Zelda Kaplan, women’s rights activist and beloved nightlife darling, died Wednesday, February 15, in New York City of natural causes. She was 95.
A global traveler, particularly to villages in remote Africa, Ms. Kaplan educated members of the local communities on women’s equality. Founding the World Cultures Council, Ms. Kaplan focused on the concerns of female genital mutilation and inheritance rights. For over three decades she immersed herself into the tribal cultures, which influenced her exotic style and worldly views.
Born June 20, 1916, to Russian immigrants in Flemington, New Jersey, Ms. Kaplan was the eldest of four daughters. Her father was Barnet Berkowitz, a horse and cattle dealer. She studied law at Rutgers and married twice before moving to New York City in the 1960s.
Ms. Kaplan, a former ballroom dance instructor and excellent golfer, was enthralled by the youthfulness of the city’s nightlife. Being a regular at the Copacabana, she became close to Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. For nearly half a century she was a fixture at various art openings, fashion shows and nightclubs.
An adamant supporter of education, Ms. Kaplan took it upon herself to learn all that was presented to her. Her sincere curiosity for other people made her universally loved. During her last years, she hosted Sunday night dinners where a diverse group of friends and family from around the world would gather. She truly lived every day of her life with complete happiness until her final moment.
Ms. Kaplan’s island connection is through her niece, Barbara Binder. The documentary film “Her Name is Zelda” was shown at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival in 2006.
Ms. Kaplan is survived by her sisters Ruth Berkowitz of New York City, Shirley Dworkin of Hingham, nieces Betsy Ann Harris of Irving, Texas, Barbara Binder of Edgartown, and nephews Jonathan Dworkin of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and Stephen Kaplan of Texas, grandnephews Benny Binder of Edgartown and Steven Dworkin of Poughkeepsie.
Private funeral services were held on Sunday in Flemington, New Jersey, and her memorial was held Sunday evening in New York City.