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The Eulogizer: 17-year-old rabbis’ son, British radical activist

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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.

Mitchell Perlmeter, 17, son of rabbis

Mitchell Perlmeter, the son of two rabbis, a movie buff, athlete and a senior in high school with an “appetite for life,” died Feb. 1 at 17, at his home in Montclair, N.J.

Perlmeter was a longtime camper at Camp Harlam of Pennsylvania, a Union of Reform Judaism camp, which noted his passing on its website and conducted a memorial service for him (audio available here).

Before moving to New Jersey in 2008, Perlmeter and his family lived in Baltimore, where his father, Rabbi Rex Perlmeter, led the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and his mother, Rabbi Rachel Hertzman, was Goucher College campus rabbi for Hillel of Greater Baltimore.

Baltimore Jewish Times Managing Editor Alan Feiler has offered The Eulogizer and its readers a preview of an article he wrote about Perlmeter set to appear this weekend:

Mitchell Reuben Perlmeter loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Twix bars, too. He was a diehard Ravens fan, a video games maven and a huge movie buff. He was crazy about rap music, particularly Eminem, and could freestyle pretty well himself, to the amusement and delight of his buddies. He was highly competitive about sports and always looked forward to going every summer to Camp Harlam in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

Mitchell also dearly loved his family and seemingly countless friends, and was always up for a hearty laugh or a good-natured ribbing. Most of all, according to those who knew him well, he absolutely loved life.

"He connected with people and was a connector of people,’ said Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. ‘Mitchell was so engaged and interested in everything. He was just so special."

In his eulogy at Mitchell’s standing room-only funeral Feb. 3 at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, N.J., Rabbi Steven Kushner said, “Mitch is supposed to be waiting to hear back from colleges. Mitch is supposed to be taking exams. Mitch is supposed to be preparing to be a counselor at Camp Harlam. Mitch is supposed to be rooting for Green Bay to beat Pittsburgh ‘really bad.’ … It is tempting and seductive to wonder who and what he might have become. There was such an aura of promise to Mitch. He had so much going for him. So much to look forward to. He epitomized optimism. He exuded hope. And his death seems to belie all that. But to fall prey to that trap of ‘what might have been’ is to lose what was truly magical about him."

Josh Mandell, a Friends School senior, first met Mitchell when they were kindergarten students at [Baltimore Hebrew Congregation]. He said he was immediately drawn to him and remained that way throughout their friendship.

“Something drew people to him,” Josh said. “It was that smile. To say his smile could light up a room is an understatement. … He was like a brother to me, one of the easiest people I could talk to. If I could touch half as many people as Mitch did in his 17 years, I’d live a happy life.”

"Mitchell was adorable. He was a little guy, but he had the biggest heart,” said Emma Kane, a high school friend. “He was loud and sarcastic and opinionated, and he was always joking around. But he never did anything mean-spirited or out of spite. He was infectious. Girls loved him, guys loved him, and because he was so secure in himself he never had a shortage of friends. No one is perfect, but Mitchell was as close to perfect as you can get, especially for a teenage boy.”

The family has asked donations be made to The Mitch Perlmeter Memorial Fund c/o Camp Harlam, 1511 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19102.

Joan Rodker, 95, left-wing activist

Joan Rodker, a longtime left-wing activist in Great Britain who had contact over decades with writers such as Doris Lessing, Jessica Mitford and others, died Dec. 27 at 95.

Rodker “was seen as a ‘go‑to’ person among the London antifascist left,” the Guardian wrote, and the “convivial hostess” of London’s radicals, according to the Telegraph. 

Rodker was born in London to poet John Rodker, one of the Whitechapel Boys, a group of avant-garde Jewish artists and writers who helped define British Modernism, and Sonia Cohen, a dancer and artist’s model. Her parents sent her to an orphanage and she was raised in institutional settings, including a school in Prague, where she became influenced by left-wing and communist ideals. She traveled in a theater company throughout the Soviet Union during the years of collectivization.

After World War II, Rodker campaigned on behalf of blacklisted singer Paul Robeson to travel outside the United States, and against the execution of American communist spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

She worked in British television as a producer and writer, including the popular series “Armchair Thriller,” and directed a film about Mexico.

Screenwriter Clancy Sigal said Bodker “had a talent for triggering creativity in others that often eluded her own literary work,” and said she was the model for Molly Jacobs, in Lessing’s award-winning 1962 novel “The Golden Notebook.” Rodker’s papers, in the University of Texas archives, document her relationships with Lessing and many other literary and political figures, including those associated with her father’s generation, as well.

Her son, Ernest Rodker, carries on his mother’s political activism. He was a spokesman for the British campaign to free Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordecai Vanunu, among other left-wing causes.

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