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The Eulogizer: Chasidic musician, social activist

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.

Chasidic musician

Rabbi Moshe Yess, a folk and rock musician whose song "My Zayde" remains popular in Orthodox camps and youth groups, died Jan. 8 after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

Yess, a Montreal native, was well known in Orthodox and Chabad circles. Radio program host Art Raymond said "My Zayde," which has been translated into a number of languages, was the most requested song he had in his 18 years of broadcasting. Yess recorded children’s albums with Abie Rotenberg, including "Marvelous Middos Machine," "The Amazing Torah Bike" and "Roburg."

According to Yess’ Wikipedia page, he performed with rock artists such as David Crosby, Jefferson Airplane and The Association, and played Las Vegas and Reno in the 1970s before a 1978 move to Jerusalem, where he enrolled in D’var Yerushalayim Yeshiva, which focuses on ba’alei teshuvah, returnees to traditional Jewish practice. There he met Rabbi Shalom Levine, with whom he formed the country rock band Megama.

Yess was a strong follower of the Lubavitcher rebbe and "believed wholeheartedly that the Rebbe’s promise of Moshiach’s imminent arrival would soon be realized." He maintained a website that tracked apocalyptic events and indications of Jewish messianic developments.

Yess, suffering from cancer for several years, had ceased his musical performances.

Social activist and founder of gay center

Felice Yeskel, a longtime activist for social justice causes and founder of the University of Massachusetts’ Stonewall Center for gay students and staff, died Jan. 11 at 57.

Yeskel grew up in New York, lived in San Francisco and moved to the Amherst area in the 1980s, where she worked to start the university’s gay center.

"I really think of campus life for the LGBT community as ‘Before Felice’ and ‘After Felice,’ " said Pat Griffin, a former UMass professor.

Yeskel was an adjunct professor in the university’s social justice education program and co-authored "Economic Apartheid In America: A Primer on Economic Inequality & Insecurity," among other works.

She was a founder and co-director of Class Action of Northampton, Mass. Longtime friend Betsy Leondar-Wright wrote on the group’s website that "Felice was a tireless activist working to bring about social change. Through fearlessly sharing her personal story, first as a lesbian and later sharing her working-class history to help break down the walls of classism, she touched the lives of thousands of people."

Yeskel was remembered at her funeral and memorial service as "a champion of the underprivileged, a challenger of the status quo, a devoted mother and life partner … who touched the lives of many with her energy, compassion and commitment to social justice."

Rabbi Julie Greenberg of Philadelphia said Yeskel "could engage so many people, and from community she created social change" and that she was a "great mom" to her 11-year-old daughter, Shira, whom she was raising with her "awesome life partner," Felicia Mednick.

Eulogizer in chief

Among his many roles President Obama is, by default, the nation’s "eulogizer in chief." His speech in Arizona on Jan. 12 was an attempt to honor the lives of the fallen and wounded from the Tucson shooting Jan. 8, as well as those who helped in its aftermath, and to call for national healing. In his talk he made reference to Job, and also cited a passage, without giving the specific reference, from Tehillim (Psalms). It was 46:5-6.

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