 September 2014 / 6 Tishri 5775

Delivered by Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein of Temple Beth El, Bakersfield, California

Mourn me not with tears, ashes or sackcloth, Nor dwell in darkness, sadness, or remorse. Remember that I love you, and wish for you a life of song. My immortality, if there be such for me, is not in tears, blame, or self-recrimination. But the joy you give to others, in raising the fallen And loosening the fetters of the bound. In your loyalty to God’s special children – the widow, the orphan, The poor, the stranger in your gates, the weak – I take pride. …the dead have no mitzvot…but you can choose, you can act, you can transform the world. My immortality is bound up with God’s eternity, with God’s justice, truth, and righteousness. And that eternity is strengthened by your loyalty and your love. Honor me with laughter and with goodness. With these, the better part of me lives on beyond the grave. We have lost another matriarch. A sister, a wife, a mother in many ways to many people, not only to her own; a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Sylvia Neal was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 22, 1935, where she was raised along with her brother, Bob. She and Dan met at a party when she was but a tender 16 years of age. She was sitting in an armchair looking, he said, “unattached,” so he walked over and sat right in her lap. Another girl might have been appalled or embarrassed. Not Sylvia. They did wait three years to get married, initially against parental wishes – Dan, after all, was not Jewish. But he agreed to learn, and did eventually complete his conversion years later in California. The Neals’ 60th wedding anniversary was just this past weekend. Life for the young newlyweds was – well, migratory. Dan was in the Navy when they wed. Their first child, Bruce, was born in New York; they were blessed with Harry when they settled in Rhode Island, when Dan was stationed there. When Dan left the Navy, he took a job at a radio station in New Mexico, which is where Steve was added to the family. Dan’s gig there didn’t last, so the family headed to California, and Laurie completed the tribe. Initially they settled in North Hollywood, but Sylvia was convinced that the school system was better in then-tiny Saugus, so they moved there. Commuting in those days was no big deal, so Danny commuted to work, while Sylvia furthered her education at Cal State Northridge, ultimately earning her degree and teaching credential. The April prior to her graduation, in 1966, Sylvia was involved in a horrific auto accident. Limbs were broken or shattered in multiple places; her skull, jaw, and more were badly damaged. When she arrived at the emergency room, she was not expected to live; they covered her in bandages and did no more for the night. But Sylvia proved to be made out of two things: rubber and steel. No one was more resilient, or stronger. The doctors decided they had do their best to rebuild her. That process required, initially, some 48 surgeries, with another sixteen to follow in the years to come. Dan and the kids quickly became self-sufficient, though other family members did come to their aid as needed. When graduation day arrived, her doctors forbade her from rising from her bed. So her family pushed Sylvia –all the way across the campus, and down the aisle in her hospital bed, so that she could triumphantly collect her diploma. Upon her recovery, Sylvia started her teaching career as a substitute. In 1973, Dan was offered a position at a TV station in Bakersfield. So one last time, the Neals uprooted and resettled. Sylvia was ultimately hired to teach at Discovery Elementary in the Rosedale School district, where she taught fourth grade for eighteen years – long enough to endear herself to many students, and to have her students’ children pass through her classroom. Sylvia was, by all accounts, not only a fine teacher, but a rather amazing mom. The entire neighborhood of children was always welcome in her house; Danny once came home to a total of 30. If they were playing ball outside, Sylvia was playing; if hide and seek was the game, she played that too. As the kids grew, the Neals’ parenting philosophy was, they are going to try stuff – better they should try it at home, rather than require a rescue someplace else. The household was never materially wealthy, but Sylvia knew how to stretch a dollar, and her children never lacked. She could make a pound of hamburger feed her family of six, and still have leftovers. And while other kids may have had more toys, nobody had more fun than the Neals. One thing was sacrosanct: the dinner hour. Whatever was going on, everyone reported to the family dinner table at 6:00. No television, no radio. Even when Sylvia was laid up, or Dan had to work late, the kids put dinner on the table themselves. The Neal children were expected to take home economics, along with cotillion; they learned how to cook, how to stitch the tears in their own blue jeans, do their chores and their own laundry, too. Messes were made, big time- plenty of food hit the floor and other surfaces, too, in the occasional food fight. But the perpetrators had to pitch in and scrub the walls and floors afterward. To Sylvia’s way of thinking, the dinner hour, along with family trips in the car, were always educational opportunities . There were awareness games and memory exercises, license plate and geography tests in the car, and practices of one’s powers of concentration, such as the infamous spoon pass, in which each member of the clan in turn had to add an item from their plate to the spoon, until something dropped – at which point, the dropper had to eat all the food left on the spoon. Besides her family and her career, Sylvia loved to be social; she loved parties, jokes and pranks. April Fools’ Day was her holiday; she was never without a stunt to pull on her family. One year, she persuaded her neighbor to call the house and announce that a flood was imminent, and that they should wrap all the telephones in towels and prepare mops and buckets. Other times, she would claim it was snowing when it wasn’t. That one backfired the one time that it actually did snow, as no one believed her. Years later, when she was no longer capable of hosting or attending parties, Sylvia compensated by filling everyone’s email boxes with jokes – some of them perhaps a little too blue to be shared, say, in the workplace. Due to a prior encounter in which she greatly impressed Ted Kennedy, Sylvia was invited by him to address the Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden in 1980 regarding the need for national healthcare reform. Sylvia was certainly well-acquainted with the inadequacies of the system at the time, and was an eloquent spokeswoman for the cause. It was definitely a highlight experience for her. Bruce was her chaperone for the event, as Danny was by that time a Reagan Republican. Sylvia’s teaching career would have been longer, but her battered and reconstructed body was tiring and not up to the motion required – and though she was offered administrative duty, even a principalship, she refused; her heart was ever in the classroom. She retired in 1992, and promptly became an active member of the Retired Teachers’ Association, where she made herself beloved to many colleagues. Because Sylvia loved a good time and never took herself too seriously, she also joined the Red Hat Society. At Temple Beth El, Sylvia Neal served for years on our Sisterhood board, and on our Jewish Child Center board as well, with great distinction. Many of us fondly recall the creative and educational Rosh Hodesh programs she planned and ran for the women of our congregation. Whatever she put her hand to, Sylvia was always passionate, articulate, and fun. Let us mourn Sylvia, not with sadness or remorse, but with laughter and goodness. As she gave joy to us, so may we bring joy – and a touch of her kindness and wisdom – to others.

This past Thursday night Debra and I hosted a wine and chocolate night at our home in memory of Grandma. It was Rosh Chodesh (the new month) and so we hosted women from our community for a night of learning, laughter, and chocolate. The ladies loved it! They also loved hearing about the woman that we all loved (still love) so dearly. Debra captured the majority of the little talk I gave about her life. I seem to have hit the highlights. I hope that you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed talking about her.

With much love to you all...


Please click below:

 From Sarah,

Let me begin by saying that years ago my grandma told me (and apparently everyone else too), that when she passed on she wanted her life celebrated and not mourned. She wanted bright colors worn, and lots of flowers. She would say, don't be sad for my life. Celebrate it. Well here we all are, ready to celebrate you. Alisa, Debra, David and I have been calling each other everyday sharing stories and memories of you. Afterall you are the same person who sent the entire 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy to me, making sure that Debra delivered it to me in Israel. My friends there couldn't believe that it was a gift from my grandma. From then on, you were referred to as my “50 Shades Grandma”. Everyday for the last 4 years of living in Israel, I have thought about you. You are my strength and inspiration. I tell people that my grandma is not the typical grandma to me. You are like my soul sister. You are like my mother. Our connection is beyond words, beyond space, beyond time, beyond regular understanding. We have the most special connection. I am so blessed to be so much like you. I love you so much and I thank Gd everyday that my childhood was spent in Bakersfield with you and grandpa. You two have been the lights of my life. I have a vision of you in my mind. I remember one time, we were sitting in your dining room chatting. You were telling me stories of your younger days in New York dating and dancing until the sun came up. You told me that you would dance the Charleston in 3" high heels. Since, at that time, that was a dance I had never heard of, you got up and stood near the counter and showed me. We laughed and joked together, perhaps I even showed you how to 'tootsie roll'. That is my vision of you. Dancing in the kitchen. When I think of you and grandpa, I also have a picture of dancing in my mind. I can see you gliding across the floor and swaying in rhythm like the swells of the ocean. In a crowded dance floor you would embrace each other, looking into each other's eyes with so much love that it seemed like the rest of the world would stop and just melt away. In my mind it's the purest expression of true love. Our grandma was so filled with love that she didn't believe in the term "step" or even "in law" for that matter. No one was "just" family by marriage. They are simply family. She wasn't just filled with love, she radiated it and drew people to her like a light attracting fireflies on a warm summer's night. This light would illuminate even the darkest of doubts and her positivity would shine like a lighthouse. Our beacon of home. My life has been filled with love and laughter and dancing thanks to you both. Every memory I have is a good one and I tell people stories about how lucky I am to have grandparents like you. I pray that one day I will have the honor to be the type of grandma that you have been for me. There is no greater love I have felt in my life than the love I feel for you. I can't wrap my mind around the reality of a world without you in it. I feel your presence though. I feel it so strongly sometimes that I feel like you're right next to me. I talk to you in those moments Today, which happens to be the day we begin Yom Kippur, I ask your forgiveness for not seeing you one more time. For not being able to hold your hand and say "Shema" together one last time before you left us. סלך ליSlach li”. (Forgive Me) I have one real regret in my life. It's that one day, Gd willing, I will get married and that man won't know you. Will not have met you. How can such a thing be? I picture you dancing at my wedding, and holding my children in your arms. I promise you that they will know your memory. They will remember a great woman whom they will never get the chance to meet. I'm so sorry for that missed opportunity. Grandma, you were and are loved by generations, but HaShem called you home. You no longer have to suffer. You are at peace. Your peace brings me peace too. You deserve the rest. We are lucky to have known our grandparents as young people. I, myself, was born when my grandma was only 46 years old. Only a short 14 years earlier she survived a horrific accident when she was hit by a drunk driver. Her children were so young and despite all odds she fought to stay with us. She fought to stay with her husband and children, her future grandchildren and great grandchildren. She fought for life and she enjoyed every extra moment HaShem granted her. For us grandchildren she was truly an eschet chayil, a woman of valor. Her tenacity taught us the value of a smile and laughter even in the toughest situations. She was the truest role model of what a woman... a lady, should be. To know Sylvia J. Neal was to know that she was the biggest choco-holic I've ever known. I wish I had some beautiful analogy about chocolate to realyl depict this love, but all I can say is thank you for sharing your love and of course for sending us boxes of See’s candies. We'll try to save that chocolate mousse for you. It is said that the true tzadeekim (the righteous ones) pass on between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. Well, you were a tzadeekah. Your soul is now free of your earthly body and may the merit of your life, your husband, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren raise your neshama to the highest levels of heaven.

Devoted member, Red Hat Society




Letter from Sylvia to Bob, January, 1969, Just prior to Doris and Bob getting married.


Lifelong Democrat!


Anyone interested in contributing additional photos or words to this memorial page for Sylvia can do so by sending them to the following email address: