The Eulogizer: Biotech pioneer, prominent architect, Jews in out of the way places


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 Read previous columns here.

Unsung biotech pioneer

Eugene Goldwasser, a biochemist whose discovery of a hormone helped launch the global biotechnology industry, but who remained largely unsung, died Dec. 17 at the age of 88.

Goldwasser’s signal achievement lay in his 1980 decision to give the forerunner of the Amgen company the world’s sole supply of EPO, a purified protein it had taken him nearly a quarter century to discover, according to journalist Merrill Goozner, author of “The $800 Million Pill,” an account of the biotech industry’s development. The decision reportedly allowed the company to identify the gene that produced EPO, patent its use, and manufacture the protein using the then-new technology of recombinant engineering.

EPO, which was approved for use in 1989, generated more than 4.5 billion in sales in 2002 alone, according to one industry website, but Goldwasser never patented any of his work and never received any significant portion of EPO-generated revenues.

Born in Brooklyn, Goldwasser moved with his family to Kansas City. He received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chicago, where he worked and taught for decades until his retirement in 2002.

Goldwasser’s immediate cause of death was renal failure associated with prostate cancer, but he opted for hospice care instead of kidney dialysis. Most people undergoing kidney dialysis these days receive EPO, which helps relieve their severe anemia.

Prominent architect who built synagogue

Goodwin Steinberg, a prominent architect who designed many buildings in the Silicon Valley, but was proudest of a synagogue he built for his daughter and his California community, died Dec. 14 at the age of 88.

A student of the Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Steinberg did postgraduate training at the Écoles d’Art Américaines, a school of art, architecture, and music outside of Paris. He was often cited for his intense sensitivity to scale and spatial flow, and for the effects he created with light and landscape.

In 1953, Steinberg established Steinberg Architects, a firm that went on to design award-winning homes, corporate campuses and sacred spaces. The firm now has offices in San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Shanghai.

Steinberg’s decision to design Congregation Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Los Altos Hills, Calif., came about after his young daughter came home one day in the mid-1950s and told him she wanted to attend a Christian Sunday School.

"I started thinking: I’m not very religious, but I didn’t want my children growing up Christian. It pushed me to think about my priorities," he said in a 2002 interview after he published his memoir, “From the Ground Up: Building Silicon Valley." Then, he said, "I saw Beth Am forming.” The architecturally notable synagogue today is home to 1,600 families.

Four Jews from small communities

Jews tend to cluster in major metropolitan areas, but not all Jews, of course. Here are items about four Jews who lived long, productive and meaningful lives among family and friends in small Jewish communities in northern California; Augusta, Ga.; Rutland, Vt.; and Omaha, Neb.

Esther Fridel Pelner, 91, died Dec. 19. She had been living with her daughter in Willits, a northern California town of 5,000, 140 miles north of San Francisco. She was born in Manhattan, lived and worked in New York, retired to Florida in the 1970s, and then moved to Willits in 2001, where she was said to have learned the joys of small town living, making new friends, and putting down roots. Her synagogue was Kol HaEmek, located 14 miles from Willits in Redwood Valley.

Charles Blank, 89, of Augusta, Ga., a successful businessman who  was known for his fast-paced living and his love for his red Corvette, his speed boat and his airplane, died Dec. 16. Blank, who moved to Augusta in 1952, was past president of the Augusta Jewish Community Center, and the Augusta Chamber of Commerce. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, about 1,515 Jews live in Augusta. Blank spent some of his time there teaching youngsters to swim and enjoying Japanese gardening. He also spent time at his second home, in Beaufort, S.C. He had 13 great-grandchildren.

Marilyn Steinberg, 78, died at her home in Rutland, Vt., on Dec. 24. The funeral was held at the Rutland Jewish Center, a 100-year-old synagogue of 90 families in southern Vermont.

Anne Roitstein, 95, died in Omaha, Neb., on Dec. 23, and was buried in the Beth El Synagogue cemetery there. She left instructions that donations in her name be made to the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home of Omaha, among other organizations. The home is in the midst of a building campaign. According to the Jewish Federation of Omaha, the community has 6,000 Jews, three synagogues, a Chabad House, and a K-6 Jewish day school.


Recommended from JTA