In order of height, we lost some notable Jewish leaders:

Yitzhak Shamir, former four-term Prime Minister of Israel died at age 96. In his 1994 autobiography, he wrote that his epitaph could be: “If history remembers me at all, in any way, I hope it will be as a man who loved the the Land of Israel and watched over it in every way he could, all his life.”

Shamir, who emigrated to Palestine from Poland in 1935, was born Itzhak Yezernitksy in present-day Belarus. He was employed as a construction worker and clerk and joined the Etzel, and then in 1940, the Lehi branch of the group. The group, also known as the Stern Gang, drew inspiration from the Irish Republican Army. Shamir’s nom de guerre was “Michael,” after Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins. After the founding of the State of Israel, Shamir joined the Mossad spy agency, heading a team in Europe and later entered politics in the Herut Party under Menachem Begin.


Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron, a novelist, JFK White House intern, playwright, wit, filmmaker, screenwriter journalist and writer, passed away at 71 last week. Famous for “Julie and Julia,” You’ve Got Mail,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and other romantic comedies, as well as books on aaging, including “I Feel Bad About My Neck.” Her best-selling novel, “Heartburn,” was based on her contentious marriage to Carl Bernstein, a Washington Post reporter famous for Watergate coverage. Speaking of marriages, she recommended that the Secret To Life was to marry an Italian. Less stress.


Harry Levinson, a clinical psychologist who specialized in organizational and employee behavior at Harvard, Kansas, MIT, Texas A&M and other schools, passed away at 90. The author of over a dozen landmark books and countless articles, Levinson taught two generations of managers how to create productive managers and workers, “learning organizations” and companies, and reduce the depression that comes from the loss of career aspirations. The child of a Yiddish speaking household, he taught that salaries were not the only way to reward employees. Levinson said that he moved to the Midwest for college prior to WWII to escape anti-Semitism and quotas at the eastern colleges.


Judy Freudberg, the woman behind the words of Oscar The Grouch, Big Bird, and the beeloved Elmo on “Sesame Street” passed away at 62. She shared more than 17 Emmy awards for her work. She was considered the show’s outspoken moral barometer, and it was her idea to create a daily segment for Elmo: “Elmo’s World,” which co-starred the “Noodle” family and Dorothy Goldfish. It was created to win back the audience when Sesame Street began to lose share to other shows. Freudberg wrote hundreds of Sesame Street segments for such celebrities as Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Bill Irwin, B.B. King, Jodie Foster, Ellen DeGeneres, Maya Angelou, Michael Jeter, Shari (Lamb chop) Lewis, Gregory Hines, and Susan Sarandon (It is not true that Saradon tried to date Elmo). Freudberg was the co-author of Steven Spielberg’s “An American Tail,” which was a tale about Fievel Mousekewitz.


Gad (Gerhard) Beck, a pioneering German Jewish gay activist, author, and educator passed away at 88. He spoke often of the Rosenstrasse demonstration and the attempt at resisstance to the Nazis in Berlin. During WWII, Beck attempted to rescue his Jewish boyfriend by masquerading in a Hitler Youth uniform and entering a deportation center to free Manfred Lewin. He failed; the entire Lewin family died at Auschwitz. Beck was a member of the Chug Chaluzi, an underground Zionist youth group that secured the survival of some Jews in Berlin during WWII. Shortly before the end of the war in 1945, a Jewish spy working for the Gestapo betrayed Beck and some of his fellow resistance fighters, and they were jailed until Nazi Germany was defeated. Beck was the author of “An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin” and was featured in the documentary film, “Paragraph 175.” In 1947, Beck moved to Israel, where he initially worked with David Ben-Gurion on absorption issues. Returning to Germany in 1979, Beck was appointed head of the Jewish Adult Education Center in Berlin. At Berlin’s Gay Pride events, Beck would wave an Israeli flag. Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox had planned to make of film, “Gad,” based on Beck’s life.


But Wait, There’s More… Barry Becher has passed away at 71. Becher was the creator of the Ginsu Knife and many early direct sales TV commercials. The Ginsu knife commercial was broadcast on American television from 1978 to 1984. The knife was seen cutting various objects, such as a nail, pipe and a metal can, but remaining sharp enough to cut a tomato. The “amazing, low, low price” knife, was not Japanese. The Japanese sounding name was meaningless and it was made in Ohio, but it generated over $30 million in revenue over 7 years. He, his partner Ed Valenti, and his copy writer, Arthur Schiff, popularized the phrase, “Operators are standing by.” Becher met Valenti and became business partners because they both drove orange colored Datsun 240Z’s. Their other products included Miracle Painter, Miracle Slicer, Lusterware silverware and Royal DuraSteel mixing bowls.

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