The Eulogizer: Israeli billionaire Sammy Ofer and British actress Miriam Karlin

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.

Sammy Ofer, 89, billionaire Israeli tycoon

As Sammy Ofer, whose June 3 death was reported by JTA, was buried Sunday in Israel, debate continued to swirl about whether the billionaire Israeli tycoon’s shipping company was in violation of anti-Iran embargoes or may have secretly been aiding Israeli intelligence — or both.

The stories provided a dramatic backdrop to the death of Israel’s richest person, whose wealth combined with that of his brother was valued at $10 billion. Ofer’s funeral was attended by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former United Nations Ambassador Dan Gillerman, former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri, Minister Silvan Shalom and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, among other dignitaries.

Former Knesset Member Shmuel Flatto-Sharon said he was certain the claims against Ofer will be proven false.

"I don’t believe he spent one minute acting against the state," Flatto-Sharon said.

Ofer’s son Eyal said his father "was a humble person who wanted to learn from his mistakes and other people’s mistakes. He never forgot where he came from or how it felt to be poor."

Ofer and his family immigrated to prestate Palestine in 1924 when he was 2 years old and lived in Haifa. He started working as a delivery boy for a shipping company after grade school. During World War II he served in the British Royal Navy and then in the fledgling Israeli Navy during the Israeli War of Independence. He became a shipping agent after the war and bought his first ship by 1950.

Ofer’s assets combined with those of his brother, Yuli, “consist of one of the largest private shipping companies in the world,” with a total value of nearly $4 billion. Companies in the Ofer Group portfolio include the Israeli shipping company ZIM; the cruise line Royal Caribbean Internationall Israel Corp., Israel’s largest holding company, as as well as an Israeli TV channel, a bank, a semiconductor manufacturer and many other companies.

The Ofers are among those who have been the target of criticism for the way big business in Israel affects politics and controls a significant portion of the country’s economy. "The Shakshuka Method" documentary alleged that the Ofer Group benefited from a revolving door between the public and the private sector in Israel.

Ofer was a philanthropist, art lover and collector. His family said he had donated more than $100 million to hospitals and charities in Israel. However, he withdrew a proposed $20 million donation to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art after criticism that he wanted it renamed for him. The Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center, a private college in Herzliya, was established after a multimillion-dollar donation.

In 2008, Ofer was made an honorary knight commander of the Order of the British Empire after he donated nearly $40 million to London’s National Maritime Museum.

Ofer lived in Monaco primarily, but died at his Tel Aviv condominium.

Miriam Karlin, 85, British actress

Miriam Karlin, the actress who originated the role of Tevye’s wife, Golde, in London’s first production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” died June 3 at 85.

Karlin’s other acting credits included “A Clockwork Orange,” and she was the first woman to play the lead in Harold Pinter’s “The Caretaker.” She was awarded an OBE in 1975.

The British newspaper the Telegraph described her acting this way: “Playing Yiddisher mommas or Jewish satirists, back-chatting cockneys or brash Americans, Miriam Karlin could be tigerish or kittenish, leaving her comic mark on scores of comedies, dramas, musical comedies and revues.”

Actor Sir Antony Sher said she gave a tremendous performance as the Jewish mother, “full of power and anger," in her iconic role as shop steward Paddy in the classic British sitcom “The Rag Trade.”

Karlin, born Miriam Samuelson in London, also was a political activist who spoke on many causes, including publishing a harsh critique of Israel after the 2006 Lebanon War.

“As a Jew (now a humanist) who lost close relatives in the Holocaust and one who was banned by all Arab states in 1967 because of my known sympathy and work for Israel …Has Israel learnt nothing from the abortive Bush/Blair ‘war on terror’?" she wrote. "We all know there would be massive recruitment to al-Qaida inspired by that obscene exercise. Now, with the totally disproportionate Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, there will be countless Lebanese, hitherto unsympathetic to Hezbollah, who will be queuing to join them.”

 

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