A year of remembrance: Those we lost in 2020

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A year of remembrance: Those we lost in 2020

Hollywood greats, community giants and legendary entertainers were among those who passed away in the last 12 months

Top row from left: Carl Reiner, Des O'Connor, Eric Hall, Hedi Frankl, Joel Schumacher
Bottom row from left: kirk Douglas, Peter Green, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Zef Eisenberg
Top row from left: Carl Reiner, Des O'Connor, Eric Hall, Hedi Frankl, Joel Schumacher Bottom row from left: kirk Douglas, Peter Green, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Zef Eisenberg


George Blake, 98

Former MI6 agent turned Soviet spy who was jailed for giving state secrets away and escaping from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966 was born to a Sephardic Jewish father.

Blake was described as an “outstanding professional of special courage and life endurance” by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was also a former officer of the KGB, the state security police of the Soviet Union now succeeded by the SVR.

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Rabbi Irving Jacobs

Former principal of Jews College and rabbi to Wembley’s Neve Shalom synagogue for more than a quarter-of-a-century, he had a long and esteemed career lecturing to academic and communal audiences.

A central figure in modern orthodoxy, he was the principal of Jews College in London where he educated about the Jewish texts.

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Bertha Leverton, 97

Holocaust educators praised the Kindertransport refugee as a “driving force” of family reunification, and for her support of others forced to flee persecution. 

She escaped Munich in 1938 with her brother Theo and arrived in Britain that December.

Unlike 80 percent of Kindertransport families who were never reunited, Bertha’s younger sister Inge arrived in Britain in 1939, while her parents made a perilous escape from Nazi-occupied Europe, being reunited with Bertha in 1944. 

For the 50th anniversary of the Kindertransport in 1989, she helped to organise a reunion, bringing more than a thousand refugees from around the world to Britain. 

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Eric Hall, 73

The former showbiz and football agent, died after a short illness. Hall made his entry into the music business as a tea-boy alongside a young Elton John, and would later go on to represent some of the Premier League’s biggest names in the 1990s.

Famed for a trademark cigar, ‘Monster monster’ catchphrase and regular use of Yiddish words, he made deals on behalf of household names Dennis Wise, Tim Sherwood and Neil Ruddock.

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Eric Hall (Tim Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images)


Des O’Connor, 88

Known as “the ultimate entertainer”, Des O’Connor was born in Stepney in 1932 to a Jewish mother and Irish father – he often used to joke that he was the only O’Connor who ever had a Bar Mitzvah.

O’Connor presented his own prime-time TV shows for over 45 years, including Today With Des And Mel and Des O’Connor Tonight.

He also hosted Channel 4 quiz show Countdown with Carol Vorderman, with the pair bowing out together in 2008.

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Veteran entertainer Des O’Connor with his CBE at Buckingham Palace

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, 72

One of the leading British-Jewish voices of his age, Lord Sacks had twice battled cancer earlier in his life and was being treated for a third time.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a personal friend of Rabbi Sacks, paid heartfelt tribute, saying: “Jonathan was a wonderful friend, a beloved mentor, a philosopher of extraordinary insight and of course a religious leader respected well beyond the Jewish community and well beyond the shores of Britain.”

Lord Sacks held the post of Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013.

He was the author of numerous highly-acclaimed books on the role of faith in the modern age and the recipient of many coveted awards, including  the Jerusalem Prize, The Grawemeyer Prize for Religion, The Norman Lamm Prize, Yeshiva University, the American National Jewish Book Award for The Koren Sacks Pesah Mahzor and Templeton Prize.

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Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks © Blake-Ezra Photography


Hedi Frankl, 93

Holocaust survivor, social worker, matchmaker and author Frankl was just 16 when Nazi Germany occupied her home town of Balassagyarmat, northern Hungary, in 1944.

Between 1944 and 1945 Hedi undertook forced labour at the Siemens Electronic Company, where she became friends with a 19-year-old girl called Alice Hersch, who shared food and warm clothes with her.

She was spared from a Nazi death march at the end of the Holocaust after a foreman at the factory took pity and hid them both in his Vienna home until the end of the war.

After liberation she was reunited with one of her brothers. Hedi’s four other siblings and parents were murdered in Auschwitz.

During a long and varied career she was a social worker for the Jewish Welfare Board, which became Jewish Care, and opened an embroidery factory in East London.

She also set up The Hedi Fisher Marriage Bureau in 1969, which operated for 25 years, and led to her becoming a non-fiction writer, publishing her book, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker”.

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Zef Eisenberg, 47

The Jewish founder of fitness firm Maximuscle was involved in a serious car crash while attempting a British land speed record at an airfield near York and died at the scene.

At the same airfield in September 2019 Eisenberg broke the world’s fastest time for an unfaired electric motorbike and dedicated the achievement to a teammate who died at the Isle of Man TT races.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87

US Supreme Court judge and trailblazing feminist died of metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Considered by many in the US to be a feminist icon, Ms Ginsburg was the second woman to be nominated to the highest court in the country and spent much of her career calling for gender equality.

A household name in the US, she was an unlikely cult figure among many young people, earning the nickname The Notorious RBG, inspired by the rapper Notorious BIG.

Her early life was adapted into a 2018 film titled On The Basis Of Sex, starring British actress Felicity Jones in the lead role and Armie Hammer as her late husband Martin.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sir Ronald Harwood, 85

Born in South African and best known for ‘The Dresser’ and ‘ Quartet’, both of which were made into films, Harwood was regarded as one of Britain’s best post-war dramatists, winning an Academy Award for his script for Roman Polanski’s 2002 film ‘The Pianist’, set in the Warsaw Ghetto.

In 2008 he won a BAFTA for best adapted screenplay for ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’. Two years later he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, and received the National Jewish Theatre Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

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Lord Anthony Lester, 84

The human rights icon, who took silk in 1975 and campaigned for gender and racial equality legislation, became known as the “architect of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976,” according to Blackstone Chambers.

Lord Lester, whose career highlights include advising Labour’s Gordon Brown, previously spoke about growing up in a Jewish family with refugee grandparents.

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Peter Green, 73

Mick Fleetwood paid tribute to his fellow Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green, describing him as “my dearest friend” and saying they “trail blazed one hell of a musical road for so many to enjoy”.

Fleetwood and Green formed the influential group in London in 1967, alongside John McVie and Jeremy Spencer.

Green, the influential blues rock guitarist, whose songs included Albatross and Oh Well, was born in London’s Bethnal Green into a Jewish family and originally had the surname Greenbaum.

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Fleetwood Mac at London Airport. Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green (second left) died at the age of 73

Carl Reiner, 98

The comedy legend and Bronx native began a long and varied show business career after serving in the US Army during the Second World War.

In the infancy of television, he was a performer and writer on “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour.”

In the 1960s he created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which won numerous Emmy Awards, including for himself as a writer.

Along the way he formed a comedy duo with Brooks that was highlighted in their album the “2000 Year Old Man.” Reiner wrote screenplays for Steve Martin films including “The Jerk” and, in his later years, voiced characters in animated films.

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Carl Reiner


Joel Schumacher, 80

Schumacher, whose mother was a Swedish Jew, became one of the pre-eminent genre filmmakers of the 1990s after the success of St Elmo’s Fire, with Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy, and teen vampire horror The Lost Boys.

After films including Flatliners and A Time To Kill, Schumacher inherited the DC universe from Tim Burton.

His garish take on Batman resulted in two of the the franchise’s most cartoonish movies in 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman & Robin.

Schumacher also directed the thrillers Tigerland and Phone Booth, as well as The Phantom Of The Opera.

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Joel Schumacher (Wikipedia/ Author Kasper2006 (talk) /


Henry Wermuth, 97

The Frankfurt-born Holocaust educator and writer survived camps including Auschwitz, Krakow-Plaszow and Mauthhausen, before settling in Britain after the war.

In 1995, he was awarded the Johanna Kirchner Medal by the City of Frankfurt for his attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1942. After hearing rumours that Hitler was due to pass on a train, he piled stones and thick lengths of wood on the track in a bid to derail it and kill the dictator.

Henry wrote a book about his experiences during the Holocaust called ‘Breathe Deeply My Son’, which was released as a film in 2017.

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Rabbi Avroham Pinter, 71

Political and religious figures around the UK paid tributes to senior Charedi spokesman and former Labour councillor Rabbi Avroham Pinter, who died from Covid-19.

The longstanding Principal at Yesoday HaTorah Senior Girls School and a director of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Pinter was an influential figure in the Charedi world and beyond, having mentored many of today’s community leaders.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he was “deeply saddened,” saying: “I will remember him as an eved Hashem with a kind heart and an unwavering commitment to his community. His loss will be widely felt across Anglo Jewry and beyond.”

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Rabbi Pinter

Ben Raymond, 108

Ben Raymond was described as “London’s oldest man” and was said to be the third oldest man in the United Kingdom.

Raymond, of Sutton United Synagogue shul, was born in Bermondsey in 1911, the youngest of four children. He moved to Nightingale House in Clapham in 2012 with his wife of 76 years, Millie.

Raymond, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, later trained and worked as a hairdresser. His salon in Marble Arch boasted an illustrious clientele, comprising A-listers and members of the aristocracy, such as the actor Charlton Heston and the Crown Prince of Arabia, who was a client in the 1950s.

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Irving Carter, 76

Philanthropist Irving Carter, a former property developer, used his family foundation, the Locker Foundation, to donate to many charities, but principally was a supporter of Magen David Adom UK and Norwood, the children’s charity.

He and his wife Gillian helped Chai Cancer Care, Jewish Care, CST, Emunah and Kisharon, as well as a charity in the Ukraine looking after at-risk Jewish children.

Mr Carter passed away in April from coronavirus.

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Irving and Gillian Carter (second and third from left) opening their Sylvia Carter Medical Clinic, a treatment centre for Israeli children with severe, complex disabilities.


Rabbi Neil Kraft

The much-loved rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform synagogue died suddenly from coronavirus, just weeks before he was due to retire.

Rabbi Neil Kraft, who was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, spent 17 years leading the community, having previously served Woodford and District Liberal Synagogue and South London Liberal Synagogue.

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Rabbi Neil Kraft with his family. Picture courtesy of Elie Kraft’s social media.

Sir Gavin Lightman, 80

Former High Court judge Sir Gavin Lightman, was described by his daughter Esther Solomon as “a fiercely principled seeker of justice, and a kind, generous, impish, resolutely non-conforming soul”.

Sir Gavin was the son of Harold Lightman QC, one of the first Jews in the UK to be head of his chambers, and the brother of Professor Stafford Lightman, president of the British Neuroscience Association.

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Kirk Douglas, 103

The venerated star, patriarch of an acting dynasty and one of the few remaining survivors of Hollywood’s golden age, was best known for films including Spartacus, Ace In The Hole and Champion.

His eldest son, Michael Douglas, a two-time Oscar-winner, announced his father’s death with a touching tribute.

“To the world he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.

“But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.”

Douglas defied a poverty-stricken childhood to forge one of the the great Hollywood careers, with his trademark cleft chin and steely blue eyes making him a much-loved leading man.

The only son in a family of six girls, Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch in 1916 in the town of Amsterdam, New York, to Herschel and Bryna Danielovitch, poor Jewish immigrants from what is today Belarus.

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Kirk Douglas died at the age of 103. Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire


Elizabeth Wurtzel, 52

One of the most iconic Jewish authors of the last 20 years, Elizabeth Wurtzel, whose blunt and painful confessions of her struggles with addiction and depression in the best-selling Prozac Nation made her a voice and a target for an anxious generation, died aged 52.

Wurtzel’s husband, Jim Freed, told the Associated Press that she died at a Manhattan hospital after a long battle with cancer.

Prozac Nation was published in 1994 when Wurtzel was in her mid-20s and set off a debate that lasted for much of her life. Critics praised her for her candour and accused her of self-pity and self-indulgence, vices she fully acknowledged.

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