Lives we lost

A look back at the influential and inspiring Jews who have died over the past year, and the legacies they left behind.

ed koch_311 reuters (photo credit: Jeff Zelevansky / Reuters)
ed koch_311 reuters
(photo credit: Jeff Zelevansky / Reuters)
Carmen Weinstein, who died in April at age 82, was the leader of Egyptian Jewry who refused to abandon her country even when the community dwindled to a few dozen people. Weinstein led the struggle to save the Jewish cemetery in Bassatine from vandals, and to restore the synagogue and yeshiva of Maimonides in Cairo. Upon her death, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi praised her as a “dedicated Egyptian who worked tirelessly to preserve Egyptian Jewish heritage.”
Rabbi Herschel Schachter, who died in March at age 95, was the first US Army chaplain to enter the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945, shouting throughout the barracks: “Peace be upon you, Jews, you are free!” He stayed there for months, tending to the surviving Jews – including Yisrael Meir Lau and Elie Wiesel (#23) – leading religious services and aiding in their resettlement. He later became an outspoken advocate for Soviet Jewry and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.
Rabbi Menachem Froman, who died in March at age 68, was an Orthodox rabbi and settler with the unlikeliest of friends.
Froman, who ranked No. 40 on this list in 2011, was the rabbi of Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank, and strongly advocated peace talks and interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims. He met with both PA leader Yasser Arafat and heads of Hamas.
Shmulik Kraus, who died in February at age 77, was a pioneer in Israeli music, credited with being one of the first modern pop stars in the country’s history. Despite his troubled personal life – including imprisonment and being institutionalized – Kraus’s songs live on as Israeli classics, and he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Education Ministry in 2006.
Rabbi David Hartman, who died in February at age 81, was a pioneer of liberal Orthodox Judaism and founded the Shalom Hartman Institute – named for his father – in Jerusalem, which sought to address contemporary issues facing observant Jewry, and adapt religious observance to modern values. Hartman, a Brooklyn native who worked as a professor at Hebrew University for 20 years and wrote five books, served as a religious affairs adviser to both former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek.
Ed Koch, who died in February at age 88, was one of the most memorable and colorful mayors of New York City. Koch, a World War II veteran who first served as a US Congressman for eight years, is credited with leading New York from a period of near bankruptcy to economic boom. He was a fierce supporter of Israel, and also championed public housing and above all, had an unabiding love for his city.
Ron Nachman, who died in January at age 70, was the first and – until his death – only mayor of Ariel, one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. Nachman, a former MK, helped found Ariel in 1978, and became its mayor in 1985. He fought for years to have the Ariel University Center upgraded to a full university, which he finally saw happen in 2012.
Pauline Phillips, who died in January at age 94, was best known to her millions of readers simply as “Dear Abby.” The advice columnist, who became the most widely syndicated columnist of all time, reached at least 110 million readers with her columns which ran for 46 years.
“It is difficult to overstate the column’s influence on American culture at midcentury and afterward,” The New York Times wrote upon her death.
Jack Klugman, who died in December at age 90, was an American actor most well known for his role of Oscar in The Odd Couple – both the Broadway play and the TV show which ran for five years, garnering him two Emmy awards. He also played a forensic pathologist in Quincy, M.E., and a member of a murder trial jury in 12 Angry Men.
Arlen Specter, who died in October at age 82, served as a US senator for 30 years, becoming known as a strong defender of constitutional law. Elected as a Republican, Specter was a moderate who adopted positions on both sides of the aisle, making enemies in each camp, and eventually switching parties. He was a leading champion of medical research, helping to double the budget of the National Institutes of Health, and vocally supporting embryonic stem cell research and Obama’s healthcare reform.
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who died in September at age 86, was publisher of The New York Times and chairman of its board. He became the publisher in 1963 at age 37, the youngest ever at the time. He built a large newsgathering staff at the paper, and was at its helm when it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for publishing The Pentagon Papers. He was awarded the Newspaper Association of America’s lifetime achievement award in 2005.
Haim Hefer, who died in September at age 86, was an Israeli songwriter and poet who helped forge a national identity through contemporary Zionist songs. Hefer’s most famous songs include “Hafinjan” (The Billy Kettle), “Hayu Zmanim” (In Those Days) and “Hamilchama Ha’achrona” (The Last War). He was awarded the Israel Prize for song in 1983.
Shulamith Firestone, who died at age 67 in August, was a central figure in the feminist movement, and co-founder of three feminist organizations: New York Radical Women, the Redstockings and New York Radical Feminists. In 1970 she wrote The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, a landmark work in radical feminist theory.
Marvin Hamlisch, who died in August at age 68, is one of two people ever to win an Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Oscar and Pulitzer prize. The composer and conductor’s most famous work included the score for The Way We Were, The Spy Who Loved Me, Sophie’s Choice and A Chorus Line, and he was described by the AP as writing “some of the best-loved and most enduring songs and scores in movie history.”
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who died in July at age 102, was the leader of the nonhassidic haredi movement in Israel, with hundreds of thousands of followers, and a world renowned halachic scholar. He was also the spiritual leader of the Degel HaTorah political party, which today is incorporated into United Torah Judaism. Upon his death, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said “through his halachic decisions, Rabbi Elyashiv left a deep imprint on the haredi world and the entire Jewish people.”
Yitzhak Shamir, who died in June at age 96, served two separate terms as prime minister of Israel. During his reign, he promoted an expansive settlement program, an enduring opposition to conceding territory, and encouraged the immigration of tens of thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel. Shamir also served for years in the underground, pre-state Stern group, becoming one of its leaders in 1943.
Nora Ephron, who died in June at age 71, left an indelible mark on the world of film, most notably for her romantic comedies, including When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Ephron – who ranked at No. 33 on this list in 2011 – wrote, directed and produced her last film, Julie and Julia, in 2009. Her play Lucky Guy, which opened on Broadway earlier this year, garnered six Tony nominations.