Calling him “the Mayor of Jackson Heights,” Councilman Daniel Dromm announced that community leader Steven Knobel died earlier this month at age 77.
Originally raised in Far Rockaway, Knobel moved to Jackson Heights in 1973 after marrying his wife, Suzanne. Knobel became an activist with the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights and served as its president for more than 20 years.
“I join thousands of Jackson Heights residents in honoring the memory of Steve Knobel, a beloved civic leader and ‘Mayor’ of Jackson Heights,” Dromm said. “As longtime president of the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, he understood the importance of community service.”
On its centennial, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recognized the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights in a speech from the House floor in November, calling it a “community anchor.”
“The center was founded as the Queens Independent Society in 1920 when a few Jewish families looked for a space to congregate in Jackson Heights,” Ocasio-Cortez said during her speech. “It was first called the Queens Independent Society because the term ‘Jewish’ was not permitted at the time. The original building itself was based in Woodside because at the time Jews were not welcome in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights.”
In 1928, the center was able to rename itself the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights and in the late 1950s, they officially moved their brick-and-mortar home into the community they are today. Its current location at the corner of 37th Avenue and 77th Street opened in 2000.
Knobel was proud of the many programs the Jewish Center offered over the years, which included piano lessons for children, ESL classes for immigrants, tutoring sessions for young people, “Broadway & Bagel” performances, lectures, opera concerts and more, according to Dromm. He was a strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and Knobel was especially proud that the Queens Center for Gay Seniors is housed at the Jewish Center.
“Under Steve’s leadership, the Jewish Center was a safe place for all and a true microcosm of Jackson Heights,” Dromm said. “As a Conservative Jewish congregation, LGBTQ nonprofit organizations, a law firm and a Pentecostal church were all welcome there. I will miss Steve’s roguish sense of humor and, most of all, his spirit of service. My heart goes out to his surviving wife, Suzanne, who herself is a mainstay in the neighborhood.”
Dromm added that Knobel made everyone he met in the center feel welcome. Although Knobel faced multiple health issues and challenges over the last few years, “he always had a smile on his face and maintained a positive attitude, even after becoming a bilateral amputee, he never lost his good nature and his passion for community service,” Dromm said.
A graveside service for Knobel was held Jan. 8 at Montefiore Cemetery in Springfield Gardens.