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The Eulogizer: Philanthropist Harold Schnitzer, theater scholar Gerald Bordman

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.

Harold Schnitzer, 87, developer and philanthropist

Harold Schnitzer, a leading real estate developer in Portland, Ore., who gave more than $80 million in charitable donations to academic and Jewish programs in the last 20 years, died April 27 at 87.

Schnitzer was “one of Oregon’s most powerful and wealthy men, and from one of its most prominent families," the Portland Oregonian said. "His professional and charitable activities touched nearly every corner of Oregon life.” 

"We are losing a combination of vision, passion and wealth that has changed the face of every institution he’s become part of," said Bruce Guenther, chief curator of the Portland Art Museum.

Along with the art museum, the list of Schnitzer’s projects in Oregon includes the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center at Oregon Health & Science University; the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies, both at the University of Oregon; the Mittleman Jewish Community Center; the Oregon Symphony and more.

“Harold’s dream of creating a space for students to engage Judaism academically, to learn of the contributions that Judaism has made to world history, culture, the arts and sciences, became a reality at the University of Oregon and Portland State University through the generosity of Harold and Arlene Schnitzer,” Judaic studies program director Deborah Green said

"We say goodbye to an Oregonian for the ages," said University of Oregon President Richard Lariviere.

Schnitzer was the fifth of seven children of Rose and Sam Schnitzer, whose junk business became a steel company. He had planned to go into the family business, but he “didn’t want to compete” with his brothers and started a real estate company. Harsch Investment Properties now owns and operates more than 130 properties in the West, with more than 21 million square feet of commercial properties and more than 1,000 apartments.

Gerald Bordman, 79, theater scholar

Gerald Bordman, author of "American Musical Theatre" — called “absolutely the best reference book on its subject" — died May 9 at 79.

"American Musical Theatre," which has been in print since it was first published 33 years ago, covers more than 250 years of musical theater in the United States, beginning with a 1735 production of the ballad opera “Flora, or Hob in the Well” in South Carolina. His other books include "The Oxford Companion to American Theatre," "American Musical Comedy: From Adonis to Dreamgirls" and "Jerome Kern: His Life and Music."

Bordman preferred older productions to modern Broadway extravaganzas. He said in 1978 that he was “a tired businessman myself for 20 years. I want to see pretty girls dancing and listen to someone singing a Jerome Kern song.”

Bordman, a Philadelphia native, earned a doctorate in pre-Chaucerian medieval literature from the University of Pennsylvania but went into the family business, manufacturing mothballs, air fresheners and household deodorants. He sold the company before he began writing.

More on Holocaust survivor and author Heda Kovaly

Michael McDonald, writing in “The American Interest,” called “Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968,” the memoir of Holocaust survivor Heda Kovaly, the “single book that might start a serious student on the hard road to understanding the political tragedies of the 20th century.” The Eulogizer had memorialized Kovaly following her death at 91 last December.

In selecting the little-known book, McDonald rejected such prominent classics as Czeslaw Milosz’s “The Captive Mind,” Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago,” Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” and even George Orwell’s “1984.”

He cited the selection of Kovaly’s book by “Anglo-Australian literary critic Clive James … one of the world’s most staggeringly well-read men," for the way it dramatized “the two great contending totalitarian forces [Nazism and Communism], because they both chose her for a victim,” the book’s “exemplary amalgam of psychological penetration and terse style.”

McDonald described the book as “surprisingly relevant to current debates over the supposed moral equivalence of the past century’s two totalitarianisms. It also has much to say about East European history and modern memory. … Yet above all, and somewhat remarkably, it is also a book not unduly given over to pessimism or despair.”
 

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