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Eight notable passings in 2023

NEW YORK — Jewish communal mourning was defined in large part this year by Oct. 7. But other notable losses occurred throughout the year, of people who have left outsized legacies on politics, the arts, sports and everything in between.

(Getty Images; Collage by Grace Yagel)

In chronological order, here is a selection of obituaries of 20 of the most famous Jews who died in 2023.

Judy Heumann

The “mother of the disability rights movement” spent decades fighting discrimination and bias from the local to the federal level, eventually advising the State Dept. Much of her activism, Heumann said, was inspired by her parents’ experiences fleeing Nazi Germany and her drive to pursue tikkun olam. She died on March 4 at age 75.

Chaim Topol

What are the most well known Jewish film performances of the 20th century? Topol’s star turn as Tevye in the film adaptation of “Fiddler on the Roof” ranks among the top of that list. 

The Israeli first played the role on stage in London after fighting for his country in the 1967 Six Day War, giving the character a Zionist-tinged masculinity that remains the story’s best-known performance. He died on March 9 at age 87.

Margot Strom Stern

While growing up in 1950s Tennessee, Margot Strom Stern recalled that “bad history” — including racism, anti-Semitism, parts of the Civil War and the Holocaust — was left out of schools. 

Her pioneering Facing History & Ourselves curriculum helped bring Holocaust history into classrooms for the first time in a structured, comprehensive way, in all 50 states and 100 countries around the world. She died on March 28 at 81.

Alan Arkin

The son of Ukrainian and German Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn knew he would be a movie star at age five. Over a nearly seven-decade career, Alan Arkin imbued comic roles with pathos and serious roles with a touch of sardonic humor. He died on June 29 at 89.

Nechama Tec

As a member of one of only three Jewish families from Lublin, Poland, to survive the Holocaust intact from a prewar population of some 40,000, Nehama Tec became a historian whose book about a group of partisan Jews in Belarus who successfully defied the Nazis was made into the 2008 film “Defiance.” She died on Aug. 3 at 92.

Dianne Feinstein

For decades before she was scrutinized for remaining in the Senate despite clearly diminished health, Dianne Feinstein was a Jewish trailblazer. 

She championed gun control as mayor of San Francisco in the wake of Harvey Milk’s murder and later became a women’s rights leader as the longest-serving Jewish senator from California. She died on Sept. 23 at 90.

Henry Kissinger

One of the most prominent secretaries of state was admired and reviled in equal measure for his complicated foreign policy legacy in China, in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia and in the Soviet Union. Henry Kissinger once said his Jewishness had “no significance” for him, but that part of his identity would play a part in his relationships with leaders ranging from Richard Nixon to Golda Meir. He died on Nov. 29 at age 100.

Norman Lear

The sitcom king — whose shows included “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Sons” and “The Jeffersons” — had as decorated a resume as any TV producer.

But Norman Lear’s work is now also remembered as pioneering social commentary, inspired in part by the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child. He died on Dec. 5 at 101.




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