Just two months short of her 90th birthday Israel's first woman caricaturist, the ever-chipper, seemingly ageless Friedel Stern, passed away in Tel Aviv from cardiac arrest, mourned by a host of friends, colleagues, fans and students. Some of them had had their first lessons in drawing from Friedel during her over 30 years of teaching in the Visual Communications Department of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. A strict taskmaster with meticulous, sometimes old-fashioned teaching methods and impatience with lack of discipline, Friedel was also known for her enthusiastic encouragement of students' talents. Many of them confess they owe their persistence to succeed to Friedel's confidence in their ability and her insistence they overcome discouraging moments and strive to meet her standards. Arriving in Palestine in 1938, Friedel was one of a group of young Israeli women - along with Esther Herlitz and Tamar Eshel, among others - who in the '40s volunteered to serve in the British army. Her caricatures were often used to camouflage dispatches. Discharged in 1946, she began to apply herself in earnest to her civilian career, becoming a prize-winning cartoonist. Her stories with illustrations were published first in the IDF newspaper Bamahane and later in Davar and in the women's magazine, At, winning her accolades everywhere. Proud of her origins as a yekke (German Jew), her drawing of a yekke under an umbrella irrigating his garden was the talk of a yekke convention held several years ago in Jerusalem. THROUGHOUT the early years of mass immigration Friedel, a would-be actress, acted out her latent thespian ambitions by assuming various roles: dressing up as a housemaid looking for work or as a new immigrant from North Africa going through all the steps of absorption, and then described her experiences in stories and funny drawings in what came to be known as "Friedel's Chalk Talks." Her witty sketches of life in Israel, accompanied by hilarious cartoons, were also presented in In Short, a best-seller of several decades ago, Adam and Eve, a coffee table album, and other publications. Fluent in English, French, German, Yiddish and Spanish as well as Hebrew, she kept audiences in stitches with her presentations both here and abroad. No one who witnessed one of her "Chalk Talks" could help being astounded at the magic and speed with which a line or curve she drew conveyed a subtle insight or mischievous comment about some aspect of Israeli society. Friedel was a regular at cartoonists conventions everywhere, and was often invited as a guest artist. Two years ago she was awarded the Dosh prize for an outstanding caricature in memory of Israel's famous, Hungarian-born cartoonist. For years she commuted between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to meet the demands of her profession. Tireless, irrepressible and undaunted by climbing three flights of stairs - a total of 75 steps each time - to her terrace apartment in the heart of Tel Aviv, Friedel could be seen walking jauntily down the street at different times of the day, her breezy friendliness and wide smile the embodiment of the exuberance that characterized her marvelous images. The unbridled enthusiasm with which she greeted everyone was evidently a spontaneous reaction to the excitement she seemed to feel about being alive. What inspired such enthusiasm and optimism? acquaintances marveled. She was never bored, she often told me. Even doing nothing was enjoyable and interesting. Besides, she confessed, she loved watching people and was tickled by their idiosyncrasies. ALTHOUGH she traveled the world to the most remote places, she never wanted to go back to her native Germany. However, two years ago she gave in to repeated invitations to be a special guest of Leipzig, the city of her birth, at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of the concentrations camps. A red carpet was indeed laid out for her, she admitted afterwards, but she had little else to say. Several days after her passing, Michel Kichka, head of the Association of Israeli Cartoonists, reported being besieged by letters of condolence and cartoons created in memory of Friedel Stern from the annual cartoon festival in Limoges, France, which Friedel attended regularly throughout her lifetime. A site in her name was being established by them as well for a permanent exhibition of her cartoons. The art work Friedel left behind, we learned, will go to Amanut La'am, and her caricatures to the Association of Israeli Cartoonists, which is establishing a special Friedel Stern Archive. After her funeral, because she had no immediate family and there was no shiva, those who had attended gathered at the Tamar Cafe on Shenkin Street, reminiscing and relating amusing anecdotes about Friedel. Another memorial will take place in January, on the day that would have been her 90th birthday. The writer is a free-lance writer who lives in Tel Aviv. For more information, call (03) 620-5580 or (054) 479-0720.