Esther Kay Apter, who met and consoled generations of mourners at the Philip Apter and Sons Funeral Home, died Feb. 1. She was 89.
The funeral home was a fixture in the community for generations, passed from father to son. Founded in 1902 in Newark by Philip Apter, an immigrant from Russia, it began on Prince Street, moved to Stratford Place, and then, in 1960, under her husband Howard’s leadership, moved to Maplewood, where it remained until he sold it in 1984.
(In 2001, Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Chapel — for which Esther served as a community relations consultant — moved to its current location in Livingston.)
Esther Apter could often be found at the side of her husband, who was president of the funeral home. Her son Andrew said that for many years, it was his mother who was the standard-bearer of the office.
When Esther and Howard married, both were aspiring artists. After she graduated from Hillside High School in 1942, she headed for Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and received a certificate in advertising and design. Howard was an oil painter who also went to art school.
He eventually went to embalming school and joined the family business. For most of her life, Esther was a stay-at-home mother, but both she and her husband painted throughout their lives. She worked briefly as a braille translator in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and joined Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman after her husband died in 2002.
Esther was active in the arts and took part in art exhibitions at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, where the Apters were members for more than 50 years.
The Apters were also active fund-raisers for UJA, traveling on UJA missions, including to the Golan Heights in the 1970s. A 1975 article in The Jewish News, a forerunner of NJJN, called Esther and Howard “Metropolitan New Jersey Jewish Leaders.”
Esther and Howard raised Andrew and his brother, Stevan, in Springfield, Verona, and later Maplewood. They were avid travelers, who flew to Europe on the Concorde and visited places often “before they were fashionable,” according to Andrew, including China, India, Nepal, Iran, Greece, Croatia, Europe, Turkey, Egypt, and Japan. They also traveled to Russia to visit with refuseniks, activists in the movement to free Soviet Jewry.
Esther, “raised in a tough environment” in Hillside, the daughter of Russian immigrants, was “very street-smart,” Andrew said. But “she was also charming and fair-minded.” She was a member of the communist party in Greenwich Village when she was 17 or 18, according to Andrew, when it was “the thing to do.” And she stayed abreast of current events throughout her life, he said.
When she was a teenager, she cared for her sister Anita, who died at 14 from leukemia. “My mother missed her terribly,” said Andrew.
If the funeral business was handed down through the men in the family, literature was passed down through the women. Esther inherited her love for reading from her mother, a Russian literature enthusiast, and her son Stevan became a writer.
In addition to Stevan and his wife, Rebecca, of Pound Ridge, NY, and Andrew and his wife, Inka, of Springfield, she is survived by a sister, Laura Shandler, and her husband, Barry of Monroe Township; and a grandson, Noah.
A private graveside funeral was held Feb. 4 at B’nai Abraham Memorial Park in Union.