Earlier this week, after dining on Chino-Latino fare on Manhattan Upper West Side, I dropped by West Side Judaica to buy a book,…. which turned into me buying three.
On the counter was a book by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis. I hadn’t seen her name in years, and was about to ask the store manager if he knew what she was up to, but he was busy; so I didn’t. Well… the next morning I found out. I saw her obituary.
Esther Jungreis of North Woodmere and Lawrence, Long Island, NY, was born in Szeged, Hungary eight decades ago. She was the daughter of the town’s Chief Rabbi, Avrohom HaLevi Jungreis. She survived WWII and several Nazi death camps, and after two years in Switzerland, she arrived in America in 1947. She married Rabbi Jungreis, a distant cousin. In addition to being a prolific author on Jewish topics and writing a weekly column for a Jewish publication for nearly half a century, Rebbetzin Jungreis was the founder of a Jewish outreach group named “Hineni.” I characterized her as a Jewish Billy Graham, and much more effective, passionate and dynamic. She was fond of mentioning that she matched more than 1,000 Jewish couples during her 80 years. Her final weekly column can be found here.
I watched the early TV episode of Law & Order for the wise pragmatic counsel of Adam Schiff, the NY County District Attorney, as played by actor Steven Hill. Steven Hill passed away this week in Monsey, NY at the age of 94. A father of nine, Hill starred on “Law & Order” as was the lead of the first season of TV’s “Mission: Impossible,” many decades ago (as well as roles – many times as the patriarch of the family, in “Rich and Famous,” “Yentl,” “Garbo Talks,” “Raw Deal,” “Heartburn,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Running on Empty,” “White Palace,” “Billy Bathgate,” and “The Firm.”) In 1978 he ended the 11-year acting hiatus with a role in NBC’s Martin Luther King Jr. miniseries “King,” in which Hill played Stanley Levison, a close friend of King’s who was a leader of the Communist Party. In 1988, Hill appeared in Sidney Lumet’s “Running on Empty” playing the father of a longtime fugitive portrayed by Christine Lahti, he was in the film’s key scene. On Law & Order, Hill led the D.Manhattan D.A.’s office for ten seasons, until his character resigned after his wife’s death and goes to work with Simon Wiesenthal.
What most viewers did not know about the actor is that he practiced Orthodox Judaism and he did not work Friday afternoons or during the Sabbath (which believe it or not, in “Jewish Hollywood” was a major problem in the 1960’s.) In 1961, while appearing in “A Far Country” he was moved to explore his religion more deeply.
Hill was born in Seattle and named Solomon Krakovsky. He served in the Navy Reserve from 1940-44. After WWII, he was a founding member of Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio. His classmates were Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris. Below is a more personal picture of Hill.
Sonia (Flis) Rykiel, a world renowned French fashion designer, passed away at 86. A daughter of Neuilly-sur-Seine, she and her family survived the Nazis and Vichy by hiding. The author of N’oubliez pas que je joue, Rykiel was likened by many to Coco Chanel, except she hid from the Nazis, while Chanel slept with them. She was best known for flattering knitwear, figure-hugging skirts and sweaters, especially ribbed pullovers with high armholes that made the shoulders seem smaller, torsos narrower and legs longer.
Fyvush Finkel. One of the few actors who changed their name from English (Philip) to Yiddish for stage work. Much has been written on the passing of this luminary. Below is his grandfather’s best joke, as recited in Yiddish
Arthur Hiller, the director of The In Laws, Love Story, The Man In The Glass Booth, The Out-Of-Towners, Plaza Suite, Silver Streak and about 70 other films and projects, passed away at 92. Born to a Canadian Jewish family in 1923, his family started a Yiddish theater group in Alberta. About Love Story, the late film critic Roger Ebert wrote that the film was better than the novel, due to the “quiet taste of Arthur Hiller, its director, who has put in all the things that Segal thought he was being clever to leave out. Things like color, character, personality, detail and background.”
If you are a fan of Yiddish Mambo, you can thank Irving Fields (Isidore Schwartz), who passed away at 101. Up until a year ago, you could see him perform at Manhattan’s Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South. Yiddish mambo’s greatest leader was Irving Fields, a pianist, bandleader, arranger, songwriter, and potential comedian, who made “Bagels and Bongos” in 1959, which featured Hava Nagila to a Latin beat, as well as Mazeltov Merengue and Miami Merengue. (as a child he assisted cantor Yossele Rosenblatt). In the 1940s, Mr. Fields burst onto the scene as a songwriter with hits including “Miami Beach Rhumba,” popularized by bandleader Xavier Cugat, and “Managua, Nicaragua,” recorded by Guy Lombardo, Freddy Martin and Kay Kyser. Another of Mr. Fields’s numbers, “Chantez-Chantez,” was recorded by Dinah Shore and was featured in the 1963 film “Take Her, She’s Mine,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee.
Also, Joyce Jacobson Kaufman, PhD. passed away, sadly. A graduate of Johns Hopkins and a pioneering chemist in a male dominated field, Dr. Kaufman’s research yielded groundbreaking work in the fields of pharmacology, drug design, quantum chemistry, and chemical physics of energetic compounds such as explosives and rocket fuels. Among her most distinguished contributions are a novel strategy for computer prediction of toxicology and drug reactions, and chemical calculations on carcinogens. She is also the mothers of Rabbi Jan Caryl Kaufman, one of the first women ordained in the Conservative movement in America.