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20 Jewish celebrities who died in 2023

(JTA) — Jewish communal mourning was defined in large part this year by Oct. 7. But other notable losses occurred throughout the year, of people who have left outsized legacies on politics, the arts, sports and everything in between.

In chronological order, here is a selection of obituaries of 20 of the most famous Jews who died in 2023.

Dick Savitt

Dick Savitt at the Wimbledon Championship, July 6, 1951, in London. (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Savitt became the first Jewish tennis player to win both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, in 1951. He also became the first Jewish athlete to appear on the cover of Time magazine, at a time when his Jewishness was looked down on by many in the blue blood sport. He died on Jan. 6 at 95.

Burt Bacharach

Composer Burt Bacharach (left) and lyricist Hal David hold Oscars they won for “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” at the Academy Awards, April 7, 1970. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

The legendary singer and songwriter — behind hits as big as “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” — came from a secular New York family and didn’t talk much about his Jewish identity. But Bacharach was seen as a Jewish icon by many in the industry. In the words of avant-garde pioneer John Zorn, he was “one of the great geniuses of American popular music — and he’s a Jew.” He died on Feb. 9 at 94.

Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer attends the 90th birthday of Jerry Lewis, April 8, 2016. (John Lamparski/WireImage vis Getty)

The comic actor’s career didn’t hit its stride until he was about 50, when he started his long-running role as detective John Munch — a character thought to be Jewish who became one of the most well-known on TV, in both “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993–1999) and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (1999-2013). Obituaries largely omitted the fact that he was Jewish — and Jewish fans took notice. He died on Feb. 20 at 78.

Judy Heumann

Disability rights advocate Judith Heumann sits for a portrait in Washington, D.C., May 11, 2021. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The “mother of the disability rights movement” spent decades fighting discrimination and bias from the local to the federal level, eventually advising the State Department. Much of her activism, Heumann said, was inspired by her parents’ experiences fleeing Nazi Germany and her drive to pursue tikkun olam. She died on March 4 at age 75.

Chaim Topol

Israeli actor Chaim Topol as Tevye in the movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” directed by Norman Jewison, 1971. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

What are the most iconic Jewish film performances of the 20th century? Topol’s star turn as Tevye in the film adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof” ranks among the top of that list. The Israeli first played the role on stage in London after fighting for his country in the 1967 Six-Day War, giving the character a Zionist-tinged masculinity that remains the story’s best-known performance. He died on March 9 at age 87.

Margot Strom Stern

Margot Stern Strom, the founder of Facing History & Ourselves, speaks to educators in 1990. (Courtesy Facing History & Ourselves)

While growing up in 1950s Tennessee, Margot Strom Stern recalled that “bad history” — including racism, antisemitism, parts of the Civil War and the Holocaust — was left out of schools. Her pioneering Facing History & Ourselves curriculum helped bring Holocaust history into classrooms for the first time in a structured, comprehensive way, in all 50 states and 100 countries around the world. She died on March 28 at 81.

Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter

Pictured left to right: Nancy Aucone, Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter, and granddaughter Chloe Schachter at the Wedding Salon of Manhasset. (Courtesy Ilana Schachter)

Before the popular TLC series “Say Yes to the Dress” brought the Kleinfeld Bridal brand to the attention of more than 1.5 million households across the United States every week, a Holocaust survivor named Hedda Kleinfeld revolutionized the bridal industry, bringing it to life with European designer gowns. She died on March 29 at 99.

Seymour Stein

Seymour Stein with David Byrne and Madonna in 1996. (KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images)

The Talking Heads, Madonna, The Cure, Aphex Twin, Ice-T — those are just a few of the pioneering acts that the record executive Seymour Stein helped propel to fame. The Sire Records founder frequently mentioned his Jewish Brooklyn roots, writing in his memoir that he found camaraderie with fellow Jews in the industry, like Lou Reed. He died on April 2 at 80.

Mimi Sheraton

Mimi Sheraton’s books include “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die.” (Eric Etheridge/Workman Publishing)

The first woman to serve as The New York Times’ chief food critic wrote over a dozen books, including a classic history of an iconic Jewish food: “The Bialy Eaters: The Story of a Bread and a Lost World.” She also wrote about her own Jewish upbringing and her observations on the evolution of Jewish cuisines over the second half of the 20th century. She died on April 6 at 97.

Jerry Springer

Jerry Springer appears on his eponymous syndicated talk show, Dec. 17, 1998. (Getty Images)

Before hosting the most popular tabloid-inspired talk show in the country, Jerry Springer had a promising political career, serving as mayor of Cincinnati in 1977. Much of his family did not survive the Holocaust, but his German parents escaped to London, where he was born in a tube station in 1944. He died on April 27 at 79.

Sheldon Harnick

Lyricist Sheldon Harnick poses for the animation movie “Aaron’s Magic Village,” circa 1995. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While Topol was the public face of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Sheldon Harnick was the lyricist behind the scenes of the show’s legendary songs. “We hoped with any luck that it might run a year,” Harnick said in 1981. “We were totally unprepared for the impact the show would have literally around the world.” He died on June 23 at 99.

Alan Arkin

Alan Arkin seen in 2007. (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

The son of Ukrainian and German Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn knew he would be a movie star at age 5. Over a nearly seven-decade career, Alan Arkin imbued comic roles with pathos and serious roles with a touch of sardonic humor. He died on June 29 at 89.

Paul Reubens

Paul Reubens performs as Pee-wee Herman in Chicago in 1983. (Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

The man behind Pee-wee Herman, one of the most bizarre and iconic on-screen characters of the 20th century, had a father who flew key missions as a pilot in Israel’s war of independence. At the height of his fame in 1987, Paul Reubens acknowledged that his act built on the Jewish comedians who came before him, including vaudevillian Eddie Cantor. He died on July 31 at 70.

Nechama Tec

University of Connecticut sociologist and historian Nechama Tec’s 1993 book “Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” was adapted for a 2008 film directed by Edward Zwick. (Jewish Women’s Archive)

As a member of one of only three Jewish families from Lublin, Poland, to survive the Holocaust intact from a prewar population of some 40,000, Nehama Tec became a historian whose book about a group of partisan Jews in Belarus who successfully defied the Nazis was made into the 2008 blockbuster film “Defiance.” She died on Aug. 3 at 92.

Phil Sherman

Cantor Philip Sherman (Courtesy of Sherman)

Cantor Philip Sherman’s biggest audience might have been for his part as a judge on the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” But his most prominent role was as one of New York’s most in-demand mohels, performing, by his own estimate, more than 26,000 circumcisions during his 45-year career. He died on Aug. 9 at 67.

Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein at a Senate Select Committee hearing at the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 12, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For decades before she was scrutinized for remaining in the Senate despite clearly diminished health, Dianne Feinstein was a Jewish trailblazer. She championed gun control as mayor of San Francisco in the wake of Harvey Milk’s murder and later became a women’s rights leader as the longest-serving Jewish senator from California. She died on Sept. 23 at 90.

Louise Glück

Louise Glück speaks at the 2014 National Book Awards in New York City, Nov. 19, 2014. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

The acclaimed poet won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020 for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” Louise Glück didn’t talk much about her Jewish roots, but she turned to the Bible for occasional inspiration; one critic wrote that her Jewishness was “bound up with how she interprets canons both secular and sacred.” She died on Oct. 13 at 80.

Ady Barkan

Ady Barkan attends the Los Angeles Supports a Dream Act Now! protest at the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2018. (Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)

Ady Barkan, an Israeli-American lawyer and child of two Jewish academics in Boston, became one of the country’s most visible progressive activists for single-payer health care shortly after being diagnosed with ALS in 2016. His name was invoked in a Democratic presidential debate in 2019, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited his personal story as an example of the shortfalls of private insurance. He died on Nov. 1 at 39.

Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir in Israel, Feb. 27, 1974. (AFP via Getty Images)

One of the most prominent secretaries of state of all time was reviled by just as many who worshiped his influential policy legacy. Henry Kissinger once said his Jewishness had “no significance” for him, but that part of his identity would play a part in his relationships with leaders ranging from Richard Nixon to Golda Meir. He died on Nov. 29 at age 100.

Norman Lear

Norman Lear attends the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star Ceremony honoring Marla Gibbs on July 20, 2021 in Hollywood, California. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

The sitcom king — whose shows included “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Sons” and “The Jeffersons” — had as decorated a resume as any TV producer. But Norman Lear’s work is now also remembered as pioneering social commentary, inspired in part by the antisemitism he experienced as a child. He died on Dec. 5 at 101.

The post 20 Jewish celebrities who died in 2023 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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