The oldest of eight children born to an impoverished Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bernice Silver overcame health battles she faced as a young girl to live the long life of a centenarian. She passed away on April 18 due to complications resulting from COVID-19.

She was born on Oct. 7, 1913, in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn to Sam and Frances Silver. A diminutive woman—she never surpassed 5 feet—she spent time as a saleswoman, like her father, peddling items from encyclopedias to hair-care products.

Silver used her business savvy and ease with people to become involved in what eventually proved to be one of her life’s callings: standing up for others. In the 1930s, she joined strike after strike calling for worker reform and benefits—her passion for equality and justice a prominent part of her Jewish background.

Trained as a teacher, she enjoyed the company of children, perhaps connected to her role as oldest sibling. Silver took up puppeteering and acting related to it. Using her skills, she created fast-paced, narrative-driven shows to educate her viewers about history, the environment and issues related to social justice.

Her fame spread within the singular industry, leading John Bell, director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, to tell The New York Times upon her passing that Silver “was a beloved central figure in American puppetry.”

In her later years, she moved from her apartment in New York City to the Lillian Booth Actors Home in New Jersey, an assisted-living facility and initiative of the nonprofit Actors Fund to help entertainers and performers in their old age.

The Bernice Silver Appreciation Society was formed in her honor.

Though unmarried and without children, Silver was surrounded by people through her final years, remaining active and social, always with the widest of smiles.

She is survived by extended family.

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