Our community lost a champion and so many lost a dear friend. Queens Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, z”l, passed away this past Shabbos and his death was a terrible shock to all of us.
Upon hearing the tragic news, the outpouring of heartbreak and sadness came as no surprise. After a career of public service, Mikey, as he was affectionately known, had made an army of friends and admirers and his death was painful to absorb.
And why not? He was smart, funny, effective and self-deprecating. Though we in the world of political advocacy looked to him for advice, experience, wisdom and leadership, he never took himself too seriously.
Indeed, an important trait to have as one rises through the ranks of political power. Mike never sought the limelight and always put his constituents first. He was a noble elected official in a sometimes less than noble profession. Mike was a proud father, husband, son and loyal friend.
I grew up with him in Queens where we attended Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe some 35 years ago. A well-liked person who always made us laugh, who could have known that Mikey would rise to become such a beloved communal figure too? Just goes to show how each child, given the proper upbringing, can achieve incredible personal and professional success if given the opportunity.
Michael understood that he was fortunate and used those opportunities to help others. He grew up in a wonderful house full of chessed, middos, love of Eretz Yisrael and love of Am Yisrael. As a child, I spent some time with them, and I always admired the Simanowitz family from Forest Hills. They were proud Jews, devoted to their community and always giving back. That spirit of giving was evident in Michael and lives on with his beautiful family.
Traveling the three hours plus to Albany to advocate on behalf of the community is not as exciting as it might appear. Behind the endless photo ops and press releases, the work is extremely tough, tedious, time-consuming and, more often than not, frustrating. Knowing that we had a true friend in the Assembly who literally lived the fight we were waging on behalf of tuition-paying yeshivah parents inspired us to work even harder.
Seeing Michael in the hallways always brought a smile to my face and a bear hug from him. Having him on our side was a game changer. I was proud to call him my friend and I never tired of telling everyone that we were classmates in yeshivah, growing up.
A few years ago my assemblywoman, Helene Weinstein, tried to introduce us. We both laughed and told Helene that we go back almost 40 years. Though the hard advocacy work on behalf of the community soldiers on, those of us in the trenches will truly miss Mikey. Having allies like Mike Simanowitz empowered us. He was one of only a handful of effective representatives working on our behalf in Albany and his absence will be deeply felt.
Always wearing his yarmulka unapologetically, Mike was universally respected and admired in the halls of government, no small feat in a town well known for less than stellar behavior. Politics is a rough contact sport but as New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said so well at the funeral, “Mike was the gold standard for an elected official.”
Truth be told, we’ve now lost a powerful advocate for our issues. Allies like Mike Simanowitz are nearly impossible to replace. We will have to work that much harder now and the burden falls ever heavier on the dedicated elected officials we are fortunate to still have. Mike would be the first one to tell us, so work harder.
I know I join all who knew him in expressing my deepest condolences to the Simanowitz family and pray that Mike be a mailetz yosher for them and all of us and continue his advocacy on our behalf in Shamayim.
We will miss you, dear friend, and, yes, we will work ever harder. Yehi zichro baruch.
Mr. Bennett is a member of the Board of Trustees, Agudath Israel of America