‘Helping Others Fed His Soul’


A few months before he began classes at Brandeis University two decades ago, Michael Kenwood was injured in an auto accident.

Though a wrist was deeply lacerated, his main memory of the incident, he would recall later, was a feeling of “helplessness” he experienced when unable to assist two friends in his car and the driver of the other car. He pledged to learn the skills he would need “should another medical emergency ever confront me again.”

Mr. Kenwood, who grew up in Rockland County and New Jersey’s Franklin Lakes, joined the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps during his college years and served as a volunteer emergency medical technician for most of his life, which ended on Aug. 28 during a rescue attempt in central New Jersey during Hurricane Irene.

A 39-year-old intellectual property attorney and owner of a computer consulting business in East Windsor, N.J., he was the fourth known member of the Jewish community who died as a result of the hurricane; the others were David Reichenberg, a businessman from Spring Valley who was electrocuted while rescuing a child from a fallen power line; Rozalia Gluck, a Holocaust survivor who was swept away by flooding while vacationing in the Catskills and Dr. Peter Engel, a psychiatrist from Cross River, N.Y., who lost his life while rafting on the Croton River.

Mr. Kenwood, who lived in East Windsor, answered an early-morning call on Aug. 28 at the headquarters of the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad when a report came in of a submerged vehicle on darkened Rosedale Road in Princeton Township, awash in a flash flood from the overflowing Stony Brook Creek. He and a fellow PFARS member, tethered together, wearing helmets and flotation vests, approached the car, whose lights were flashing — the vehicle later turned out to be abandoned, its lights flashing because of a short circuit — but were called back to land, still about 250 feet from the vehicle, when the current became too strong.

The pair lost their footing, their line became snagged and they became separated; Mr. Kenwood’s partner made his way back safely to dry land, but Mr. Kenwood, who had training in swift water rescues, was carried away; he was pulled unconscious from the water a few minutes later and never regained consciousness, the Times of Trenton reported.

“He loved life and he loved helping people,” Sheila Kenwood Lobel, Mr. Kenwood’s mother, told the Central Jersey News. “He would drive me crazy telling me after the fact of bungee jumping off a bridge, sky diving or double black skiing. He loved new adventures.”

“Volunteering and helping others fed his soul, and he enjoyed the ability to make a difference in peoples’ lives,” Peter Simon, president of the rescue squad and a friend of Mr. Kenwood since their days as suitemates at Brandeis University, said at Mr. Kenwood’s funeral. “It is of some comfort to know that he died doing what he loved.

“Michael and I enjoyed multiple years riding on the ambulance during the Christmas shifts,” Simon said. “Since it wasn’t ‘our’ holiday, our affectionately named ‘Jew crew’ wanted to make sure that other members of our squad could enjoy the holiday with their families.”

A capacity throng of 700 people, including emergency technicians in uniform who saluted the casket — some from as far away as Baltimore and Boston — attended Mr. Kenwood’s funeral at the Robert Shoem Menorah Chapel in Paramus, said Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor, where Mr. Kenwood, his wife, Elizabeth Frenkel, and their 3-year-old daughter, were members.

“He was a hero. He deeply cared about his community,” said Rabbi Kornsgold, who delivered a eulogy at Mr. Kenwood’s funeral.

Mr. Kenwood, who received PFARS’ Extra Mile Award during his first year on the squad three years ago, was described by friends and relatives at the funeral as a dedicated cook and physical fitness buff who frequently performed pro bono legal work, mentored younger EMT volunteers and served as the squad’s information technology administrator.

“He was a tremendous asset to the organization,” said Greg Paulson, the squad’s deputy director. He was very dedicated.”

“He had a good sense of humor. He was enthusiastic about everything he did,” Rabbi Kornsgold said. “Clearly, he knew the risk” that his work in emergency rescue volunteering posed. “He just had a genuine love of people.”

E-mail: steve@jewishweek.org