By Cindy MIndell
AVON – Debra Feldman has experienced significant losses in her life, and has created a unique way to memorialize her loved ones and help others do the same – through a keepsake jewelry collection.
When Feldman, who lives in Avon, was a child in suburban New Jersey, her father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “He never complained, giving the family the gift of perseverance, living a long, active life despite physical hardship,” Feldman recalls. “It was my mom, however, who held the family together through good times and bad.”
Feldman moved to the Greater Hartford area to attend the University of Hartford and has never left, graduating with a degree in accounting and landing a job with a CPA firm in Bloomfield.
A couple of years after graduation, Feldman met her future husband, Sam, at the Matzo Ball, an annual Jewish singles’ event once sponsored by the Connecticut Jewish Ledger on Dec. 24 in Hartford. The couple married and joined Beth El Temple in West Hartford, where Debra would meet Sharon Rome Reisner when the two organized a fashion show. The two would later become business partners. Sam was active in the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and served for a decade on the board of Tumble Brook Country Club in Bloomfield.
The couple moved to Avon, where they raised two boys – Joshua, an attorney living in West Hartford, and Jonathan, who will soon enter graduate school at Georgetown University.
In his late 40s, Sam was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a rare, degenerative brain disease with no cure.
“With my mother as a role model, my sons and I were determined not only to survive as a family, but also to thrive,” Feldman says. “Despite heartache and a sense of loneliness dealing with a slow physical and mental deterioration of a husband and father, we did the best we could to continue on with our outside lives.”
When her husband died in 2007 at age 52, Feldman’s friends suggested that she write a book about the family’s experience.
“I decided, however, that I could best share my thoughts and emotions through the creativity of jewelry,” Feldman says. “My idea was to match pieces of sterling silver pendants and charms with personal sentiments. I needed to find a means by which to persevere, as my mother had, and as had other inspirational individuals in my life. I also needed to find a way to help others to do the same. I needed to connect with my past, while looking ahead toward the future. In the end, the message is simple: it’s just our connections and how we are linked.”
Feldman and Reisner launched linked jewelry, joined by Glastonbury Jewelers founder Anthony Panebianco. The first few linked designs tell the story of how Feldman navigated life after losing her husband: “Think outside the box,” “Key to life is balance,” “Live life with grace,” ”Love you day and night” and “Can’t measure love.”
“These connections between keepsakes and sentiments have helped shape my passion for everything I now do,” she says. “I had always thought that I was blessed with a full life, not because of what I possessed, but because of the relationships I shared throughout my life.”
Feldman has served on the board of the West Hartford-based Jewish Children’s Service Organization for more than 25 years, 16 years as treasurer. Every year, she helps out with the organization’s Chanukah Project, using donated funds to fulfill “wish lists” of area Jewish children in need. In addition to donating 10 percent of all proceeds from then on-line sale of her jewelry to the fight against Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (as well as the fight to end Multiple Sclerosis), Feldman offers support to PSP families.