Gary David Goldberg, creator of ‘Family Ties,’ dies at 68


[New York Times] Gary David Goldberg, a writer and producer who created warmhearted television shows, most notably “Family Ties,” a leading comedy of the 1980s that propelled Michael J. Fox to stardom, died Saturday at his home in Montecito, Calif. He was 68.

The cause was brain cancer, said his daughter Shana Silveri.

From our archives:

[Jewish Journal] Gary David Goldberg did not set out to be a screenwriter. He was already 30 when a teacher at San Diego State University guided him toward the profession. That fateful nudge set Goldberg on his path to becoming a successful writer/producer and director of a string of films and television shows that include “Spin City,” “Brooklyn Bridge” and the phenomenally popular sitcom, “Family Ties.” Now, more than 35 years after selling his first script, Goldberg has written a memoir, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same Woman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair.” The book covers Goldberg's life from a sports-obsessed Jewish kid in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, through his heady days in Hollywood, to his current life as a small-town citizen in rural Vermont. 

Read more.

Jerusalem’s Pamela Weisfeld dies after brief battle with cancer


Pamela Weisfeld, an Israeli immigrant from New Jersey who became the subject of a social media campaign after discovering last month that she had cancer, has died.

A mother of two young children, Weisfeld, 40, was diagnosed with brain, liver, breast and bone cancer in mid-July after going to see doctors to alleviate back pain she was experiencing while nursing her baby. A Facebook page and website set up to help support the family, pay for Weisfeld’s treatments and urge readers to pray for her health quickly garnered thousands of followers.

Originally from Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Weisfeld moved about six years ago to Jerusalem, where she worked in social media and Internet marketing. Her husband, Shmuel, an immigrant to Israel from England, hosts a radio show and builds websites, according to a Haaretz item written in July by a friend of the family, Rabbi Yehoshua Looks.

Weisfeld died Monday; her funeral was scheduled for Tuesday evening in Jerusalem.

Jewish philanthropist Sami Rohr dies


Sami Rohr, a major philanthropist whose giving created and sustained hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch houses around the world, died at 86.

Rohr, who died Aug. 5 in South Florida and was buried Aug. 7 in Jerusalem, reportedly gave some $250 million to Jewish causes, especially Jewish education and culture, through his Rohr Family Foundation.

Rohr, a former Colombian-Jewish real estate mogul who self-identified as Modern Orthodox, gave tens of millions of dollars to Chabad along with his family to establish outposts throughout the former Soviet Union, on college campuses and at remote spots around the world. In 2006, JTA noted that the Rohr family reportedly underwrote the salaries of about 500 emissaries and had a foundation specifically to help Chabad rabbis on U.S. campuses construct buildings.

Rohr, who largely preferred avoiding publicity, was publicly honored by Chabad in 2006. The same year, his children named a prize for Jewish literature after him in honor of his 80th birthday.

The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature was awarded for the first time in 2007 and honors the contribution of contemporary writers in exploring and transmitting Jewish values.

Rohr grew up in Berlin but left the country with his family after Kristallnacht. He lived in Antwerp and Basel during World War II, later moving to Bogota, Colombia, where he made his fortune in real estate. He and his late wife, Charlotte, moved to Florida in 1981.

Jewish surgeon drowns while saving boys in Lake Michigan


A pediatric surgeon from Chicago drowned in Lake Michigan after saving two boys who fell out of their kayak.

Dr. Donald Liu jumped into the lake Sunday morning to save the boys, who were family friends, despite objections from his family, who were concerned about the choppy water, the Chicago Tribune reported. The boys, who were not wearing life vests, were struggling in the water after their kayak overturned.

The boys made it back to shore, but Liu was pulled under the water by a dangerous rip current. He was pronounced dead after his wife, Dr. Dana Suskind, also a surgeon, performed CPR on him. He was 50.

Two other people died Sunday in Lake Michigan.

Liu, who converted to Judaism, and his wife had three children. The family had recently visited Shanghai to celebrate his oldest child’s bat mitzvah, according to the newspaper.

Chicago media reported that he would be buried wearing University of Chicago Medicine surgical scrubs and holding a White Sox baseball, a video game and pictures of his children.

Film critic Judith Crist dies at 90


Film critic Judith Crist, a one-time mainstay of the “Today” show and TV Guide, has died at 90.

Crist died Tuesday in Manhattan following a long illness, according to reports.

She was born Judith Klein to parents Solomon Klein and the former Helen Schoenberg, spending her early years in Montreal before returning to her native New York at age 12.

Crist was a woman of many firsts. At the New York Herald Tribune, she became the first female film critic at any major American newspaper, according to The New York Times, working there for more than two decades. She was also the first film critic at New York magazine before moving on to do reviews on “Today” in the 1960s.

Crist, did not mince words and was famous for her sharp tongue, prompting director Otto Preminger to label her “Judas Crist,” according to The Associated Press. In 1974, reviewing the Israeli musical comedy film “Kazablan” for New York magazine, Crist wrote, “You don’t have to be Jewish to dislike ‘Kazablan,’ but it helps. At best, it portrays Jews as stereotypes and clowns.”

In 1987, she was among the many Jewish women to respond to an appeal by Lilith, the Jewish feminist magazine, to campaign for the freedom of Soviet Jewish refusenik Ida Nudel. Nudel was released later that year.

Crist taught at Columbia’s School of Journalism intermittently over the course of more than half a century, and in 2008 she received an alumni award from the school.

Omar Suleiman dies in U.S. hospital


Former Egyptian head of intelligence and one-time presidential candidate Omar Suleiman died in a U.S. hospital.

Suleiman, a close confident of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, who named him vice president just days before he was deposed, died at the Cleveland Clinic after undergoing heart surgery.  He was 76.

Suleiman was head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Services for nearly two decades, and was on good terms with the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.

After Mubarak’s ouster, Suleiman – who had long been considered the natural successor to Mubarak – announced that he would run for president in the country’s first free elections. But in April, Egypt’s central elections committee ruled that he was ineligible. He reportedly left the country shortly afterwards.

Milton Gralla, philanthropist, publisher dies at 84


Milton Gralla, a Jewish philanthropist and longtime publisher of business magazines, died in Boca Raton, Fla., on July 11. He was 84.

As an active philanthropist for Jewish causes, Gralla and his wife, Shirley, helped support a number of initiatives at Brandeis University, including the Gralla Fellows Program for journalists, the Genesis program for high school students, the Summer Institute for Israel Studies and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. The Grallas also funded the Gralla Media Room, which allows leading Brandeis faculty to conduct television interviews from campus.

“Milton Gralla not only helped Brandeis and our students through scholarship support, he played a key role in creating programs at the university that enriched the lives of Jews and others around the world,” said Nancy Winship, senior vice president of institutional advancement at Brandeis, according to BrandeisNOW.

Gralla also supported a number of organizations in the United States, Israel and the former Soviet Union.The Grallas supported the freedom flight of 250 Russian Jewish immigrants to Israel. Gralla chaired the 1994 Salute to Israel Parade in New York.

The middle son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Gralla began his journalism career as a sports stringer for The New York Times. He was appointed to the JTA board of directors in 1986 when he was the executive vice president of Gralla Publications, which publishes 19 national business magazines.

In addition to being a board member of JTA, he served on the boards of Boys Town Jerusalem, Yeshiva University, UJA-Federation, World ORT, The New York Jewish Week newspaper and the Solomon Schechter School of Bergen County (N.J.).

Israeli seeking bone marrow dies on day of national donor campaign


An Israeli hoping to find a bone marrow match died Thursday—the same day that Israel was holding bone marrow drives throughout the country targeting non-Ashkenazi donors.

Yosef Krichli, of Georgian origin, had leukemia, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The bone marrow testing campaign, organized by Ezer Mizion, was intended to boost the number of non-Ashkenazi donors in the international donor registry—in particular Jews from the Iraqi, Persian, Georgian, Bukharian, Lebanese, Syrian, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities.

“The premature and tragic death of Yosef Krichli shows how critical it is to undergo screening,” Dr. Bracha Zisser, bone marrow registry director at Ezer Mizion, said, according to the Post.

Krichli, 54, had sought a match for eight months.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, thousands had been tested, the Post said.

Tamara Brooks, noted choral conductor and wife of Theodore Bikel, dies


Tamara Brooks, a noted choral conductor, and the wife and musical partner of singer-actor Theodore Bikel, has died.

Brooks, a Juilliard-trained pianist and conductor, suffered a heart attack on May 19. She was 70.

She had a distinguished career as a conductor and educator who performed around the world.

The director of choral activities at the New England Conservatory from 1982 to 2000, she also had served as president and head of the orchestral program of Philadelphia’s New School of Music. Brooks founded and was music director of Sequenza, a professional instrumental ensemble devoted to contemporary music.

Brooks and Bikel met when they worked on two shows about Jewish music for PBS in 1999 and 2000, according to the conservatory website. Brooks became Bikel’s professional as well as life partner, accompanying him on piano in frequent concert tours in the U.S. and overseas.

The couple married in 2008, and a year later they celebrated Bikel’s 85th birthday with a gala concert at Carnegie Hall featuring other top artists from the folk and Jewish music worlds.

John Demjanjuk, convicted of war crimes in Germany, dies stateless and in limbo


Though the death last weekend of John Demjanjuk brought a close to the seemingly never-ending quest for justice in the case of a man long accused of being a Nazi war criminal, it also brought a premature end to the legal battle over his legacy.

Though Demjanjuk, 91, was convicted by a German court of being an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews in the Sobibor concentration camp, he was living freely in a German nursing home pending appeal. His son said Demjanjuk’s death before the legal process was exhausted meant he had died an innocent man. But the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Jewish leaders said he should be remembered as being guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Demjanjuk died Saturday at an old-age home in southern Germany, where he was free while he appealed his conviction last year for his role as a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.

“My father fell asleep with the Lord today as both a victim and survivor of Soviet and German brutality from childhood till death,” Demjanjuk’s son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said in a statement from his home in Seven Hills, a Cleveland suburb.

The elder Demjanjuk, who was born and raised in Ukraine, moved to suburban Cleveland after immigrating to the United States following World War II. In 1952, living in the U.S., he changed his first name to John from Ivan. He died stateless, in the process of trying to regain his U.S. citizenship.

“Ivan Demjanjuk died guilty of his service in the Sobibor death camp and that is how he should be remembered, not as a person falsely accused, but as an individual who volunteered to serve in the SS, and who at the height of his physical powers spent months helping to mass murder innocent Jews deported to that death camp,” said Efraim Zuroff, the Jerusalem-based chief Nazi hunter for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a statement following the announcement of Demjanjuk’s death.

“Justice was unfortunately delayed in this case, and hindered by complicating factors, but was ultimately achieved to the credit of the prosecutors in the U.S. and Germany who handled the case.”

Following Demjanjuk’s conviction by a German court in May 2010, Zuroff reopened “Operation Last Chance,” a last-ditch effort to track down Nazi war criminals.

“Previously the German prosecutors only brought cases in which they could find evidence of a specific crime with a specific victim, but in the wake of the Demjanjuk conviction, that no longer had to be the case,” Zuroff told JTA last October.

Many have called Demjanjuk’s German trial the last big Nazi trial.

Demjanjuk was convicted on May 12, 2011and later sentenced by a Munich court to five years in prison, but was released to a nursing home pending his appeal.
Munich state prosecutors appealed the court’s decision to free Demjanjuk and also sought a longer sentence, saying the five years was too lenient.

Demjanjuk in the 1970s had been identified as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp. Holocaust survivors had identified his photo during a photo spread as part of the investigation of Treblinka concentration camp guard Feodor Fedorenko.

The U.S. Justice Department in 1977 requested that Demjanjuk’s citizenship be revoked since he lied about his Nazi service on his application to enter the country.
In 1986, U.S. authorities deported Demjanjuk to Israel to stand trial on charges of being Treblinka’s “Ivan.”

A special Israeli court sentenced Demjanjuk to death, but the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993 in a 400-page decision overturned the verdict, saying there was reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk actually was “Ivan the Terrible.” However, substantial evidence did emerge during the trial identifying Demjanjuk as a guard at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk returned to the Cleveland area in 1993, where he was greeted by protests outside his home by Holocaust survivors and activists, some wearing striped prison garb, led by activist Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, N.Y.

Demjanjuk’s citizenship was restored by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Matia in 1998.

One year later, the Justice Department again filed a request to strip Demjanjuk of his citizenship, citing his service in Sobibor. Matia ruled in 2002 that Demjanjuk’s citizenship should be stripped. His attorneys appealed the case up to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court rulings.

Demjanjuk was deported from the U.S. in 2009 and flown to Germany, which had requested his extradition.

Judge Dalia Dorner, who sat on the Jerusalem District Court panel that convicted John Demjanjuk of war crimes and crimes against humanity in 1988—the ruling that was overturned—remains convinced that the verdict was just.

“I believe without a shadow of a doubt that he was ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ ” Dorner told Ynet following his death. “But I still support the Supreme Court verdict that ruled he could not be convicted due to reasonable doubt.

“The most important thing is that these terrible times are on the public agenda again and they must be remembered, so such things never happen to us again.”

Former Nazi Guard John Demjanjuk dies at 91


John Demjanjuk, the Cleveland auto worker convicted as a death camp guard, died in a German nursing home.

Demjanjuk, 91, died Saturday at an old-age home in southern Germany, where he was free while he appealed his conviction last year in the murder of 28,060 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland, NPR reported.

Demjanjuk, born and raised in Ukraine, was first identified as “Ivan the Terrible,” a notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka death camp, in the 1970s.

In 1986, U.S. authorities deported him to Israel.

A court there sentenced him to death, but during bhis appeal process, the Israeli prosecution uncovered evidence suggesting that another man who had died in the Soviet Gulag in the 1950s was “Ivan.”

The Israeli Supreme Court ordered him released, noting however that substantive evidence emerged during the trial identifying him as a guard at Sobibor.

He returned to Cleveland in 1993, and resisted multiple attempts to strip him of his citizenship and deport him again until U.S. authorities deported him to Germany in 2009.

There he was convicted in May 2010 for his crimes in Sobibor, and was sentence to five years in prison.

Hershel Walfish, leading Orthodox cantor, 89


Hershel Walfish, a leading Orthodox cantor and survivor of several Nazi concentration camps, died Jan. 24 at 89, following a lengthy illness.

For more than 55 years, Walfish inspired, sang and taught at Congregation Beth Israel, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Los Angeles. His melodic tenor voice, compared by admirers to that of Luciano Pavarotti, drew worshippers from across the city.

“Cantor Walfish represents an entire era of Jewish history in L.A.,” said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, “how we grew from the dark depths of the Holocaust to a thriving, vibrant and joyous celebration of Judaism.”

Walfish was born in a Polish shtetl near Krakow to a family that included Belzer and Bobov Chasidim. As a teenager, he was arrested by the Nazis and spent five years in various concentration camps. He credited his survival, in part, to singing for the camp commanders.

After a postwar period in a displaced persons camp, and a stint as a bartender for the U.S. occupation army, Walfish arrived in the United States in 1946.

Los Angeles real-estate developer Severyn Ashkenazy, when asked to describe his old friend in one sentence, fell back on the terminology of the old country.

“Cantor Walfish was a shtetl Yid,” Ashkenazy said. “He had all of the Yiddishkayt and menschlikayt we had in the old Polish shtetl.” (Menschlikayt is untranslatable, but denotes the collective traits that make up a mensch — integrity, character, humanity and much more.)

“He always visited the sick and poor, he brought them challah, and he made them feel that they were the only ones he was visiting that evening,” Ashkenazy reminisced.

The services for Walfish, two days after his death, were naturally held at his shul. Some 500 mourners crowded into the sanctuary of Congregation Beth Israel on Beverly Boulevard.

Although Walfish had lived in Los Angeles for some 65 years, he retained the cantorial rhythm and inflection of the old-time European chazan. “He had a marvelous voice, and the kind of nasal, guttural, crying cantorial style you just don’t find anymore,” Ashkenazy recalled.

As a mensch, Walfish “had a good word for everyone — something not so notable in our community,” Ashkenazy observed.

During his long career in Los Angeles, Walfish became a friend of numerous Hollywood celebrities and notable public leaders. After a visit to his home several years ago, journalist Peter L. Rothholz wrote, “There are photos of him at Jewish National Fund and other functions with President Gerald Ford, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Secretaries Henry Kissinger, Al Haig and public officials galore.

“There is also a veritable gallery of Hollywood greats, including Eleanor Powell, Glenn Ford, Jack Lemmon, Don Rickles, Sharon Stone and many others. Best of all, Cantor Walfish has a story, told in his inimitable inflection and with humor honed in the shtetl, that goes with every one of them!”

Ashkenazy, a child Holocaust survivor who went on to a remarkable career as a real estate developer and art collector, and his father Izydor, met Walfish almost half a century ago.

“Our office was directly across the street from the shul, so one day in the early 1960s we walked over there,” he said.

Although Beth Israel was and is a Modern Orthodox synagogue, “Cantor Walfish convinced my father and me that this was really a Conservative shul,” Ashkenazy recalled.

The same talent for bridging diverse rituals helped Walfish to overcome the tribal differences of Europe’s old Jewish communities.

“At Beth Israel, everybody found a home — Galitzianers, Lodzers, Russians, Litvaks, ultra-Orthodox and those not so Orthodox,” Ashkenazy noted.

Only once did Walfish talk briefly with Ashkenazy about the concentration camps.

“He didn’t really want to think too much about that period,” Ashkenazy said. “He insisted that he had more important things to talk about.”

The most important topic was his wife, Betty, and their four children, Shelley (Barry) Rub, Fran, Steve and Carolyn, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “He was so proud of their accomplishments,” Ashkenazy noted.

Even as the congregation mourned the passing of Cantor Hershel Walfish, it was welcoming another Cantor Walfish. He is Hershel’s son Steve, who, after serving as cantor at Stephen Wise Temple, has now taken his father’s place on the bimah.

Contributions honoring Cantor Hershel Walfish’s life and memory may be sent to Congregation Beth Israel, 8056 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.

Shirley Levine, education icon, dies at 80


Shirley Levine, a leader in Jewish education who founded Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge, the first non-denominational Jewish community day school in Los Angeles, died on Jan. 9. She was 80. 

“She was an incredible visionary and the impact she had on Jewish day schools here and across the country is astounding,” said Betty Winn, Heschel’s current head of school. “It’s the end of an era.”

Levine, who served as founding head of school at Heschel for 31 years before retiring in 2003, was one of the first to blend Jewish and secular studies, and believed Jewish learning should be experiential and not contained to the classroom. She placed particular importance on connecting lessons to social action. Moreover, she mentored teachers, helping them inside and outside the classroom, guiding them through their careers. “She saved my life,” said Pam Kleinman, vice principal of student support services at Stephen S. Wise Elementary School, who worked previously as a teacher at Heschel. “Not only was she a leader in academics and teaching, she took a great deal of interest in the individuals who worked under her and she saw potential in people when they didn’t see it in themselves.”

[Read “The passing of an educational giant: Shirley Levine / An appreciation” here.]

Rabbi Jan Goldstein, the school’s first rabbi-in-residence, quoted Heschel when she considered Levine: “Build your life as if it were a work of art.”

“Shirley was such an example of what that quote [means],” Goldstein said.

In 1971, a group of parents in the San Fernando Valley, under the leadership of Rabbi Harold Schulweis and Mark and Ellie Lainer, sought to establish a community Jewish day school. The group turned to Levine, then a full-time consultant with Los Angeles Unified School District, for advice.

“It soon became clear that Shirley was the person to head up the school,” Mark Lainer said in a 2003 interview with The Journal.

Heschel opened a year later, in fall 1972, with kindergartens at Valley Beth Shalom, Stephen S. Wise and Adat Ari El. In 1979, Heschel established its permanent three-acre campus in Northridge.

Under Levine, Heschel’s curriculum effectively blended Jewish and secular studies—common nowadays, but revolutionary at the time.

“Judaism was intertwined into the secular studies so the Judaics became part of the program,” said Larry Kligman, assistant head of school, who will become Heschel’s head of school in 2013. “It wasn’t an island, it was threaded inside the curriculum, so when you were leaning about anything, there was a Jewish core to it.”

Heschel’s model for blending secular and Jewish learning was effective, and the school grew quickly. In 1994, Levin helped four families found Heschel West Day School, now Ilan Ramon Day School, in the Conejo Valley.

Levine grew up in a labor Zionist family with immigrant parents. As a young girl in Cleveland and then Los Angeles, she attended cheder, where she learned to read and write Yiddish. Levine’s parents instilled in their children a deep respect for the dignity of every human being and a love of learning.

Her heart was firmly in teaching, said Lee Shaw, Levine’s sister.

“When you saw her with your students, you saw that this was something she was made to do,” said Shaw, who worked as a kindergarten teacher at Heschel for 35 years.  Although no cause of death was specified, family and friends said Levine had suffered a stroke last year.

Still, “even in her illness, she got things done. She was able to communicate her ideas and touch people’s lives,” Kleinman said. Ultimately, “she was a force that never weakened.”

Levine is survived by her husband, Arnold; children, Mark (Rosy), Darren and Marci (Greg) Egemo; six grandchildren; sister, Lee (Arthur) Shaw; and nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held on Jan. 12 at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries’ Hollywood Hills location. The family has requested that donations be made to Stop Cancer: The Marni Fund (stopcancer.org/Main/default/t-themarnifund.aspx).

Pro-Israel philanthropist Newton Becker dies at age 83


Philanthropist Newton Becker died on Jan. 2, and with his death, the pro-Israel and Jewish communities have lost one of their biggest supporters. Becker, who lived near Los Angeles, died at 83 after a long illness.

A prolific donor who had a reputation for humility, Becker donated to organizations that shared his belief in Israel’s importance to the Jewish people and to the world, due to its democratic nature. He gave funds to StandWithUs, which fosters Israeli activism on college campuses, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy on Middle East Reporting in America) and many others.

However, Becker’s commitment to Israel transcended financial support, according to statements released by several organizations.

“He shifted the paradigm of pro-Israel activism,” said StandWithUs. “Without him, the pro-Israel community would not be as strong and effective as it is today.”

CAMERA executive director Andrea Levin emphasized Becker’s hands-on approach to philanthropy.

“He wanted to know, ‘How are you going to execute this? Why don’t you try this? Why don’t you consider a global approach? How are you going maximize the impact of this event?’ ” Levin said.

“It came out of his own background as a teacher,” she added.

Indeed, Becker earned his fortune by developing a CPA training program called the Becker CPA Review Course, which became popular internationally. He also supported alternative energy, both as the founding investor and chairman of the board of Luz International, a solar company, and as a major investor in Electric Fuel, which develops batteries for electric cars. Early in his career, he worked as an accountant at Price Waterhouse. Becker earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Kent State University, from which he also received an honorary doctorate. He earned a master’s in business administration at Case Western Reserve University. He served in the U.S. Army in Germany.

StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein, who worked with Becker on founding the StandWithUs, recalled Becker in action: a man who was confident, in-demand and giving of his time.

“I watched him hold court with leaders of organizations from all over the world,” Rothstein said. “Everyone wanted a meeting with Newton Becker.”

Via several foundations, including the Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation, his largesse will continue to support the pro-Israel community.

Becker is survived by his wife, Rochelle; sons David, Daniel, Bryan and Bradley;  daughter Laura; and nine grandchildren.

Evelyn Handler, former Brandeis president, killed by car


Evelyn Handler, who served as the fifth president of Brandeis University from 1983 to 1991, was killed last Friday after being struck by a car.

Handler was crossing a street in Bedford, N.H. to meet her husband, Eugene, when she was hit. She was taken to Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, N.H. where she was later pronounced dead.

Handler’s tenure at Brandeis was marked by controversy. In an effort to make the Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university appeal to students of all backgrounds, she pushed for pork and shellfish to be served in the university cafeteria for the first time, dropped the Hebrew word for “truth” from the university logo and did not include Jewish holidays on the school calendar.

Many students and donors fought against these changes, and the university’s fund-raising reportedly suffered. Handler resigned from her position in 1991, at which time the original logo was reinstated, Jewish holidays were put back on the Brandeis calendar and the cafeteria menus were changed again.

Still, many credit Handler with bolstering Brandeis’ reputation as a quality university open to students of all faiths. During her tenure, Brandeis was admitted to the Association of American Universities (AAU). She also helped to lay the groundwork for the Brandeis International Business School.

“As president, Evelyn Handler led Brandeis University’s growth from a high-quality liberal arts college with some outstanding graduate programs to a nationally and internationally respected small research university with an exceptionally strong undergraduate college at its core,” said Steven L. Burg, the Adlai Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Brandeis.

Handler was born in 1933 in Budapest, Hungary, and immigrated to the United States in 1940. She received a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in New York City, a master’s and doctoral degree from New York University, and a law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center. Before serving as president of Brandeis, she was the Dean of Sciences and Mathematics at Hunter College, and president of the University of New Hampshire. She was the first female president of both the University of New Hampshire and Brandeis.

Robert M. “Bob” Brookman dies at 88


Robert M. “Bob” Brookman, born July 3, 1923, in New York City, died Dec. 15 at 88. He passed away peacefully in his sleep at his Westchester, Calif., home of 63 years. A veteran of World War II, Brookman served in England in the U.S. Air Corps Bomber Squadron. He was married to Mary (nee Meyerson) from 1945 to 1994. He is survived by his three children, Daniel (Linda), Adrienne (Paul) Barrett and Gary (Joan); and seven grandchildren, Benjamin, Alena, Rebecca, Zachary, Jordan, Myles, and Max. He is also survived by his wife, Betty (Lewis).

Polish journalist Leopold Unger dies


The Polish journalist and commentator Leopold Unger has died at the age of 89.

Polish media said Unger, a Holocaust survivor who was born in Lvov in 1922, died Tuesday in Brussels, where he had lived for many years.

Unger was forced to leave Poland along with thousands of other Jews following the Communist regime’s anti-Semitic campaign in 1968.

An authority on Soviet and eastern European affairs, he wrote for publications including the International Herald Tribune, Radio Free Europe, the BBC and Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, and also wrote books. He received the Polish PEN Club’s award in 2009.

Christopher Hitchens: A rabbi remembers a friend and fellow debater


In his brilliant history of early modern England, “The Ends of Life,” historian Keith Thomas quotes a translator named George Petrie who wrote in 1581, “The only way to win immortality is either to do things worth the writing, or write things worth the reading.”  Christopher Hitchens is, by this reckoning, twice immortal.

On the page his words leapt to life.  Can you imagine a more subtle, devastating takedown than his famous comments on Jerry Falwell? “If someone gave him an enema you could bury him in a matchbox.”  The infuriating thing about debating Hitchens was that such ripostes were not the fruit of long, diligent thought. He thought in epigrams, and even in conversation there were quotable lines expressed in his deep British voice, his “instrument,” as he called it, given heft and tone by years of oratory, scotch and cigarettes.

The difficulty in debating Hitchens was not only the readiness of his wit and the range of his reference.  Alongside his learning was an unusually rich experience of life.  He was filled in equal measure with adventure and erudition.  He had traveled to most of the dangerous (as well as glamorous) spots in the world and could give you pointers not only on the government, but the best bars in every city from Paris to Port au Prince.  After a dinner of drinking others under the table, he could rise, knock off a 2,000 word essay on the fiction of James Joyce, and then retire for what remained of the evening.  His was a prodigious, unflagging energy sprung from deep gifts.

We had vigorous disagreements, to say the least.  Not only in our debates, where we wrestled over the reality of God, the worth of religion and the possibility of an afterlife.  I also recall pressing him on his long-standing opposition to Israel.  As he got older and became a staunch opponent of militant Islam, his stance toward Israel softened, but Hitchens was not a man for backtracking.  Even his late discovery of his own Jewishness (which “delighted” him) did not change his hostility to the one place on earth that otherwise – as I tried to point out to him without effect—embodied the values he held most dear.

But I have wonderful snapshots of his charm and kindness: urging me to drink beer before our debate (“it’s only water…”), warning me before we stepped on stage that he would never compliment me in public, instructing me in a long car ride on the fine points of different scotches, the skill of P.G. Wodehouse, and a steady stream of stories about the famous and infamous. The flow of Hitchens talk was unstinting, and he did not “save” his best stories, since the reservoir had no bottom.

Hitchens won my daughter’s heart with his first introduction to her when she attended the debate in Los Angeles moderated by The Jewish Journal’s editor-in-chief, Rob Eshman.  He bent down to greet her (she was then 11), stuck out his hand and said “Hitchens here.”  She felt instantly that he was unique.  Of course, I, as her father, listening to him proclaim during the debate that the only prayer he ever offered was for an erection, hoped that the introduction – and not the priapic theology—would be her lasting impression.

I have one keen regret.  Hitchens and I had planned to visit Concord together after our Boston debate, and it would have been a feast to see the graves of the Transcendentalists, of Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott and the others, with a lover of literature who was at the same time unalterably opposed to the reality of the unseen.  He had never visited and was eager to go.  But his daughter’s graduation coincided with the only day I could visit, and so I went alone and sent him pictures.

The world was more colorful and better critiqued when we had Hitchens scathing wit to scour our less-careful pronouncements.  (I recall watching him once on TV, when a defender of Hillary Clinton said, after a Hitchens assault, “Well that’s your opinion.”  Hitchens instantly replied, “Well of course it is. It would be fatuous to invite me on to spout YOUR opinion.” Ouch.)  He will be missed. 

Rabbi David Wolpe is rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings on facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.

Miss Sixty founder dies


Wicky Hassan, a Libyan-born Italian Jew who founded the popular Miss Sixty fashion brand, has died in Rome.

Hassan died Friday after a four-year battle with cancer. He was 56.

Born in Tripoli, Hassan arrived in Rome with his family in the late 1960s when thousands of Libyan Jews were forced out of their country in the wake of the Six Day War. In addition to Miss Sixty, he also founded brands such as Energie and Killah.

Taking a cue from Apple, following the death of Steven Jobs, the Miss Sixty web site filled its home page with a portrait of Hassan and his birth and death dates.

Paula Hyman, Jewish feminist and scholar, dies


Noted Jewish feminist Paula Hyman, who served as the first female dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, has died.

Hyman died Thursday at the age of 65.

She was the Lucy Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale University, a position she held for 25 years, including more than a decade as chair of the Jewish studies program.

Hyman served as dean of the Seminary College of Jewish Studies from 1981 to 1986, as well as an associate professor of history at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to that she was an assistant professor of history at Columbia University for seven years; she received a doctorate from the school in 1975.

She published extensively on topics including Jewish gender issues, modern European and American Jewish history, and Jewish women’s history as well as feminism. She wrote several books on French Jewry.

Hyman was a founder in 1971 of Ezrat Nashim, a group of Conservative Jewish women who lobbied extensively for changes in the Conservative movement’s attitude toward women, including ordaining them as rabbis and inclusion in a minyan.

She was awarded a National Jewish Book Award in 1999 and received honorary degrees from The Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Hyman regularly spent time in Israel, lecturing in Hebrew and English at the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University.

WWII resistance heroine Nancy Wake dies


Nancy Wake, a New Zealand-born World War II heroine codenamed “The White Mouse” because of her ability to elude the Nazis, has died.

Wake died in London on Aug. 7. She was 98.

The resistance fighter, who grew up in Sydney, was Australia’s most decorated World War II servicewoman, and was awarded France’s highest military honor, the Legion d’Honneur, as well as three Croix de Guerre and a French Resistance Medal.

She also received Britain’s George Medal and the U.S. Medal of Freedom and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2004.

Wake, who left Australia for Europe at a young age, once described a visit to Austria in 1933:  “In Vienna they had a big wheel and they had the Jews tied to it, and the storm troopers were there, whipping them. When we were going out of Vienna they took our photos. That was my experience of Hitler,” Wake said.

After joining the resistance, she was parachuted into France in 1944, where she battled the Nazis. She was quoted some 60 years later as saying: “The only good German was a dead one and the deader the better. I rejoice in the fact I killed them, I only regret I couldn’t kill more.”

She was reportedly briefly at the top of the Gestapo’s most-wanted list, with a bounty of 5 million francs, dead or alive.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Wake was “a woman of exceptional courage” who “helped bring the Nazi occupation of France to an end.”

New Zealand’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister Judith Collins said Wake “cast aside all regard for her own safety and put the cause of freedom first.”

Last gay survivor of Holocaust dies


The last surviving man to be sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality has died at the age of 98.

Rudolpf Brazda was arrested by the Nazis in 1937 in the town of Meuselwitz, and after a month in custody was forced to confess to having “felt love for his friend” instead of “conquering his unnatural urges,” and sentenced to six months in prison. Four years later he was arrested again and sent to Buchenwald, where he stayed until liberation in 1945.

An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps; few survived.

Brazda was unknown until he came forward during the 2008 opening of a new memorial to homosexual survivors of the Nazis. It had been believed that no gay concentration camp survivors were still living.

Brazda basked in the publicity in later years, flirting with reporters, the mayor of Berlin and his biographer, and enjoying telling the story of his life. In 1934, three years before being arrested, he and his boyfriend held a wedding ceremony with his mother and sisters attending, and a fake priest presiding over the ceremony.

Earlier this year, Brazda was named a knight in France’s Legion of Honor.

“Everyone lives his own life, and I have lived mine,” Brazda told a reporter who asked in June if he feared death. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m not scared.”

Feminist writer E.M. Broner dies at 83


Jewish feminist writer E.M. Broner, perhaps best known as the co-author of “The Women’s Haggadah,” has died.

Broner, a longtime professor of English at Wayne State University, Sarah Lawrence College and other schools, died June 21 in New York at 83. The cause of death was multiple organ failure, her daughter Nahama told the Times.

“The Women’s Haggadah,” first published in Ms. magazine in 1977, was an early feminist interpretation of the Passover seder. It has been used by numerous women’s weders and inspired similar re-imaginings of other Jewish rituals.

Broner hosted women’s seders at her Manhattan home starting in 1976, The New York Times reported. Among the well-known Jewish feminists and writers who attended were Grace Paley, Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug and Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

In 1994, Broner published “Mornings and Mournings: A Kaddish Journal,” a chronicle of the year she spent trying to say Kaddish for her father in an Orthodox synagogue in New York.

Broner also was a prolific writer of spiritually infused, Jewish-themed fiction. One of her most popular books was “A Weave of Women,” released in 1978, which told the tale of abused women living together in Jerusalem in the early 1970s and creating new feminist rituals.

Jewish philanthropist Jack Mandel dies


Jack Mandel, a leader in Jewish philanthropy in the United States and Israel, has died.

Mandel died May 12; he was 99.

He and his brothers, Morton and Joseph, started Premier Automotive Supply in a small storefront in Cleveland and built the business into one of the largest distributors of auto parts and electronic components in the United States.

The Mandel brothers are internationally known for their donations to support Jewish causes. Their Mandel Foundation is among the largest foundations founded by Jews in the United States.

Active in many organizations, Mandel served on the national board of directors of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and on the board of the Negev Foundation. After visiting the Negev Desert, he became very knowledgeable about the Negev and brackish water farming, and he provided support for the Israelis’ agricultural efforts in that region.

Mandel was a longtime resident of Hollywood, Fla., where he supported the Chabad of South Broward and the Broward Chai Center for 30 years.

In a 2010 interview, Morton Mandel said of his brother, “Jack is the wisest person I’ve ever met in my life. I define wisdom as intelligent people learning from their experience. I would go see him and say, ‘You know, we’ve got this problem over here,’ and he would say, ‘Well, why don’t you do such and such?’ And, I’m not kidding you, that would be the answer.”

Sidney Harman, Newsweek chairman and entrepreneur, dies at 92


Sidney Harman, a Jewish entrepreneur who bought Newsweek magazine last year, has died.

Harman died Tuesday in Washington one month after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, his family said in a statement. He was 92.

Harman, who was married to former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), was executive chairman of Newsweek and chairman of the Academy for Polymathic Study at the University of Southern California, where he also taught, at the time of his death.

He served as a top U.S. Commerce Department official under President Carter.

Harman was the founder of Harman Kardon Inc., which pioneered new technologies in stereo equipment. He left the company, now called Harman International Industries, in 2007.

Jane Harman was a pro-Israel stalwart with close ties to the U.S. intelligence community. She resigned in February to head the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, a foreign policy think tank.

Ex-Rep. John Adler of New Jersey dies


John Adler, a former New Jersey congressman, has died.

Adler, 51, died Monday of complications from a staph infection, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Adler, who was Jewish, had a long career in Democratic state politics when he won a swing seat in southern New Jersey in his party’s 2008 sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was ousted in a close election by the Republican candidate Jon Runyan, a former offensive lineman for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Adler, among the first candidates in 2008 to endorse Barack Obama, later got flak from Orthodox Jews in the affluent town of Cherry Hill who believed that Obama had turned on Israel.

Kenneth Schaefler, Special-Ed Proponent, dies at 68


Kenneth Schaefler, longtime director of psychological and special education services at BJE: Builders of Jewish Education (formerly Bureau of Jewish Education), died March 10 at 68.

After earning a doctorate at the University of Southern California, Schaefler joined the staff of BJE in 1970 and devoted 38 years to making Jewish education available to students with diverse learning needs. He championed disabilities awareness, special education services at Jewish day schools and at regional centers (for afternoon religious school students), early detection and intervention as well as professional development for teachers.

Partnering with the Harold and Libby Ziff Foundation, Schaefler helped initiate resource rooms at 14 area Jewish day schools. Building on the “Kids on the Block” disability awareness program — using life-size puppets to help elementary school students understand diversity — Schaefler educated generations of students about individual uniqueness and the importance of inclusion.

Schaefler served as a consultation and referral service for thousands of families until retiring due to illness in 2008. He was a founding member of a national consortium of special education professionals at BJEs across the country.

He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Natalie, and sons Jonathan and Miles.

Elizabeth Tayor dies at 79


Famed actress, Elizabeth Taylor has died at the age of 79.  She had recently been receiving treatment for congestive heart failure at a Los Angeles hospital. 

Taylor was raised a Christian scientist, but converted to Judaism at age 27.  Her Hebrew name is Elisheba Rachel Taylor.

MTV has the story:

One of Hollywood’s most legendary beauties, Elizabeth Taylor, died on Wednesday (March 23) at the age of 79 after spending two months in a Los Angeles hospital for treatment of congestive heart failure. One of the brightest stars in the history of the American movie business, Taylor starred in a string of hit movies in the 1950s and 60s, including “Giant,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Cleopatra,” while becoming an international sex symbol and object of tabloid fascination for her string of love affairs with leading men.

Read more about her Judaism at Hollywood Jew.

Len Lesser, Seinfeld’s ‘Uncle Leo’ dies at 88


From CNN.com:

Veteran actor Len Lesser died in his sleep Wednesday morning in Burbank, California, of complications from pneumonia. He was 88.

“It was very peaceful,” his daughter, Michele Lesser, told CNN, saying the family had hoped for a quick and painless death. “He was a great grandpa, and an amazing father. He had a heart of gold—and a sense of humor of platinum.”

Best known as Jerry Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo on TV’s “Seinfeld,” Lesser made more than 500 film, television and stage appearances. His TV roles ranged from “Studio One in Hollywood” in 1949 to a 2009 role on “Castle.”

Read more at CNN.com.

Former Israeli soccer star Avi Cohen dies after accident


Former Israeli soccer star Avi Cohen died in a Tel Aviv hospital, eight days after his motorcycle crashed into another vehicle.

Cohen played for the Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 1970s, before moving to the English team Liverpool, with which he won both the English and European soccer titles.

Paramedics told Ynet that Cohen was rushed to the hospital with severe head injuries, and that one of the reasons Cohen’s injury was fatal is because he was wearing an open bike helmet, which was not covering his entire face and proved to be mostly ineffective when the accident occurred.

In the week prior to Cohen’s death, as he lay in a coma, many soccer players and coaches, including ones who played with him in Liverpool, came to visit and support his family. In addition, the family invited many rabbis and religious leaders to hold prayers for Cohen’s survival.

Cohen’s family, including his son Tamir, who is also a soccer player and is currently playing in England, announced early Tuesday that there was no hope for his survival, and that they were considering cutting him off of life support and donating his organs.

However, because of advice from rabbis, they chose to let Cohen continue to be under life support, until his heart stopped working Tuesday afternoon.

Cohen’s funeral was held on Wednesday morning.