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The Eulogizer: Leading intellectual, those who are generous in death

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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.

Daniel Bell,  intellectual and author

Daniel Bell, one of the leading American thinkers of the 20th century, a member of the vaunted and largely Jewish “New York Intellectuals," and the coiner of such phrases as “post-industrial society,” died Jan. 25 at 91.

Jacob Weisberg of Slate called Bell “one of the genuinely important American thinkers of the 20th century” and, on a personal basis, “at once a stunningly original mind, an ironic observer of the scene around him, and a genial gossip,” whose wide-ranging talks were “all spiced with Yiddishkeit wisecracking.”

Bell’s influential books included: "The End of Ideology" in 1962, a collection of essays that “portrayed a non-capitalist or post-capitalist order in which the classic conditions of the market no longer existed, and in which widespread political dissatisfaction was no longer based in economics,” and was chosen by the London Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books since World War II; and "The Coming of Post-Industrial Society" in 1973, in which Bell predicted the emergence of the information economy, social stratification driven by expertise and “something like the Internet.”

Daniel Bolotsky,whose family changed its last name to Bell when he was 13, was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to immigrant, garment worker parents. Bell’s father died when he was 8 months old, and the family moved in with relatives.

A story Bell told of his bar mitzvah was repeated in many articles about him: "When I had my bar mitzvah, I said to the rabbi, ‘I’ve found the truth. I don’t believe in God. … I’m joining the Young People’s Socialist League.’ So he looked at me and said, ‘Kid, you don’t believe in God. Tell me, do you think God cares?’ ”

While at City College of New York, Bell fell in with some of the influential crowd later dubbed the New York Intellectuals, subjects of a PBS documentary, “Arguing the World.” Its “members” included Irving Kristol, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Nathan Glazer, Richard Hofstadter, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin and Norman Podhoretz, among others.

Bell later separated himself from the neoconservative tone many in the group took during the Cold War and post-Vietnam era. He described himself as "a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture."

Bell taught for many years at the University of Chicago and Columbia, and then at Harvard.

Generous in death ‘in lieu of flowers’

Jewish funerals are (rarely) in locations bedecked with flowers. In fact, eschewing flowers is a significant Jewish tradition of death and mourning. According to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, “Flowers are not part of Jewish mourning practice. In the spirit of honoring the memory of the dead by helping the living, suggest in the obituary that in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to an appropriate charity. If flowers are sent, share them with the living by giving them to a hospital or other institution where they could give some joy to others.”

Flowers typically are not on display at Jewish funerals because they are “associated with joyous celebrations.” Flowers are found sometimes in Israeli cemeteries, particularly on the graves of fallen soldiers.

However, particularly in North America, the tradition of donations of cash or other gifts in lieu of flowers has taken hold. A random search by The Eulogizer showed how broadly generous the families of the recently deceased are:

The family of Elayne Wallach of suburban Philadelphia, who died Jan. 30, asked that donations be made to the Abramson Center for Jewish Life of North Wales, Pa., which works on behalf of the elderly.

Norman Rubin of Brookline, Mass., who died Jan. 30 at 86, asked that donations go to Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

Martin L. Greenberg of Columbus, Ohio, who died Jan. 29 at 79, asked that donations go to Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious illnesses, and the Columbus JCC, or “the donor’s favorite charity.”

Lena Goldberg, of Worcester, Mass., who died Jan. 29 at 91, asked for donations to go to the Worcester JCC.

Shirley Silvert of metropolitan Chicago, who died Jan. 30, asked for donations in her name to the Midwest Palliative & Hospice Care Center of Glenview, Ill.

Joseph Backfield of Williamsburg, Va., who died Jan. 13 at 87, asked for donations to the Jewish National Fund.

Harriet W. Vogel of New Jersey, who died Jan. 14, asked for donations to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
 

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