The Eulogizer: Second City’s ‘mother,’ Yiddish novelist, Slifka tributes

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.

Joyce Sloane, ‘Second City’ producer

Joyce Sloane, a longtime producer at the iconic comedy club The Second City of Chicago who discovered and nurtured many of the last two generations of American TV and film comedians, died Feb. 3 in Chicago at 80.

Second City alum Jim Belushi, whom Sloane supported “morally, financially and otherwise during their sometimes turbulent early careers," called her "a healer of heartache and rejection and ‘a mother to all the orphans and misfits that the theater and this profession attract.’ "

Dennis Zacek of the Victory Gardens Theater, another Chicago theater that Sloane supported, said that while Sloane was known alternately as a "Jewish mother" and a "den mother," he also said, “as Sloane herself wryly did that her preferred title was ‘sex goddess.’ "

Actor and comedian Tim Kazurinsky said Sloane was “the mother to the largest dysfunctional family in the world. Second City was like Marine boot-camp, but over in this corner there was little Jewish mother. It’s hard to imagine the void."

Sloane was close to Gilda Radner, who died at 42 of ovarian cancer, and hired John Belushi without requiring an audition. Sloane garnered a massive array of awards and honors during her career, including the Chicago Film Critics’ Commitment to Chicago Award and The League of Chicago Theatre’s Connie Callahan Award for commitment to Chicago theater.

Sloane discussed Second City at length in a recent radio interview in Chicago celebrating the club’s 50th anniversary.

Chava Rosenfarb, Yiddish writer

Chava Rosenfarb, a leading Yiddish poet and novelist in the second half of the 20th century, died Jan. 30, at 87 in Lethbridge, Canada.

Rosenfarb was said to be one of the few Holocaust survivors who transmuted their experiences into fiction. The Forward said her greatest literary achievement was “The Tree of Life,” an “epic three-volume novel that draws on her wartime experiences, re-creating nearly the entirety of ghetto life.” The book won the Manger Prize for Yiddish literature in 1979.

Rosenfarb attended a secular Yiddish elementary school and a private Jewish high school in Lodz, Poland. By the time she graduated in 1941, Rosenfarb, her family and the rest of the city’s Jews were locked into the Lodz ghetto, and she began writing poetry.

Rosenfarb and her family were sent to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated in 1944, then to a labor camp, and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated by the British army in 1945. Her father died in the last transport out of Dachau.

Rosenfarb followed “The Tree of Life” with “Bociany," published in Yiddish in 1982, which won the John Glassco Prize for Literary Translation in September 2000. She did not write about concentration camps until 1992, when she wrote “Letter to Abrasha,” which contains “searing descriptions” of the death camps and their horrors. It is being translated into English by her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler.

“I think it’s an extraordinary book. It’s fiction, but fiction written by someone who was actually there,” Morgentaler said. “You get a sense of the anxiety, the horror, of just living day to day and not knowing if the people you love are going to survive.”

In 2006 Rosenfarb received an honorary doctorate from the University of Lethbridge in Alberta “for her significant and enduring contributions to Yiddish culture and to humanity in general, and for her ability to find and share the beauty and humor in life, when she has witnessed the worst of human cruelty.” A video of her speech on that occasion can be seen here.

Alan B. Slifka tributes

JTA covered the death of entrepreneur and philanthropist Alan Slifka, but The Eulogizer would like to note several tributes to Slifka that have appeared in the last few days.

Brandeis University noted the Slifka Foundation’s $4.25 gift to expand a 9-year-old master’s program in coexistence and conflict, and to continue its work educating leaders in the field of coexistence and shared societies.

Jacob Ner-David, an Israel-based venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur, wrote a lengthy personal reminiscence on his blog and called Slifka a “lamedvivnik.” 

“Alan lived to bring the lives together, around the globe,” Ner-David wrote. “But he did it all with such a sense of joy, of love for life and his fellow person … I never had a meeting or even a moment with Alan without a joke, a broad smile, often laughing together.”

Dan Pattir, former director of Slifka’s Abraham Fund Initiative in Israel and one-time media adviser to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, wrote that “Slifka was a great humanitarian who combined his ideas with providing tools for systematic education, as well as deepening awareness of the ever-increasing urgency for coexistence. He labored tirelessly to turn Israel into a living example, believing that it was Israel’s obligation to practice cooperation, tolerance and equality of opportunity, independent of political affiliations.”

 

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