The Eulogizer: Philadelphia activist, Luxembourg banker

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

Lenora Berson, 82, Philadelphia liberal activist

Lenora Berson, described by JTA Editor Ami Eden as the “dictionary definition of a bare-knuckled, unsentimental Jewish liberal of a certain age” and one who was not intimidated by Frank Rizzo, the self-styled “toughest cop in America,” when he took over Philadelphia as the city’s mayor, died Feb. 12 at 82.

Berson and her husband, former state Rep. Norman Berson, were “the pillars of liberal thinking in Philadelphia from the ’60s on,” the Philadelphia Inquirer said. They campaigned for many liberal political candidates in Philadelphia and were active supporters of W. Wilson Goode, who became Philadelphia’s first black mayor. Lenora Berson was named director of special events in Goode’s administration.

Berson was active in many other areas as well. She focused on race relations in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and wrote a case study of gangland riots in 1964 that was co-published by the American Jewish Committee, and a sociological study, "The Negroes and the Jews," in 1971. She was a co-editor in 1982 of the study “Community and Capital in Conflict: Plant Closings and Job Loss.”

Berson perhaps gained her greatest notoriety in the Rizzo era. Eden, a former editor at the city’s Jewish Exponent, recalled that “Rizzo famously accessorized his tux with a billy club and promised that he would ‘make Attila The Hun look like a faggot.’ But he never scared Lenora Berson.”

An article Berson wrote about Rizzo for the New York Times Magazine in 1971, "’The Toughest Cop in America’ Campaigns for Mayor of Philadelphia," drew a letter to the editor from Rizzo that called it a "slanderous article" and "a cheap shot."

Berson joined the effort in 1975 to recall Rizzo because he reneged on a promise not to raise taxes, and she opposed his efforts to change the city rule that limited him to two terms in office. When Berson once ran into Rizzo at a social gathering, she later told friends that she had a feeling he wanted to punch her out.

Her son, Assistant District Attorney Peter Berson, said that "she knew everybody. She was a great friend to so many people,” and that "she was involved in everything. You needed a schedule to keep her schedule."

Berson, a Philadelphia native, earned degrees from the University of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania. She was a social worker in New York City and a researcher for Time magazine before returning to Philadelphia in the 1950s.

During her stint with Goode, she began the fashion show “Philadelphia Dresses the World,” which has morphed into “Phashion Phest.” More recently, Berson became interested in photography. Her photos, mainly of Philadelphia, were shown at a number of venues in the city.

Edmond Israel, 86, Luxembourg banker

Edmond Israel, a Luxembourg banker who played a key role in establishing the tiny country as a European financial center, died Feb. 4 at 86.

Israel was president of the board of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, and spent 60 years in charge of transactions at the International Bank of Luxembourg. He founded the financial clearing company Cedel, now a part of the Deutsche Borse Group, and was an official at the Asia-Europe Foundation.

Following his retirement from Cedel, the company established the Edmond Israel Foundation, which recognizes outstanding achievements in taking Europe into the future. Recipients of the award have included German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Israel was the longtime honorary president of the Jewish community in Luxembourg, among Europe’s smallest, with about 1,000 people. Among his awards were honorary doctorates from Sacred Heart University Luxembourg and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He was awarded the Medaille d’Or du Mérite Européen, Belgium’s Order of Leopold and the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Dominique Girard, executive director of the Asia-Europe Foundation, said that Israel was “a brilliant businessman, a philanthropist, a man of culture.”
 
 

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