South African animal rights activist dies at 92

Vegetarian since age 9, Friedstein was one of first in Israel to encourage spaying and neutering.

Hilda Friedstein 370 (photo credit: Courtesy SPCA)
Hilda Friedstein 370
(photo credit: Courtesy SPCA)
After devoting much of her 92 years to saving the lives of helpless animals, South African immigrant and longtime Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals chairwoman Hilda Friedstein died on Wednesday.
Friedstein had served as the head of Tel Aviv’s Israel SPCA flagship site for 35 years, beginning in 1970. During her tenure there as well as both before and after as a volunteer, Friedstein worked tirelessly to raise public awareness about animal suffering and was a pioneer in defending the rights of Israel’s animals, according to the SPCA.
“Mainly her life became animals, but she was much more than that,” Hilma Shmoshkovitz, the current chairwoman of the association, told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening.
Shmoshkovitz, who knew Friedstein very well on a personal and professional level, said that she was also a dedicated piano player, painter, gardener and tennis champion.
Friedstein was born in South Africa in 1920 to a family that had emigrated from Lithuania at the beginning of the 19th century.
As a young girl, she quickly developed social awareness and sensitivity for the downtrodden, and became a vegetarian at the age of 9. In 1942, she came to Israel with her husband Kalman, where they were among the founders of Kibbutz Shoval.
“She and her husband were the last ones who got a house because their tent was always nice and neat with flowers – it was a home,” Shmoshkovitz said. “That was Hilda.”
Friedstein quickly became active in the SPCA, and was one of the first in Israel to encourage and subsidize surgical spaying and neutering of pets, according to SPCA. She also led public campaigns and legal action against harsh living conditions for animals and against experimentation on them.
Friedstein was so dedicated to saving animals that Shmoshkovitz recalled one day before the age of cell phones, when the two of them were on their way home from work together and ended up distracted for hours by some dead cats and dogs along the road.
“Hours later both husbands were furious with us,” Shmoshkovitz said.
Over the years, Friedstein raised dozens of dogs, all of whom were vegetarians like she was and reached old age.
“Her dogs, old dogs, are now with her son and daughter-in-law,” Shmoshkovitz told the Post. “She said, ‘I take dogs that nobody wants.’”
When some of her dogs died a couple of years ago, Friedstein took on yet two more from the SPCA who were already at an advanced age. “It was not easy for her,” Shmoshkovitz noted.
Shmoshkovitz credits Friedstein with creating the “solid foundation” that the SPCA thrives off of today, stressing how the older woman had acted as a mentor to her for many years.
“She was always trying to learn something about the animals,” Shmoshkovitz said.