Oldest American, Goldie Michelson, dies at 113 — a month away from birthday

The oldest American, Goldie Michelson of Worcester, Massachusetts, has died at the age of 113 and 11 months.

Michelson, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents who immigrated with her family to Worcester when she was 2, died at home Friday.

Born in 1902, she lived for 113 years and 335 days — nearly all of it in Worcester — and her age was a source of pride, the Boston Globe reported. Michelson credited her longevity to walking.

Michelson (nee Corash) was named the oldest living American in May.

She graduated from Pembroke College, which later became the Women’s College of Brown University, and received a master’s degree in sociology from Clark University in Worcester. Her thesis at Clark was titled “A Citizenship Survey of Worcester Jewry” and examined why many of the city’s older Jewish-immigrant residents did not pursue American citizenship or learn English.

She told the Worcester Telegram in 2012 that her thesis was inspired by her time working with Jewish women’s organizations such as Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women.

After the borders of the Soviet Union opened up for Jews in 1989, a new wave of Jewish immigrants came to Worcester. Michelson was among the volunteers to help them settle in and accustom themselves to American society.

Michelson was also active in community groups, including one that supported the founding of Brandeis University.

After graduating from college, she was a social worker in Worcester, and went on to teach religious education and direct plays at a local synagogue. She married David Michelson, a friend of her brother.

Michelson acted and directed nearly all her life — she directed a pageant performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” when she was nearly 100.

Her husband, a businessman who developed medical office buildings, died in 1974.

After his death, Michelson endowed the Michelson Theater and the David and Goldie Michelson Drama Fund at Clark University.

“It never occurred to me that I would live this long,” Michelson told Clark University’s magazine in 2012. “I just went on and on, and I’ve loved it.”

Mother of slain Israeli girl asks permission to hold memorial on Temple Mount

The mother of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, the 13-year-old Jewish girl killed in her bed by a Palestinian teenage attacker, requested permission to have a memorial ceremony on the Temple Mount.

Rina Ariel in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to bring 250 people to the Temple Mount, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims and the source of much tension over the years. The group that would ascend to the Temple Mount on Tuesday would include the Ariel family and a group of friends and supporters, Ynet reported.

“We and Hallel have always felt a deep connection to the Temple Mount. We visited it and will continue to do so, as we believe that it is the house of God, and that it gives strength and life to each and every house in Israel,” Rina Ariel wrote to Netanyahu late last week, Ynet reported. “And as it is only from there that all deficits can be filled, it is only from there that we will receive any sense of solace. For this reason we are asking to perform the mitzvah of visiting the Temple Mount and praying there for the ascent of Hallel’s soul this coming Tuesday, with 250 people who have pledged to join and comfort us. It is very important to me that the event be coordinated with the police and not carried out in any manner of confrontation.”

“Just recently, 200,000 Muslims performed a mass prayer at the site. Would a Jewish group comprised of a tenth of that number not be allowed to convene there for a single hour?”

Jews can only ascend the mount during limited visiting hours and are forbidden from doing anything resembling worship such as kneeling, singing, dancing or rending their clothes.

The Jerusalem District’s police chief, Yoram Halevi, met last week with the family to organize the visit but requested the prime minister’s final approval, according to Ynet.

Hallel was stabbed to death on the morning of June 30 as she slept in her bed in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba by a 17-year-old assailant from a nearby Palestinian village. Civilian guards shot and killed the attacker.

Abner Mikva, judge and congressman who mentored a president, dies at 90

Abner Mikva, a federal judge and congressman who served as a mentor to a range of Democratic politicians from the Chicago area, died at age 90.

Mikva died Monday in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune. His political career, spanning five decades, saw him serve in state and national office as well as all three branches of government.Among those he mentored were President Obama, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Rep. Jan Schakowski (D-Ill.).

In 2014, Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to Mikva.

“When I was graduating law school, Ab encouraged me to pursue public service,” Obama said in a statement, according to the Tribune. “He saw something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, but I know why he did it — Ab represented the best of public service himself and he believed in empowering the next generation of young people to shape our country.”

Mikva was born in 1926 in Milwaukee to Jewish immigrants from present-day Ukraine. He graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, and in a famous anecdote, was rebuffed by Chicago’s political machine in his first attempt to get involved in politics. When he visited a local campaign office, uninvited, to volunteer for Harry Truman’s 1948 reelection bid, an operative sent him away, saying, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

He was first elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1956, and became a member of Congress in 1969. He served five terms in the House of Representatives until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter appointed him as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He served there for 15 years, including five years as chief judge. In 1994, President Bill Clinton made him White House counsel.

He is survived by three daughters and seven grandchildren.

Rabbi Max Ticktin, leader in Hillel and Havurah movements, dies at 94

Rabbi Max Ticktin, a leader in the Hillel movement who also was central to the havurah movement, has died.

Ticktin, who also was a founder of the Breira group to express a left-wing perspective on Israel, died on Sunday at the age of 94.

Ticktin, who was ordained a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1946, and then traveled to Israel with his wife Esther to study at Hebrew University. They both joined the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces.

The couple then returned to the United States, and Ticktin was tapped in 1950 to serve as Hillel director at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a position he held until 1964, when he was tapped to serve as Hillel director at the University of Chicago. In 1970, Ticktin moved to Washington to serve as assistant director of National Hillel until 1980, when he left Hillel to teach on the college level.

Ticktin served for more than 30 years on the faculty of the George Washington University’s Program of Judaic Studies, retiring last year as professor of Hebrew Language and Literature. At the time of his retirement, the university established the the Max Ticktin Professorship of Israel Studies.

He was a founder of Breira in 1973 and served on its board until the group closed in 1977.

Following his work creating the “Upstairs Minyan” at the University of Chicago, a precursor to the Havurah movement, Ticktin helped found the Farbrangen Havurah and was an active member until his death.

His funeral will be held on Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. at Tiferet Israel Congregation in Washington DC


Rabbi Levi Meier, Whose Pulpit Was Hospital Rooms, Dies at 62

It’s often hard to distinguish between one memorial and the next, especially when you’re dealing with prominent members of the community. Family members, friends, colleagues and rabbis will get up and pour out their praise for the departed- recounting his or her many accomplishments and fine character traits. This is perfectly natural, and it’s also a mitzvah.

Monday morning, at the standing-room-only memorial at Beth Jacob Congregation for Rabbi Levi Meier — author, psychologist, husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, teacher, student, friend, brother, neighbor, gentleman and chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for more than 29 years — who died July 13 at age 62 after a long illness — things felt perfectly natural, right up until the very end.

We heard how Meier touched the lives of thousands, especially the many sick patients he gave hope to, and the many families he comforted. We heard about all the little touches of thoughtfulness felt by everyone who came into contact with him.

A colleague at the hospital talked about how Meier brought mezuzot, kosher food and synagogue services to Cedars-Sinai. Someone else, reminiscing about the rabbi’s unique and gentle way with people, quoted him as follows: “With good interpersonal relationships, you can accomplish much. Without them, you need to fill out three forms to get a box of paper clips.”

The rabbi’s daughter talked about their nightly and very lively family dinners and explained how a young daughter of 8 could come up with the word “Jung” at Scrabble: Her rabbi-psychologist father shared many aspects of his professional life with his children.

He shared a lot more. If you expressed an interest in anything, chances are, within a few days, you’d receive an article in the mail on that subject.

When comforting patients, he shared his time, plenty of it. He seemed to always add “another five minutes,” because he thought that maybe those extra minutes could make all the difference in the world. His pulpit, one of his children said, was hospital rooms.

Interestingly, the memorial, with all the well-deserved praise it showered on Meier, actually underplayed his achievements. No one mentioned the eight years of Torah classes he gave to the Avi Chai Torah Salon — an eclectic monthly gathering of writers, artists and producers (which I often hosted), who yearned to study and debate Jewish texts. Many of the participants were at the memorial; one of them sat next to me and I could see him trying to hold back tears.

In the end, though, after all the emotional accolades for a unique and quiet force of the Los Angeles Jewish community, it was the final speaker who was the most powerful.

Right before pallbearers were asked to prepare to carry the casket, which would soon be flown to Israel, one of the rabbi’s sons was asked to come up to recite a special prayer. It felt like it would be a formality; all the speakers had already spoken.

The young son got up, read the prayer, and just before stepping down, went back to the mike … and gave up all pretense of composure.

With his voice unraveling, and surrendering to his tears, the young son said what was probably on everyone’s mind — it was “way too soon” for his father to be gone — and then, stumbling out of his mouth came the only words I know for certain I will not forget from Rabbi Levi Meier’s memorial: “I wish I would have said I love you more often.”

Rabbi Levi Meier is survived by his wife, Marcie; children Chana Gelb, Malka Grebnau, Isaac and Yosef; grandchildren; and brother, Rabbi Menachem.

— David Suissa

Johanna Cooper, Award-Winning Radio Producer, Dies at 53

Johanna Cooper, a Kennedy Award-winning radio producer whose vibrant work encompassed topics from undocumented children to “Jewish Short Stories From Eastern Europe and Beyond,” died July 10 after a three-year battle with breast cancer. She was 53.

Cooper, an active member of Temple Beth Am, was the producer of dozens of documentaries for outlets such as National Public Radio. She was drawn to broadcasting, at least in part, “because of her passion for storytelling, especially stories that preserve the intersection of family and identity,” said her friend, Paula Pearlman, executive director of the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles.

Cooper’s many Jewish-themed shows included “Hanukkah: A Time for Superheroes,” featuring director Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”), and KCRW-FM’s award-winning “Jewish Short Stories From the Old World to the New” hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

“[Johanna] had a wonderful sense of human about people and their foibles,” said Ruth Seymour, KCRW’s general manager. “Her perceptions and insights were invaluable.”

Not long before her death at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Cooper had been awarded a grant to prepare a documentary about the Jews of Venice, Italy, and the ghetto in which they had been forced to live.

In her own Beverly Hills Labor Zionist childhood home, Cooper was inspired by stories of her cousin, Rosa Robata, a Holocaust heroine who was tortured and hanged after helping to blow up a crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.

The young Cooper played guitar at Los Angeles-area senior citizens centers (her mother, Norma, worked as a social worker at Jewish Family Service) and eventually earned her own master’s degree in social work from Columbia University, as well as a second master’s in film and television from USC — all while launching her radio career.

After she married public interest attorney Sam Jason in 1991 and moved to Pacific Palisades, she became renowned among her friends for her Jewish holiday celebrations and for being “blessed with the gift of presence,” said Rabbi Naomi Levy, who officiated at Cooper’s funeral at Mt. Sinai with Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am.

Just before the bar mitzvah of her son, Max, three years ago, Cooper was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and began a number of rounds of chemotherapy.

John Paul II and the Jews

For 20 centuries, the Catholic Church has had a turbulent relationship with the Jewish people. Jews were persecuted and held responsible for the death of Jesus, and were often the victims of church-instigated pogroms and anti-Semitic attacks.

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, we have lost the strongest advocate for reconciliation with the Jewish people in the history of the Vatican. This pope was determined to embark on a new course and leave that shameful period behind. From the very beginning of his papacy, when he first visited his native Poland, there were hints that this pope was going to break with tradition and not follow the centuries-old script, with respect to the Jews.

On his 1979 visit to Auschwitz, when he approached the inscriptions bearing the names of the countries whose citizens had been murdered there, he said: “I kneel before all the inscriptions bearing the memory of the victims in their languages…. In particular, I pause … before the inscription in Hebrew. This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination…. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference…. “

The first time I met the pope was in 1983, when I led a Wiesenthal Center mission to Eastern Europe. There, at a private audience at the Vatican, I expressed my concerns about anti-Semitism and said, “We come here today hoping to hear from you, the beloved spiritual leader of 700 million Christians, a clear and unequivocal message to all that this scourge in all its manifestations violates the basic creed to which all men of faith must aspire.”

Obviously, John Paul II understood that very well, but it is important to place in proper context the considerable obstacles that he had to overcome.

During the height of the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were being gassed, the Vatican found the time to write letters opposing the creation of a Jewish state. On May 4, 1943, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Magaloni informed the British government of the Vatican’s opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine. One day later, the Vatican was informed that of the 4 million Jews residing in pre-war Poland, only about 100,000 were still alive.

Six weeks later, on June 22, 1943, the Vatican’s apostolic delegate, Archbishop Cicognani, wrote to then U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, again detailing its opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine and warning him that Catholics the world over would be aroused, and saying, in part:

“It is true that at one time Palestine was inhabited by the Hebrew race, but there is no axiom in history to substantiate the necessity of a people returning to a country they left 19 centuries before…. If a Hebrew home is desired, it would not be too difficult to find a more fitting territory than Palestine.”

To imagine then that 62 years later a Polish Pope would have redefined Vatican thinking regarding the Jewish people is astounding.

Twenty years after our first meeting, on Dec. 3, 2003, together with a small delegation of center trustees, I returned to the Vatican for another private audience, this time to present the pope with the Wiesenthal Center’s highest honor, our Humanitarian Award. On that occasion, I recapped his remarkable accomplishments:

“As a youngster, you played goalie on the Jewish soccer team in Wadowice … in 1937, concerned about the safety of Ginka Beer, a Jewish student on her way to Palestine, you personally escorted her to the railroad station … in 1963, you were one of the major supporters of Nostra Aetate, the historic Vatican document which rejected the collective responsibility of the Jewish people for the crucifixion … in 1986, you were the first pope to ever visit a synagogue … the first to recognize the State of Israel … the first to issue a document that seeks forgiveness for members of the church for wrongdoing committed against the Jewish people throughout history and to apologize for Catholics who failed to help Jews during the Nazi period … the first to visit a concentration camp and to institute an official observance of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Vatican….”

I did not always agree with the pope, especially when he nominated Pius XII for sainthood or when he met with then Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. But one thing is clear: In the 2,000-year history of the papacy, no previous occupant of the throne of St. Peter has had such an interest in seeking reconciliation with the Jewish people.

With his passing, the world has lost a great moral leader and a righteous man, and the Jewish people have lost their staunchest advocate in the history of the church.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

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