PORTSMOUTH—A profound friend, mentor, and influencer of many in his generation and several in younger generations, Theodore M. Bonk died on September 5, 2020, in the manner he preferred.
Born in Camden, N.J. on February 22, 1947, he relocated to Tidewater, in 1965, where he received degrees in English and in Early Childhood Education at Old Dominion University. In his last years, he lived bravely with cancer and other debilitating, chronic physical conditions.
His true calling was his love of food and its presentation, which was initiated when he became executive chef of the Weight Watcher’s franchise for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. From there, he became involved in the restaurant business, as a partner in The Jewish Mother, a successful deli-nightclub for over two decades. He was also celebrated for his masterful, “one-of-a-kind” tablescapes, in which he took great pride. He later became a retailer of antiques and collectibles, and he had an instinctive sense of decorative skill, using many styles of furnishings.
A lifelong Catholic, with an interest in prejudice, Ted understood what hatred and stupidity can do to any one of us. He felt Catholic “guilt,” when he learned about the history of World War II. As a proud Polish Catholic, he was unsure that the Polish people had done enough during the war to save their fellow countrymen. He developed a Jewish soul during his 47-year-relationship with his husband, Rick. They both served as leaders of Temple Sinai in Portsmouth, Va., for many years. Together, they established the Bonk-Rivin Holocaust Library at that synagogue, with their private collection of books and videos. This Bonk-Rivin Holocaust Library collection is now safely ensconced at Ohef Sholom Temple, in Norfolk.
Ted loved the State of Israel and its people. He went as a volunteer to Israel in 1990 during the Desert Storm War, to take over a civilian position, so a civilian could go to the front as a soldier. After returning to the United States, he was honored at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., for services to the State of Israel.
He was predeceased by his maternal grandmother, Mary Mazur; his parents, Dorothy Bonk, and Stephen Bonk; by his parents-in-law, Zelma and Bernard Rivin; by his sister-in-law, Rosalind Rivin Chernoff; by his niece, Kimberly Underwood; and by two special women in his life, Kathy Axelrod and Shirley Weiner.
He is survived by his husband, Richard A. Rivin, his sister, Patricia Underwood (Michael), of Haddonfield, N.J.; and his brother, Steven Bonk (Thom Mooney), of Hampstead, N.C. He is also survived by his sister and brother-in-law, Anne Rivin Stanfield (Jeff) of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. and by his brother and sister-in law, Jonathan Rivin (Tempe) of Napa, Calif. Other survivors include his nephew, Kevin Underwood (Jen), his niece Heather Szychoski, his nephew Steven Bonk, Jr. (Magda), his nephew, Gregory Bonk, as well as his great-nephew Joel Szychoski, his great-neice, Emma Bonk, and his great-nephew, Ben Bonk. He is also survived by two maternal cousins, Debbie Schafer (Paul) and Michael Smith (Laura).
Due to the pandemic, no memorial service will be held. At a future date, a graveside gathering will be scheduled. Donations may be made to any local food bank, or to the Bonk-Rivin Holocaust Library at Ohef Sholom Temple, 530 Raleigh Ave., Norfolk, VA 23507; or to a charity of one’s choice.
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