Hilde Staniulis’ path to JNF-USA took her around the world.
Sometimes gifts come so well wrapped that you had no idea what was in the box. Such was the gift of Hilde Staniulis, a remarkable Chicago woman who led a remarkable life. At her death in October 2020, she was 100 years old, and though her legacy gift to Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) was substantial, the legacy she left behind to her family was just as significant. The family didn’t know about her commitment to JNF-USA; it was quite a surprise, but upon reflection, it made perfect sense.
Hilde Staniulis’ path to JNF-USA took her around the world. Born in Germany in 1920, she became in active in HaBonim, a Zionist youth organization. As a teenager, Hilde led groups, took outings, and learned about Palestine as she gradually prepared to leave Germany with the rise of the Nazis. Hilde’s father, always a worrier and a planner, could sense what was coming and got the entire family out of Germany in stages, with himself finally arriving in the U.S. in 1939 with his wife.
In 1937, Hilde emigrated to Palestine and life there was much like the other chalutzim (pioneers) who came to the Jewish homeland in the early years. She lived in an agricultural school, picking crops, working the laundry, and digging irrigation ditches. Ultimately, at her father’s insistence, Hilde came to the U.S. in 1941, and settled in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago and never left. Hilde loved to learn and always took courses that interested her. One summer day in 1960, she attended a course on leading “Great Books,” and met a shy, handsome young accountant sitting across from her, Dominic Staniulis. In 1962 they married, and Dominic accompanied Hilde on her only trip back to Israel.
Barbara Kaufmann, a social services administrator, and Miriam Singer, a retired corporate attorney, are two of Hilde’s nieces. Reminiscing about their aunt, they mentioned three guiding principles of her legacy that were passed on: Family is important above all, enjoy life, and be fiercely independent. Through her travels, books, and spending time with the growing next generation, she held these principles to the end.
Visits to Hilde’s always included a big Sunday brunch, “a big production,” said Miriam. Those brunches were only a part of Hilde’s artistic side. Ever since she was a young girl, she worked in photography studios, both in Palestine and America. Exploring her interest in music, she mastered the recorder and went on to play with the Chicago Chapter of the American Recorder Society for 50 years.
Hilde kept a deep, physical connection to the land of Israel throughout her life. From her years in working in agriculture in Palestine, she became an ardent Zionist and forged an unbreakable connection to her Jewish roots and the Jewish people. Throughout the decades, she kept in touch with Israeli friends via extensive correspondence. Upon her passing, Hilde named Jewish National Fund-USA a beneficiary under her will, cementing her legacy and connection to the land and people of Israel from overseas in Hyde Park.
To learn more about the many ways you can leave your legacy with Jewish National Fund-USA, visit jnflegacy.org or call 800.562.7526