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The Eulogizer: Wine executive, anti-Zionist professor, longtime volunteer

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer is a new column (soon-to-be blog) that highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories, and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Wine industry executive

Abdallah Simon, called one of America’s "most powerful" wine executives for decades and a philanthropist, died Jan. 1 at 88.

Simon, a Baghdad native, was the developer of the Seagram’s Chateau & Estate Wines Company and helped craft America’s taste for fine French wines. In a 1988 article, The New York Times described Simon as a "superpower" in the world of fine French wines and said his yearly visits to Bordeaux were "probably more important than those of the president of France."

Simon, who was known as "Ab" to both the American and Bordeaux wine industries, attended private school in England and American University in Beirut, but left Iraq for New York after a pro-Nazi regime came to power there in 1941. Simon’s wine career began in 1952 when he tasted a 1929 Chateau Latour Bordeaux, a prominent First Growth wine, on the Queen Mary while sailing to Europe. He joined Seagram in 1974.

With $2 million staked by Seagram, Simon turned the division into a leading force in the wine industry. Simon bypassed the middlemen, called negociants, and struck deals with chateau owners that allowed him to influence prices and deliver large quantities of fine wine to the U.S. market. In 1980, France made Simon a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for service to that nation’s wine industry.

Simon’s philanthropy in retirement included the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv Foundation, which said upon his death that his "generosity and friendship will be missed but his contributions to Tel Aviv’s future generations will live on for all time."

Anti-Zionist Canadian professor

David Noble, an outspoken Canadian university professor and atheist who campaigned against Zionism and all organized religions, died Dec. 27 at 65.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail described Noble as "one of North America’s most prominent critics of the corporatization of academia."

A tribute to Noble by his family and friends said that Noble charged his employer, York University in Toronto, with attempting to silence Palestinian students, and that he fought the university’s closure on Jewish holidays and insisted that the university either observe no religious holidays or all holidays.

Noble published a pamphlet in 2004 titled "The York University Foundation: The Tail That Wags the Dog" accusing the university of having a pro-Israel bias. After the university condemned Noble’s actions, he sued for defamation. The case is set for trial this year.

The Canadian Arab Federation called Noble "a critical historian of technology, science and education … a passionate champion of academic freedom, and a staunch opponent of discrimination."

Volunteer and activist into her 80s

Dorothy Silk, a professional leader of volunteers and a volunteer until her last years, died Jan. 3 in East Lansing, Mich., at 90.

In 2008, at age 88, Silk was named one of "Eight Over Eighty," an annual event sponsored by Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit recognizing people over 80 whose efforts showed dedication to "tikkun olam," or "repair of the world." In 1996, the Lansing Jewish Federation honored her as a "Driving Force Behind Federation Endeavors."

A list of the organizations for which she volunteered included Hadassah, the Greater Lansing Jewish Welfare Federation, Congregation Shaarey Zedek of East Lansing and the Michigan Jewish Conference.

Silk was one of three women of different faiths who founded the Lansing Interfaith Council in 1970. The group’s annual Interfaith Day attracted hundreds every year.

Other activities included the board of directors of Friends of Theatre at Michigan State University; coordinator of MSU Evening College’s "Brush up and Brunch"; president of the Liberal Arts Dean’s Community Council; Friends of Kresge Art Museum; Inner Circle of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts; Michigan Nonprofit Association; Michigan Historical Museum; W.B. and Candace Thoman Foundation; and the Women’s Club of Lansing.

Silk was born in South Bend, Ind., graduated from the University of Michigan in 1941 with a degree in economics, and worked as an economist for the War Production Board during World War II. She was married for 59 years to Leonard Silk.
 

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