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The Eulogizer: Bookmaker and philanthropist, unconventional rabbi

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.

Cyril Stein, 82, gambling entrepreneur, philanthropist

Cyril Stein, who parlayed his profits after selling Ladbrokes, the world’s largest gambling company, into a career in philanthropy focused on Israel, died in Jerusalem on Feb. 15 at 82.

Stein, who was British, was chairman of the Jewish National Fund’s $20 million project to redevelop the Negev, and was a leader in the United Kingdom’s United Joint Israel Appeal. He was associated with efforts to purchase land in the West Bank and with the organization Machanayim, which works with Jews in the former Soviet Union, among other causes.

Stein purchased Ladbrokes in 1956 for $160,000 and rode the wave of legalized gambling in England with expansions and acquisitions. The company went public on the London Stock Exchange in 1967 with a value ten times Stein’s original purchase price. In 1987, Ladbrokes paid about $1 billion for the Hilton hotels outside the United States and their value quadrupled within four years, a deal Stein himself described as his best ever. When he stepped down from the company in 1993 to devote himself to philanthropic activities, Ladbrokes was valued at more than $3 billion.

The Times of London valued Stein’s personal fortune at 60 million British pounds, about $100 million, in 2008, and said he would have been worth about $160 million but for all the money he donated to charitable causes. He was described as being “as ruthless in business as he was generous with his wealth.”

Samuel Hayek, JNF UK chairman, said Stein was a “true and passionate Zionist who worked hard to create a better Israel … His support for Israel and the global Jewish community was unwavering.”

Stein clashed with then Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits in 1991 when Jakobovits lamented the plight of Palestinian refugees. Stein wrote to Jakobovits: “The foolishness of your latest outburst is beyond comprehension.” In 2007, Stein funded construction of a property in the Israeli settlement of Givat Harel in the West Bank.

Stein died in Jerusalem, where he had a home designed by noted architect Moshe Safdie.

Jerry Winston, 74, unconventional rabbi

Jerry Winston, the “barefoot rabbi” of a congregation in northern California without a building but with a deep belief in spiritual content and practice, died Dec. 19, 2010, at 74. A memorial service was held for him Feb. 13 near his home in San Anselmo.

Winston was rabbi-in-residence at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, a Presbyterian center; Jewish chaplain at San Quentin State Prison; and a writer, scriptwriter, hypnotherapist, and psychotherapist. He was the founder of Barah, the Creative Center for American Judaism, in San Anselmo, a group of about 50 families that met for services and holidays at the seminary.

“At the end of Yom Kippur fasting, Jerry — his tallit flapping in the wind and a big smile on his face — would lead his congregation up the mountain in San Anselmo,” said Eva Seligman-Kennard. “Jerry’s very special gift was his appeal to those who searched for content in their belief, and a content that related to the world of today. He was a master at putting people at ease with their personal views and expression of Jewish values and traditions.”

Barah’s members nicknamed Winston the “barefoot rabbi,” because his flowing white beard, all-white attire and sandals conjured up the image of a shepherd.

Winston wrote several popular-style guides to Jewish practice from an unconventional, home-centered, and spiritual approach, including, “The Mystical Sabbath: Candlelight and Kabbalah,” and “The Hanukkah Haggadah: How to Celebrate Hanukkah as a Festival of Peace.” His Hanukkah book “outlined a method both simple and poetic for celebrating the winter festival.”

Winston was one of the first rabbis in California to perform interfaith marriages. “Jerry was a groundbreaker and someone who marched to the tune of his own drummer,” said Rabbi Alan Levinson of San Francisco. “When interfaith marriages were frowned upon, Jerry would perform them. He saw no reason not to officiate at the marriage ceremony of two people, one of whom was Jewish.”

Levinson said Winston “kept people from straying from Judaism and made them take as much pride in being a Jew as he took in being a rabbi.”

Winston was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from branches of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago, and his wife, Pamela, became his caretaker. She died of breast cancer approximately three weeks before he did.

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