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Congressman, filmmaker, actress and a teenage firefighter

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer will honor and preserve memories of the newly dead among the world’s Jews. Yet this column (soon to be blog) will not be morbid. It will aim to comfort and inspire those who are still here. One thing is certain: You will be moved by the stories we will tell, and you may even smile through the tears. With that prologue, here are stories of a congressman, a filmmaker, an actress and a young firefighter. 

Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Solarz, a liberal but pragmatic Democrat from Brooklyn, N.Y.,  who had many successes in foreign affairs, died at age 70 on Nov. 29.  

The Washington Post called Solarz a "muscular voice on foreign policy during nine terms in Congress … who challenged dictators and colleagues alike with a hard-driving style." 

“Solarz understood that idealism and realism actually go together,” former deputy defense secretary and World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz told The New York Times.

The Times said Solarz "developed a peace plan that helped end the genocide in Cambodia" and exposed the Marcos’ corruption in the Philippines, including the "blockbuster" revelation of Imelda Marcos’ 3,000 pairs of shoes. 

Solarz sought out a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee upon taking office in 1975, The Times said, "with the idea that he could appeal to his largely Jewish district by attending to the needs of Israel." The Wall Street Journal noted an arch comment Solarz made on that subject: "He once told a fellow congressman that foreign aid for Israel in his district was ‘the equivalent of getting a dam built in yours.’ " 

According to the Daily Alert newsletter, Solarz "negotiated agreements for easing restrictions on Syrian Jews and enabled Jewish women living in Syria, where there was a shortage of eligible Jewish men, to join the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn."

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a friend and colleague whose district now includes some of what once was Solarz’s, wrote a lovely tribute in The New York Jewish Week and noted another legislative victory of his, "the so-called ‘Yarmulke Bill,’ " which pushed over a Supreme Court ruling against kipot for soldiers.

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Filmmaker Irvin Kershner, the only man to direct a Star Wars film and a James Bond film, and director of the prize-winning 1977 TV movie "Raid on Entebbe," died Nov. 27 at 87.

Kershner, a Philadelphia native, directed numerous well-received and successful films, led certainly by "The Empire Strikes Back" in 1980, which The Guardian called "the darkest — and arguably best — Star Wars adventure of them all." Kershner took on "Empire" after a personal request from George Lucas, a former film student of Kershner’s at USC. Kershner was quoted as saying he turned down the chance to direct "Return of the Jedi" because "Empire" had taken so much out of him.

Kershner’s "Entebbe" won a Golden Globe and an Emmy (click here to watch clips from "Entebbe" on YouTube). He directed Sean Connery in 1983 in his return to the role of James Bond in "Never Say Never Again." 

Kershner did a stint as a member of the Artistic Advisory Committee of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and was a judge at the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival in 2004, but was quoted as saying that "I don’t think of myself as a Jew except by birth, as I don’t follow the customs. I’m a Jew because other people consider me so. My pride is in being international." 

The New York Times offered tidbits of Kershner’s first-generation Jewish-American origins, saying he was named Isadore when he was born and that his immigrant father, Morris, "supported the family selling fruits and vegetables from a street cart." 

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Another recent Jewish death that brought significant comment among cinemaphiles — primarily horror and "camp" film fans — was that of actress Ingrid Pitt, 73, whose childhood in a Nazi concentration camp and escape from East Germany were seminal factors in her film work. The New York Times said horror was "a genre she knew firsthand." 

In her autobiography, "Life’s a Scream," Pitt, born Ingoushka Petrov, said she had a "strong sense of the dramatic even before I was born." Her birth interrupted her parents’ attempts to flee Nazi Germany via Poland in 1937. Upon her escape from communist East Germany, she was pulled out of a river by an American soldier whom she later married. 

Pitt started out in standard fare, 1968’s "Where Eagles Dare," a World War II film starring Clint Eastwood. But she quickly morphed into a camp horror queen in "The House That Dripped Blood" (1971) and "The Wicker Man" (1973), and later embraced the typecasting. Her website was pittofhorror.com. Click here for a photo gallery of Pitt in "The Guardian."

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The Eulogizer would be remiss in this first posting to ignore the more than 40 deaths in Israel caused by the raging fire last week in the Carmel Mountains. Click here  to view a full page of photographs of those killed, with links to articles (in Hebrew) about many of them. A shorter version, in English, with reporting on the many funerals over the weekend, can be found here. Several news websites, including Ynet, wrote about Elad Riven, a 16-year-old volunteer firefighter who perished in the fire. Haaretz quoted a teacher of Riven’s as saying that "Elad’s bravery and values led him to go out and save lives, at the risk of his own life.”

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