Bob Simon, a well known television reporter for CBS News passed away this week at the age of 73. He was killed when the livery cab he was riding in crashed on Manhattan’s West Side. The recipient of 27 Emmy Awards and four Peabody Awards, Simon appeared on “60 Minutes” for 19 years. Simon covered the Vietnam conflict in the 1970s for CBS News, as well as other conflicts. From 1977 to 1981 he led the network’s Tel Aviv bureau, and in 1987, he was the popular and influential network’s chief Middle East correspondent. This was a time when most Americans received their news from CBS and the two other national networks.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf/Iraq War, Simon and his crew were captured and held prisoner for six weeks by Saddam Hussein’s military. “I thought my number was up when they started accusing me of being a member of Mossad,” Simon told reporters after his release. An Iraqi captain “kept shouting ‘Yehudi, Yehudi’ at him and spat on him. There were beatings and hunger; they were fed two pieces of bread a day and water. Simon wrote that he would have killed his captor without remorse, like a roach. His captivity was the basis for his book, “40 Days.”
Simon won electronic journalism’s highest honor, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award, for the piece “Shame of Srebrencia,” a 60 Minutes II report on genocide during the Bosnian War.
Simon, a Fulbright Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Scholar, and former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, was a graduate of Brandeis University, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. “It’s a terrible loss for all of us at CBS News,” Jeff Fager, executive producer of “60 Minutes,” said in a statement. “It is such a tragedy made worse because we lost him in a car accident, a man who has escaped more difficult situations than almost any journalist in modern times.” He is survived by his daughter Tanya, a CBS producer; his grandson; and his wife of over four decades, Francoise, who remains popular in Tel Aviv, even though they no longer reside there.
Moishe (Morris) Cohen, who founded Economy Candy, passed away at 97. The discount candy store was a celebrated center of sweets, many sold in bulk, some classic antique ones, for almost eight decades on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The business is currently run by Mitchell, a grandson. It began as a shoe store that sold candy. But as shoes sales declined, candy became the source of revenue.
We also lost Alan Hoisch, the star running back on UCLA’s 1947 Rose Bowl team. He passed away at the age of 91 in Beverly Hills. A member of the Southern California Jewish Hall of Fame and Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. His 103-yard kickoff return in UCLA’s 45-14 loss to Illinois in 1947 remains a Rose Bowl record. He played one season for Stanford University in 1942, but then joined the Army Air Forces where he became a decorated World War II pilot and was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and four air medals in the Pacific Theater with a Curtiss Commando C-46, a ‘wet fuel tank,’ twin-engine airplane that was known for exploding during flights. After the war and football, he entered the textile industry.
Speaking to a UCLA magazine in 1991, Hoisch said, “The things that made me a good athlete are probably the things that kept me alive in the Army. Being in the Army, and doing what we did, was not a game. The only thing that’s meaningful is having done what we were supposed to do (in World War II), and then having the chance to get back into real life, play the game of football, and live a life.”
When I get a chance to read it, I read the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business magazine. The school is named for Joseph Rotman, a Toronto businessman and philanthropist, who passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 80. He was involved in finance, new ventures, oil trading, petroleum distribution, and oil and gas exploration, and served on the boards of major Canadian corporations – including Bank of Montreal, Barrick Gold Corp. and Trizec Hahn Corp. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: “Joe was a remarkable Canadian who leaves an impressive legacy in the fields of life sciences, arts and business, including the students who will graduate from the schools that bear his name.”
Mr. Rotman previously served as chair of the Art Gallery of Ontario and was a board member of the Governor-General’s Performing Arts Awards in the 1990s. The current mentor and chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, he also as a co-founder of the Siminovitch Prize for Canadian theatre, and a benefactor of cultural organizations such as the National Ballet of Canada, the Canadian Opera Company and the Toronto International Film Festival, among others. Fond of brains and neuroscience, in 1989, he helped finance the Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest health sciences centre to study human brain function. He also helped found Toronto’s Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) Discovery District in 2005.
Roger Martin, former dean of the Rotman School of Management, praised Mr. Rotman as “a super-strategic and intelligent benefactor” whose transformational $15 million donation to the university helped the Rotman School of Management become one of the world’s top, most consequential, business schools. Mr. Martin added that Mr. Rotman was “incredibly respectful” of academic independence and never imposed requests or opinions. “The amazing thing is to care that much, and impose that little,” he noted.
He was a member of Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple
Also of note was the passing of Dr. Carl Djerassi at the age of 91. Dr. Djerassi was a chemist who 63 years ago synthesized a hormone that changed the world by creating the key ingredient for the oral contraceptive known as “the pill.” It changed birth control for an two generations and allowed for a “sexual revolution.” Dr. Djerassi arrived in America at the age of sixteen, He was a Jewish refugee from Austria. He and his mother, Alice Friedmann Djerassi, were immediately swindled by a NYC cabdriver out of their last $20. Luckily, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt helped the family out with a gift. “Yes, I am proud to be called the father of the pill,” he told The Guardian in 2000. “But identifying scientists is really only a surrogate for identifying the inventions or discoveries. Maybe it is true that Shakespeare’s plays would never have been written if it wasn’t for Shakespeare. But I’m certain that if we didn’t do our work, then someone else would have come along shortly afterwards and done it.”
The American poet Philip Levine passed away at 83 in Fresno, CA. He is a former United States poet laureate whose work focused on working class men and labor. Levine grew up in Detroit, his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, his father died when Philip was 5. Starting at 14, Mr. Levine held a series of industrial jobs: working in a soap factory, hefting cases of soft drinks at a bottling plant, manning a punch press at Chevrolet Gear and Axle and operating a jackhammer at Detroit Transmission. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his collection “The Simple Truth” and won two National Book Awards — in 1980 for “Ashes: Poems New & Old” and 1991 for “What Work Is.”
In a 1977 radio conversation with Studs Terkel, reproduced in “Don’t Ask” (1981), a collection of interviews with Mr. Levine, the poet spoke of the influence of his blue-collar background on his later career. “It was at an early age, while I was working in factories and also trying to write,” Mr. Levine said. “I said to myself, ‘Nobody is writing the poetry of this world here; it doesn’t exist!’ And it didn’t. You couldn’t find it.” He continued: “I took a vow that I was going to do it, and goddamn it, it didn’t matter how long it was going to take. I was going to write the poetry of these people because they weren’t going to do it. And it was very funny, when my fellow workers would say, you know, ‘What do you do?’ and I would say, ‘I write poetry,’ nobody laughed at me.”
In an interview with Jake Marmer in 2012, Legine said, “I think I’m a typical example of a certain kind of an American Jew. That is: liberal, radically left, independent, big-mouthed, angry, proud. I know a lot of people like me. My family did not come to the United States for religious reasons: They came to survive. None of them were religious, not in the conventional sense. They didn’t keep kosher, they didn’t go to shul. They didn’t much care about that at all. What they cared about was being proud, raising their children to be like them—strong, proud. Detroit was a viciously anti-Semitic city. It was the home of Father Coughlin and Henry Ford, that’s all you need to know. A Jew in Detroit felt he or she was immersed in a non-friendly milieu.
I recall Levine’s 18th book, BREATH, from a decade ago. His poems were filled with mortality: “I came to walk/ on the earth, still cold, still silent.” Many poems memorialize, by name, men now dead whom Levine admired when young: Uncle Nate, Uncle Simon, “great-uncle Yenkl”; “Antonio, the baker”; Bernie whose “mother/ worked nights at Ford Rouge”; Joachim, who once fought for the Spanish Republic; young John, “coming home from the job at Chevy,” “even at sixteen… a man waiting to enter/ a man’s world, the one that would kill him.” “Until he dies, a boy remains a boy,” the sequence “Naming” states; often Levine contrasts his boyhood memories with his experience of old age, to serious effect. His poems of grief also form, as Levine says, “a silent chorus/ for all those we’ve left/ behind.”
I would sit for hours with the sunlight
streaming in the high windows and know
the delivery van was safe, locked in the yard
with the brewery trucks, and my job secure.
I chose first a virgin copy of The Idiot
by Dostoyevsky, every page of which confirmed
life was irrational. The librarian, a woman
gone gray though young, sat by the phone
that never rang, assembling the frown
reserved exclusively for me when I entered
at 10 A.M. to stay until light dwindled
into afternoon. No doubt her job was to guard
these treasures, for Melville was here, Balzac,
Walk Whitman, my old hero, in multiple copies
each with the aura of used tea bags……
ZERO FOR CONDUCT
The bartender says, “Please,” and then suggests
they go somewhere else to finish their fight.
He’s had it. Night after night, the story
always the same: Zero just wants a place
in which to quietly ruin his life —
the words are his — and Estelle just requires
he live in a torment of her design.
1949, Miami Beach. Zero
farther down on his luck than even I,
waiting tables at the last Jewish diner
in Christendom, peeling potatoes, learning
fry cooking from an ex-con from Fresno.
So the four of us — I had a sidekick
in Cuban porno films teaching me Spanish —
set out for the Topper, where Zero worked
until the night he lay down on the parquet,
face down, and begged Jesus Christ to kill him.
The audience had hissed, so he pissed his pants.
Tonight in the warm moonlight the world seems
full of possibility. At the sky’s edge the stars
open and close their eyes as though flirting
with our little band of four sure losers.
I can hear the ocean sighing out there
where the invisible enters my sight
to become a cliché. Zero suddenly stops,
stamps out his cigarette, points heavenward
to announce that the one God of his boyhood
is hiding his face behind the lightshow
and will show no other side of death
unless it’s the sea out there churning at rest.
Then he dubs his Estelle Queen of the Night.
“Ascend to your throne!” He tries to lift her
by the elbows, but the weight of her prattle,
constant and incomprehensible, holds
her earthward. Why I woke the next morning
just after the false dawn on someone’s couch
to hear Zero at prayer, wrapping tefillin,
I’ll never know, nor what silenced Estelle
at last, nor why the cold sea swallowed the sky,
nor why I’ve chosen you to tell this to.
— Philip Levine