Mrs. Hassenfeld, formerly of Providence, lived in both New York City and Palm Beach, FL. She was been widely recognized as an outstanding civic, cultural, and philanthropic leader of international communal services for more than 40 years.
Sylvia was once described as "one of the most significant leaders in the American Jewish community of the twentieth century." Follwing her marriage to Merrill Hassenfeld, Sylvia became active in Jewish affairs. She was influenced by the Hassenfeld family’s traditional involvement in Jewish religious and community life in Providence, as well as in Zionism. While raising her children and serving on the board of directors at Hasbro, Sylvia became increasingly active in the Providence Jewish Federation, eventually becoming president. Her involvement with the Providence Jewish Federation led to her roles in the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds and other national and international Jewish organizations. Her most significant contribution was as President of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for non-sectarian humanitarian work. She oversaw the development of social service, health, religious, and educational programs in the Czech Republic, Armenia, Hungary, Russia, Austria, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria, among other nations. She also represented the Joint Distribution Committee in African and the Middle Eastern countries with a Jewish population during the time when thousands of Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel. In 1994 the American Jewish Historical Society awarded Sylvia Hassenfeld its Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award.
She was greatly influenced by her son Stephen and conversations with a child psychologist. As a member of the Board of Tustees at Hasbro, she encouraged the promotion of healthy values in children. The company will not produce guns, violent action figures, or other toys that might promote aggression or antisocial attitudes.
Sylvia Hassenfeld was also been a prominent member of many Boards of Trustees, including the NYU Medical Center, Brandeis University, and the Hasbro Children’s Foundation. The Hasbro Charitable Trust provides gifts of holiday toys to hundreds of hospitals and shelters annually. The Hasbro Children’s Foundation, represents the Hassenfelds’ commitment to the well-being of all children. It supports the development of direct service programs that improve the quality of life for children from birth through age twelve, their families, and communities. Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence is a leading center for treatment of childhood diseases. She was also the driving force behind the development of a dedicated children’s hospital at NYULMC; the Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, slated to open in 2017.
Sylvia Hassenfeld died on August 15, 2014 and was buried in Lincoln Park Cemetery in Warwick.