In Memoriam: Prominent Jews We Lost This Year

Two former presidents, ex-espionage chiefs and spies, famous Holocaust survivors and figures from the world of art and literature are among the members of the tribe who passed away since the last Jewish New Year.

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Elie Wiesel, Yitzhak Navon, Shimon Peres, Morley Safer, Yossi Sarid, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Meir Dagan, Gene Wilder, Marcus Klingberg, Alan Rickman, Andy Grove, Imre Kertesz, Sonia Rykiel
Elie Wiesel, Yitzhak Navon, Shimon Peres, Morley Safer, Yossi Sarid, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Meir Dagan, Gene Wilder, Marcus Klingberg, Alan Rickman, Andy Grove, Imre Kertesz, Sonia Rykiel Credit: Reuters, David Bachar, AP, Gali Eitan, Eyal Toueg, Tomer Appelbaum, AFP
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

A founding father of the state of Israel. The most famous Holocaust survivor in the world. A winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. The highest-ranking Soviet spy to infiltrate Israel. A “Harry Potter” film star. A former Mossad chief and an ex-Israeli president. They were among the prominent members of the tribe to pass away over the last Jewish year. With the advent of Rosh Hashanah, Haaretz presents a list of notable Jews who died in the year 5776 of the Jewish calendar. Their names appear in alphabetical order.

Binyamin 'Fuad' Ben-Eliezer.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Benjamin (“Fuad”) Ben-Eliezer: A veteran Israeli Labor Party politician, Ben-Eliezer was pinning his hopes on becoming the country’s next president when corruption allegations against him began to surface, forcing him out of the race. Born in Iraq, Ben-Eliezer had a long career in the military before transitioning into politics. He was known to have a particularly close relationship with Egypt’s deposed President Hosni Mubarak. During his 30 years in the Knesset, Ben-Eliezer served as minister of housing, minister of communications, minister of national infrastructure and minister of industry, trade and labor. He died on August 28 at age 80 from kidney disease.

Meir Dagan was the Mossad chief during the Prisoner X affair.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Meir Dagan: A child of Holocaust survivors, Dagan ran the Mossad espionage agency for eight years following a lengthy career in the Israeli Defense Forces. After retiring from the Mossad, he spoke out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on numerous occasions, particularly on the question of Iran: Dagan staunchly opposed a pre-emptive attack on that country – a move Netanyahu had been reportedly considering. In 2012, after being diagnosed with cancer, Dagan underwent a liver transplant in Belarus. The cancer spread, though, and on March 17, he died at age 71.

Intel Corp. President Andy Grove, right, shakes hands with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at a meeting in Burlingame, Calif., in 1992.Credit: AP

Andy Grove: Founder and CEO of Intel Corporation, Grove helped transform it into the largest semiconductor company in the world. It was not widely known that he was a Holocaust survivor, but Grove, born in Hungary as András István Gróf, was hidden with this mother by Christian friends after the Nazi invasion. At age 20, he fled the communist regime to pursue engineering studies in the United States, eventually emerging as a pioneer of the American high-tech industry. Known to have suffered for many years from Parkinson’s disease, Grove died on March 21 at age 79.

Imre Kertesz.Credit: AP

Imre Kertesz: A survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Kertesz received the Nobel Prize in literature in 2002 – the first Hungarian to become a Nobel laureate. Kertesz’s most famous book, “Fatelessness,” is about the experiences of a 15-year-old in Nazi concentration camps. It was later adapted into a film. Most of his other books also drew on his Holocaust experiences. Kertesz reportedly suffered from depression. He died on March 31 at age 86.

Avraham Marcus Klingberg released from Israeli prison. 1998.Credit: AFP

Marcus Klingberg: Born in Poland to an ultra-Orthodox family, Klingberg fled to the Soviet Union where he studied medicine. A long-time employee of Israel’s top-secret biological research institute in Nes Tziona, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail for passing on information to the Russians about activities at the site. The highest-ranking Soviet spy ever to operate in Israel, Klingberg always insisted his motivation was ideological and not financial. After his release from prison, he moved to Paris where his daughter lived. He died on November 30 at age 97.

Yitzhak Navon.Credit: David Bachar

Yitzhak Navon: Israel’s fifth president, Navon was the descendant of a Sephardi family that settled in Jerusalem in the 17th century. He began his political career as an aide to the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. After serving as president from 1978 to 1983, he returned to politics to serve as minister of education. Fluent in five languages, Navon wrote a popular musical, “Sephardic Garden,” inspired by his love of Ladino tunes. He died on November 7 at age 94.

Shimon Peres speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in JerusalemCredit: AP

Shimon Peres: The only individual to serve as both prime minister and president of Israel, Peres was a fixture on the national political and diplomatic landscape since the early days of the state and arguably one of Israel’s best-known faces abroad. Born in Poland, he began his political career as an aide to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. In that capacity, he pulled off one of his major, though less-talked-about, feats: developing Israel’s nuclear capacity. A stalwart of the Israeli Labor party, Peres was a man of contradictions. On the one hand, he was a fan and supporter of the controversial settlement movement in its early days. On the other hand, he was the architect of the 1993 Oslo agreement, which was meant to pave the way to an independent Palestinian state. Peres served two brief periods as prime minister of Israel – from 1984 to 1986, as a part of a rotation agreement with the Likud party, and for seven months following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995. He was the longest serving member of the Knesset, with close to five decades of lawmaking work under his belt. Among his long list of cabinet posts, Peres served at various times as Israel’s defense minister, foreign minister, finance minister and transportation minister. In his tenure as Israel’s ninth president, from 2007 through 2014, he continued his longstanding efforts to advance the peace process, though mostly in vain. Peres died on September 28 at age 93 two weeks after suffering a massive stroke.

Alan Rickman: A British actor and director, Rickman played various roles on stage and on screen, but was best know for his parts in the Harry Potter film series. A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman won a Golden Globe award for playing the title role in “Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.” More recently, he helped compile and edit the material for the controversial play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” about a pro-Palestinian activist from the United States who was killed in Gaza trying to stop Israeli bulldozers. He died on January 14 at age 69 of pancreatic cancer.

Sonia Rykiel.Credit: Thibault Camus, AP

Sonia Rykiel: The flamboyant French fashion designer was also known as the “queen of knitwear.” Her most famous creation was the body-hugging “poor boy sweater.” Rykiel, who was known for her flaming red hair and penchant for black, got her start in fashion through her husband, who owned a boutique in Paris. She died on August 25 at age 86 of complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Morley Safer: The legendary CBS News correspondent, Safer, who was born in Canada, was the first American broadcast reporter to film inside communist China. Widely known for his groundbreaking coverage of the Vietnam War, he joined “60 Minutes,” the most-watched program in television history, in 1970, and spent 46 years on the show– longer than any other correspondent. Safer was the recipient of numerous broadcast journalism awards, including 12 Emmys. He died on May 19 at age 84 of pneumonia.

The poet and politician Yossi Sarid in 2010.Credit: Gali Eitan

Yossi Sarid: A veteran politician and outspoken voice of the Israeli left, Sarid was engaged in lawmaking for more than 30 years. He served as education minister in Ehud Barak’s government and as environment minister in Yitzhak Rabin’s second government. Sarid began his political career as spokesman of the Labor Alignment, but ultimately quit the party to join the more left-wing Ratz, which eventually merged into Meretz, of which he later became chairman. Upon his retirement from politics, Sarid worked as a columnist for Haaretz. He died on December 4 at age 75 of a heart attack.

Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel attending a symposium of Jewish-Hungarian solidarity in Budapest, December 9, 2009. Credit: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

Elie Wiesel: A Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the most famous Holocaust survivor in the world, Wiesel first came to the world’s attention after the publication of his memoir “Night” – an account of his experiences in the Auschwitz death camp. It has since become required reading in schools around the world. Wiesel, who was born in Transylvania and moved to the U.S. after the war following a brief period in France, was a journalist in Israel and elsewhere, and promoted human rights causes around the world. He was often criticized, however, for refusing to speak out against Palestinian human rights abuses by Israel. Wiesel taught for many years at Boston University and was instrumental in setting up Washington's U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He died on July 2 at age 87.

Gene Wilder: Born Jerome Silberman, Wilder was an American comic actor, screenwriter and film director. His first major role was as Leopold Bloom in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. In addition, he collaborated with Brooks in “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein.” Wilder was also known for playing the lead in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” He had been married to the Jewish comedienne Gilda Radner – his third of four wives – who died of ovarian cancer five years after they wed. Wilder died on August 29 at age 83.


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