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Sylvia Heschel, pianist, widow of Jewish scholar

NEW YORK -- Sylvia Straus Heschel -- a pianist and the widow of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the prominent Jewish theologian -- died yesterday at the age of 94, her daughter said.

Mrs. Heschel died in her Manhattan home, according to the daughter, Susannah Heschel.

Abraham Heschel taught Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where he combined deep scholarship with a strong moral passion that led him to march with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to oppose the war in Vietnam.

Sylvia Straus was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Cleveland.

Susannah Heschel said her parents met during World War II in Cincinnati, where her mother was studying the piano with the Polish-born concert pianist Severin Eisenberger and her father, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Poland, was teaching at Hebrew Union College.

"They were both at a dinner party, and my mother was asked to play," Susannah Heschel said. "She played, and he fell in love with her."

Abraham Heschel and Sylvia Straus moved independently to New York, he to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary and she to study with Eduard Steuermann, a pianist and composer.

They met again and married in 1946.

Sylvia Straus Heschel read her husband's speeches before he gave them and traveled widely with him, their daughter said.

The couple attended King's 1968 funeral together and traveled to Italy in 1971, where they had a private audience with Pope Paul VI.

Mrs. Heschel continued to play the piano after her marriage, practicing every day and giving lessons and occasional recitals.

"She loved Brahms and Chopin especially," her daughter said.

She attended to her husband's papers after his death in 1972.

"He was always a living presence in our home," Susannah Heschel said.

In addition to her daughter, who is the Eli Black professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, Mrs. Heschel leaves two granddaughters.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. today at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan.