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Elaine Kassel  

88, of Needham, MA, passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease on Monday, February 20. Elaine was a world traveler, relentless advocate for Democratic principles, civil rights and women’s causes, an active volunteer in the Needham Public Schools and at Temple Aliyah in Needham, an admirer of Native American cultures, and an outdoor enthusiast. She dedicated her free time to supporting the election of Democrats, defending Jewish causes and immersing herself in the study of culture around the world.

She was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. After earning an undergraduate degree at City University of New York, Elaine held various managerial roles at services firms in the city. In her leisure time, Elaine set out to explore the world at a time when much of the world was still opening up to visitors, and air travel was still in its infancy. Her adventures included road trips (solo and with her girlfriends) through America’s South and across Western Europe, as well as tours of Central America.  

One of Elaine’s passions was skiing. And it was through her New York-based Miramar ski club that she eventually met her husband, the late Jerome (“Jerry”) Kassel. They settled in Boston where Elaine worked within research groups at Harvard University. On weekends and holidays, in their wool sweaters, knickers, leather boots and long wooden skis, they skied the White Mountains, the glaciers of the American West and the European Alps--on more than one occasion with a baby in a backpack. In the warmer months, they would hike and camp in New Hampshire with the Appalachian Mountain Club and friends from their ski club. When adventure beckoned further afield in the late 1960s, they bought a Scotty camper and with their first-born child, David, set off across America, camping in national parks on their way to the West Coast (a place they would eventually visit often to see their children and grandchildren).

With their first two children in tow, the couple moved to Israel in 1971 to “make Aliyah.” Their third child, Michael, was born there. Before bringing the family back to the US, Jerry and Elaine rented a VW Camper in Europe, loaded up the kids and spent months traversing the continent. The trials and tribulations of their European tour in the little white “bus” provided a bottomless well of material for stories at family gatherings. Back in the States, they found a home and embraced the community in Needham. Elaine worked at local adoption agencies and accounting firms, always making time to volunteer in her children’s schools and coordinate fundraising events for musical, sports and youth-group activities.

She became a trusted pillar of support for local, regional and national Democratic candidates, working tirelessly on the election campaigns of Lida Harkins, Cheryl Jacques, Joseph Moakley, Ted Kennedy and Barack Obama, among others. One of her most cherished moments was a hug and “Thank you, Elaine” from Ted Kennedy at a Massachusetts Democratic convention. And a memento she displayed prominently was a signed thank-you card from President-elect Obama. If you didn’t see her holding a candidate’s sign outside a polling place, you would most certainly find her on one of her daily walks around the track at Memorial Field. 

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