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Shatzi Weisberger, Lesbian, Activist, and Death Educator, Dies at 92

Shatzi Weisberger

Weisberger worked for many causes, and one of her interests was preparing for death in a conscious and positive fashion.

Shatzi Weisberger, a lesbian, longtime activist for many causes, nurse to people with AIDS, and death educator, died December 1 at age 92 at her apartment in New York City.

Weisberger had wide-ranging interests, and one of them was preparing for death in a conscous and positive fashion. She studied the subject of death intensively and led discussion groups on the subject.

"I really want to experience my dying," she said in 2018, according to The New York Times. "I don't want to die in a car crash or be unconscious. I want to be home, I want to be in my bed, I want to share the experience with anybody who's interested." That statement came at an event she called a "FUN-eral," in which she appeared in a cardboard casket and hosted numerous friends.

In October of this year, she was diagnosed with untreatable pancreatic cancer. She invited the Times to cover her journey to death. She surrounded herself with friends, although toward the end she did not want visitors, and reconnected with her estranged son. She did not wish to take pain medication, but eventually the pain became so extreme that she had to.

"What Shatzi did was weave community around her," friend Claire Raizen told the paper. "Maybe that was the perfect preparation, because we could do it. Was it stressful? Was it a burden? Absolutely. But we did it."

Weisberger worked as a nurse for 47 years, some of which was spent caring for people with AIDS. "My main interest was birth, coming into the world, and death, leaving the world," she told The Advocate in a podcast interview this year. "I wasn't comfortable with death. I was interested in it. And about five or six years ago, I was bored. And I said, 'I have to have a project.' And I thought, I'll become a death educator. So I took a five-month, 70-hour course at the Open Center on thanatology, the art of dying, and I took a hospice course with the New York City visiting nurse service, and I started doing workshops on the art of dying."

She was an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace, Black Lives Matter, the prison abolition movement, the antinuclear movement, and more. She became known as the "People's Bubbie," using a Yiddish term for grandmother, and that was her Twitter handle as well.

"As the great-granddaughter of Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor, organizing is in my blood," she wrote in HuffPost in 2020. "As a white person, I've fought against the redlining of Black communities in Long Island. As a Jew, I've organized for Palestinian freedom. As a lesbian and a daughter of a lesbian, I've struggled against patriarchy and war."

"I was a political lesbian for many years," she said in her Advocate interview. "I just loved being around lesbians. ... I was very much into arguing against nuclear technology. My first demonstration, one of my earlier demonstrations, was here in New York City and we did a die-in along with other people lying on the ground. And I started to cry because I felt that I was in the right place, doing the right things with the right people. I felt very together about it. I have been an activist ever since."

An online Hanukkah celebration to honor her life and legacy will be held Tuesday.

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